Throughout the Muslim world, from the West coast of Africa to the southern-most islands of the Indonesian archipelago, worshippers in mosques are lifting their hands to the heavens and praying for Fallujah.
As the United States’ gunships strafe the city known as the City of Mosques and her centurions conduct house-to-house searches, Fallujah has come to mean more than just a town to the world’s Muslims but an idea: the belief that a life sacrificed for freedom is better than a life spent living under occupation.
In March, 1917, Britain’s General Stanley Maude stood in Fallujah and offered the assurance that, ‘we come as liberators, not as invaders’. He is buried on the outskirts of Baghdad. Today, the US offers the same empty assurances to the people of Fallujah; choosing to ignore the obvious civilian impact of attacking a populated city and ignoring the repeated fact that the Fallujan resistance are viewed not as bandits or oppressors, but as heroes imbued with the nationalism that has spread across the country.
In April, the US attempted to seize the city in Operation: Vigilante Response, a response to the killing of four US military contractors and the ambushing of a US convoy a few days afterwards. The resistance was able to successfully defend the city from US forces until 30 April, when the US retreated and left the city to the Fallujah Brigade consisting of former Iraqi Army members and the insurgents themselves. Likewise, the key regional towns of Samarra, Baquba and Ramadi were all left under guerilla control and the ‘Sunni Triangle’ became an effective no-go zone for US forces.
This latest operation to capture Fallujah – named Operation Phantom Fury – will deliver a phantom victory. Although the 15,000 US troops may ostensibly defeat the relatively small number of ‘insurgents’ in the city, the victory will be pyrrhic: the damage to the city and civilian deaths necessary to secure the city will mobilize more Iraqis against the occupation; and the Sunni population of Iraq, who make up at least twenty percent of the population, will become further alienated.
However, if the US doesn’t attack Fallujah then the anti-American attacks will continue regardless, and the upcoming election a crucial step of the US exit strategy will be undermined. Without the involvement of the Sunni Muslims, the election of the US purchased Iyyad Allawi will not have the veneer of legitimacy it requires. Already, the major Sunni Muslim political party, the Iraqi Islamic Party, has quit the interim government in protest of the attack. The main religious body, the Association of Muslim Scholars, has called for the boycott of the elections, saying they will be held, ‘over the corpses of those killed in Fallujah and the blood of the wounded.’ It is difficult to see how such a climate is conducive to democracy.
Indeed, despite assurances to the contrary, the security situation in Iraq is worsening: attacks on Americans have doubled to over 2000 a month since the June handover; in November, the Pentagon claimed there were 5000 resistance fighters whereas now they claim there are 20 000. For every fighter killed, there are more waiting to join the ranks of the resistance; and with every Iraqi killed there will be more Muslims, inspired by the horrific imagery that will surely emerge from the wreckage of Fallujah, who will be willing to travel to Iraq to help their brothers in faith. Whether in fact or merely in perception, America’s occupation of Iraq is seen by increasing numbers of Muslim faithful as a Holy War.
It’s a view that is shared by some members of the US military leadership. Rallying the troops before the attack, US Marine Colonel Gary Bradl said, ‘the enemy has got a face. He’s called Satan. He’s in Fallujah and we’re going to destroy him.’ The reality is that despite the obfuscation of the United States and its quisling government in Baghdad, Fallujah is not a town held hostage to a gang of insurgents or foreign fighters led by the mysterious Abu Mus’ab al-Zarqawi; it’s a town that has refused to be subjugated to the United States occupation in the same way as it refused to be subjugated to British occupation in the early 20th century. The enemy being hunted in the streets and markets of Fallujah isn’t Satan, it’s the irrepressible desire of a people to be free.
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