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2004-11-08

Fallujah Under Siege: US Begins Massive Assault as Iraq Declares Martial Law

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The U.S. invasion of Fallujah has begun. After weeks of daily bombings, U.S. forces have begun to move into the Sunni city seen as the center of the Iraqi resistance. We speak with independent reporters Rahul Mahajan and Lamis Andoni in Jordan. [includes rush transcript]

The U.S. invasion of Fallujah has begun. After weeks of daily bombings, US forces have begun to move into the Sunni city west of Baghdad seen as the center of the Iraqi resistance. U.S. planes and artillery fiercely bombarded Fallujah today ahead of a full-scale ground offensive. Reuters reports eight air strikes rained down on the city in one 20-minute period. Four 500-pound bombs were dropped before dawn. Thick black smoke covered the sky.

For over a week the US has been carrying out daily bombing raids on the city. On Saturday the US bombing leveled the Nazzal Emergency Hospital in the center of the city. A nearby medical supplies storeroom was also damaged as were dozens of houses.

On Monday, U.S. troops fought their way into the western outskirts of the city, seizing a hospital and two bridges over the Euphrates River but they have not entered deep into the city. Six battalions of US Marines, backed up by Army tanks and newly trained Iraqi troops are massed outside Fallujah after sealing it off midday Sunday.

Groups of civilians waving white flags were seen leaving on the outskirts of the city. The BBC is reporting more than half of the city"s population of 300,000 has already fled.

The attack on Fallujah is expected to be the biggest engagement since 1968 when the U.S. captured the Vietnamese city of Hue. In that battle the US lost 142 men and killed thousands of Vietnemese.

The Washington Post is reporting Sunni leaders have put forth a peace plan for Fallujah that the US had ignored and are now threatening to boycott January"s election if Fallujah is invaded.

US-backed prime minister Ayad Allawi declared a state of emergency in most of Iraq on Sunday, giving his government extraordinary powers to crush a violent resistance that left more than 60 people dead over the weekend.

At a press conference in Baghdad this morning, Allawi addressed reporters about the Fallujah offensive.

  • Iyad Allawi, appointed Iraqi prime minister speaking to reporters in Baghdad, November 8, 2004.
  • Rahul Mahajan, independent journalist who was in Fallujah during the siege on the city in April. He has traveled twice to occupied Iraq and is the author of "Full Spectrum Dominance: U.S. Power in Iraq and Beyond" (Seven Stories). He is also publisher of the weblog Empire Notes
  • Lamis Andoni, independent journalist who has been covering the Middle East for 20 years. She has reported for the Christian Science Monitor, the Financial Times and the main newspapers in Jordan. She joins us on the line now from Amman.

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: U.S.-backed Prime Minister Iyad Allawi declared a state of emergency in most of Iraq Sunday giving his government extraordinary powers to crush a resistance that left more than 60 people dead over the weekend. At a news conference in Baghdad, this morning, Allawi addressed reporters about the Fallujah assault.

IYAD ALLAWI: I have given my authority to the multinational forces. I have given my authority to the Iraqi forces to spearhead the multinational forces with help. We are determined to clean Fallujah from terrorists. The curfew is intended to protect whoever remains from the Fallujah people, the decent people of Fallujah because as you know, in excess of 200,000 people have left already Fallujah, civilians, because they are terrorized by terrorists. The curfew will start this early evening, 6:00, local time. We are going to lift the curfew as we clear each area of Fallujah. We will give you, I think — we will circulate for you the various points that we are going to implement, and details, but of course, I cannot go into other details for now.

AMY GOODMAN: The U.S.-elected Iraqi prime minister, Iyad Allawi, announcing that he is endorsing the assault on Fallujah. In our studio today is Rahul Mahajan, an independent reporter in Fallujah during the siege in April, traveled tries to occupied Iraq, and is author of the book, Full Spectrum Dominance: U.S. Power in Iraq and Beyond. He is publisher of the web blog, empirenotes.org. You know what Fallujah has looked like. What has happened so far?

RAHUL MAHAJAN: The thing that strikes me most is that the first target, specific target of the military assault was the main hospital in Fallujah. It was occupied, and essentially shut down, which is to say that some patients are still being treated, but obviously no new patients wounded are going to be brought into the hospital. This is consistent with what was done before. The last time they assaulted Fallujah they closed down the main bridge connecting the hospital to the town, so doctors were forced to leave in order to treat patients. They also closed down other hospitals, including a major one in Najaf during the offensive there in April as well. So, it’s common, but this time, it’s at a new level, because they have said that the hospital is a military target. They have said specifically that last time the offensive was aborted because reports of civilian casualties got out to the Iraqi public and there was massive public opposition, so this time they want to make sure there are no reports of civilian casualties. They say reports of civilian casualties are propaganda, and therefore, this thing is a source of military propaganda. It’s much like the bombing of the Serbian TV station in the Yugoslavia where which Amnesty International found to be a war crime, except that this is one step beyond because this is literally, a hospital, and doctors are treating wounded people who come in.

AMY GOODMAN: What about this report that Larry Diamond also referred to on Democracy Now! Friday, Larry Diamond, who is from the Bush think tank, the Hoover Institution, who is hand-picked by Condoleezza Rice to go to Iraq to be a senior adviser to the coalition provisional authority. He said it’s very significant that this group of hard-line Sunni leaders, who have said they are going to boycott the election, have come up with a diplomatic solution. Yet, we’re hearing almost nothing about this. And this surely will — they have said that this would abort any kind of diplomatic solution, and could lead again to imposing the boycott.

RAHUL MAHAJAN: Well, I think it’s actually inaccurate to characterize all of them at hard line.

AMY GOODMAN: Hard line and moderate, he meant to say.

RAHUL MAHAJAN: That’s the way it’s usually done. There are some, but there’s also a distinction between having a specifically strong religious view and actually not minding the incredible violence that — that upsurge of violence that’s going on. So, these people, who moderated and tried to mediate in the assault the last time, are simply trying to avoid violence and I think that is very understandable, and very normal. Now, the plan they put forward was one the United States would never agree to. They wanted U.S. military troops to actually retreat to bases during the election, which would of course, not send the effect — the sort of effect on the population of the United States would want at the time.

AMY GOODMAN: And what about the troops that are moving in right now, the number of marines. The New York Times reporting that the U.S. and Iraqi militaries will send as many as 25,000 troops into Fallujah. Reuters is reporting that many of the marines have never fought in major combat situations before. One sergeant reported that 95% of the troops in his company had never fought in combat at all before?

RAHUL MAHAJAN: That’s inevitable if the numbers are that large. If it’s 25,000 marines, that’s ten times the size of the assault force the last time in Fallujah. So, you know, unless the marines were all old enough to have fought in Wuay. There’s no way they could have combat experience. What it’s going to mean is more indiscriminateness in terms of targeting. We documented a lot of indiscriminant firing by marine snipers during the first assault because there are more resistance fighters, somewhere between 1,000 and 6,000. There’s going to be more fighting. All signs are that if things go as we expect, the 1,000 people killed in the last assault will be multiplied several times.

AMY GOODMAN: Who is there? Who is left right now in Fallujah?

RAHUL MAHAJAN: Well, according to what I have heard roughly, 50,000 people, so, it could be the fighters, presumably some parts of the families, people who are die-hards and don’t want to abandon their town, necessary people like doctors and religious leaders and those unable to leave, because in fact after the initial siege was put on, the only road left open for a while was actually the road westward towards Ramadi, and there’s — other than Ramadi, there’s very little out there. It’s hard for me to go out and find a place to be refugees if they’re not allowed to go to Baghdad.

AMY GOODMAN: Rahul Mahajan with us. We’re going to break and then be joined by a reporter in Amman Jordan, to talk about the situation in Iraq. She has been monitoring the Arab press in the world, and also what’s happening with the situation with Yasser Arafat.

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