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"The enemy aggressor is always pursuing a course of larceny, murder, raping, and barbarism. We are always moving forward with high mission, a destiny imposed by the deity to regenerate our victims while incidentally capturing their markets, to civilize savage .... and paranoidal peoples while blundering accidentally into their oil wells or metal mines." John T. Flynn, As We Go Marching
Every conflict brings with it an encapsulation of the whole unimaginable horror in a single act, which instantly enters a global psyche.
Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Dresden, Baghdad's bombed Ameriyah Shelter in 1991, charred bodies lying in rows in the peach dawn on Dresden's Anniversary. A lone violinist playing in the ruins of Sarajevo.
It is tempting to say the massacre and siege of Fallujah is Iraq's Mai Lai.
In truth though, it is Iraq's Sabra and Shatila: the pitiless slaughter in the Lebanon refugee camps in 1982, instigated by Israel's now Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon.
Or maybe Iraq's Jenin. It is the Israeli forces who have trained Iraq's US troops in their ruthless, brutal methods. Ironically, the combined numbers of those killed and injured in Fallujah equal almost exactly those dead of Sabra and Shatila.
Winning 'hearts and minds', 'freedom, democracy', common civility and decency has no place, just arbitrary slaughter on suspicion, random bombings, demolition of homes of 'suspects', rounding up families; women and children in night raids.
'They have even taken our right to get undressed for bed', one Fallujah man remarked to author Rahul Mahajan. His door had been smashed during the night, his house, he related, trashed, cash and gold - in a familiar tale - stolen by the soldiers. He, his wife and children were herded outside in their night clothes. A shame and humiliation in conservative, though largely secular Iraq, beyond thinking, as also the humiliation of a man in front of his family.
The Lebanisation, or Palestinisation of Iraq is gathering pace.
'At least Saddam ordered you to report to (the security police) and then the torture started. But never humiliation in front of the family', another man told Mahajan in Fallujah. Things are going badly awry when the 'liberated' get wistful about Saddam's torture methods. 'At least he is one of us, understands our culture' is an increasingly familiar refrain and :'if we left him alone, he left us alone', is another. The same cannot be said of the Americans. Forget 'precision targeting'. Collective punishment is the order of the day (or night.)
Attacks on Fallujah, with its particular history, were always going to ignite Iraq as was witnessed in April last year and subsequently, after US troops shot what careful investigations by journalists proved were almost certainly were unarmed demonstrators, killing nearly twenty (numbers hard to fully verify.) Britain's General Stanley Maude, stood in Fallujah in 1917 and said: 'We come as liberators, not as invaders.' When the British left Iraq, illiteracy was around ninety percent and the average life expectancy twenty six years. (Geoff Simons: From Sumer to Saddam, London Macmillan 1994). In 1991, the packed market place was bombed by British or American planes and a housing complex and those in it flattened. When rescuers ran to help, in a familiar tale, planes circled, returned, and bombed the rescuers. General Maude is buried in Baghdad's North Gate Cemetery - and Fallujans have a long memory.
Attacks on ancient Samarra in the north, Kut, south of Baghdad and the southern holy cities of Najav and Kerbala, all historic flashpoints, were guaranteed to pour gasoline on a nascent fire, but every heavy handed lethal, unwarranted action; thefts, stamping on Korans, even shooting through them as reported by Naomi Klein in the Guardian and lack of respect for a nationalistic, proudest of people, fuels the flames.
The reported seven hundred dead in Fallujah, maybe half women and children (doctors report too, the unaccounted dead, those buried by trapped families within their gardens and compounds) with a further estimated fifteen hundred injured, the town sealed and the injured unable to reach the main hospitals, is not alone a tragedy, but a disaster for the 'liberators'.
Makeshift clinics have been set up - but doctors delivering emergency medical aid have been turned back, one reportedly shot by US forces. Reminiscent of Palestine, the sick cannot reach hospital with harrowing stories also of pregnant women giving birth without medical help. One in severe distress in ninth month or pregnancy was turned home and her baby born dead. The fleeing reported numerous burned bodies, some little more than ash and barely recognizable bones. Human Rights Watch quoted refugees as describing 'streets littered with bodies', adding, curiously, that they were not sure yet whether there had been 'any human rights violation'. Collective punishment is, per se, a human rights violation.
Compounding impending disaster Iraq's 'Viceroy' Paul Bremer, isolated in his Palace, closed the newspaper of Shia cleric Moqtada Al Sadr, mistakenly dismissing him as a firebrand with little following. It is unlikely that if he had little following, the vast teeming Shia are of Baghdad's Saddam City would have unanimously been renamed Sadr City, last April to honour his family of whose esteem, he is to many now the mantle holder. The paper (Al Hawza) had just ten thousand print run in twenty five million population, hardly likely to cause great problems. But its censorship did. Saddam methods: Bremer has long been a new Saddam to Iraqis.
Now Najav and Kerbala are surrounded by US troops avowed to capture Sadr: 'dead or alive' - back in Wild West mode in the 'Cradle of Civilisation'. Either options, or violation of these revered, sacred cities and shrines will make Viet Nam a tea party. Further, hordes of Saudis and Iranians and others, for whom the cities are equally sacrosanct will flood in to fight the invaders, over Iraq's now unsecured borders. Blood bath comes to mind.
The bloody slaughter and mutilation of four mercenaries in Fallujah, led to the US response.
But again, the signals have not been heard by the 'Authority', isolated in their bunkered 'Green Zone'. In 1958, the last British imposed Prime Minister, Nuri Sa'ad, in a bloody uprising, was dragged through the streets until he was referred to as the Arabic for shish kebab, so little remained. For months, many have been saying they will not rest until they do to Bremer what they did to Nuri Sa'ad. They cannot get Bremer - yet - but that's what they did tragically, to those they regarded as the next best thing, mercenaries perceived authorised by him, in Fallujah. Iraqis will give their lives to protect a guest, they will do exactly the same to defeat an invader.
Time to abandon this historic folly of a 'Crusade'. 'Crusaders' fared badly in the Middle East. Oh yes, and now Fallujah has its very own mass graves - courtesy of Uncle Sam.
Felicity Arbuthnot is a Global Research Contributing Editor
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