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2004-11-09

The Battle for Fallujah: U.S. Forces Face Fierce Resistance in Largest Offensive Since Invasion

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The U.S. assault on the Iraqi city of Fallujah has entered its second day. Thousands of U.S. forces inside the Sunni city are engaged in some of the fiercest urban warfare seen to date in Iraq. We go to Baghdad to speak with Dahr Jamail, one of the few independent reporters in Iraq and we speak with California State University professor As’ad AbuKhalil. [includes rush transcript]

The battle for Fallujah has entered its second day. U.S. and Iraqi forces have been facing heavy resistance as they battled towards the center of Fallujah. The Iraqi resistance, using small arms and mortar fire, has been defending the city street by street under heavy ground and air bombardment.

The number of casualties in the attack codenamed Phantom Fury is unknown. The US military has claimed it killed 41 Iraqi fighters. At least two U.S. Marines have also been killed.

After airstrikes pummeled Fallujah for hours, U.S. tanks and Humvees began the ground assault through the northeastern part of the city. Guerillas fought back hard, forcing the advancing troops to fight every step of the way with some units reportedly taking hours to advance past a single line of houses. U.S. troops dodged sniper fire and destroyed booby traps as a cleric at a local mosque called on militants to fight back over the mosque’s loudspeaker. One U.S. Captain told Reuters "These people are hardcore... They are putting up a strong fight."

Meanwhile, the U.S. continued its targeting of medical facilities in the city. A makeshift clinic that is serving as the main first-aid facility was bombed this morning after U.S. and Iraqi forces took over Fallujah General Hospital early Monday. Doctors inside the besieged city painted a grim picture amid a chronic lack of medical equipment, trained staff, water and electricity.

Hundreds of homes have already been destroyed. The US troops have cut electricity to the center and most houses are without running water. Food shortages are already emerging because stores have been closed for days.

Many of the 250,000 civilians who live in Fallujah have fled the city ahead of the offensive, which is expected to be the largest battle since the invasion of Iraq in March 2003.

Hours before the ground offensive, the U.S.-backed interim prime minister Iyad Allawi flew to a US military base near Fallujah to rally Iraqi soldiers. He told them "Your job is to arrest the killers but if you kill them, then so be it."

The attack on Fallujah has been widely condemned inside Iraq. One of the country’s major Sunni political parties, the Iraqi Islamic Party, announced today that it is pulling out of the interim Iraqi government in protest of the invasion of Fallujah. This comes after the Association of Muslim Scholars, which has threatened to boycott elections, put forth a peace plan that the U.S. all but rejected with no public discussion.

Back in the U.S., Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld spoke to reporters at the Pentagon about the purpose of the assault.

  • Donald Rumsfeld, Secratry of Defense addressing reporters at the Pentagon, November 8, 2004.
  • Dahr Jamail, an independent journalist currently based in Baghdad. He is one of the only independent, unembedded journalists in Iraq right now. He publishes his reports on a blog called DahrJamailIraq.com. He joins us on the line from downtown Baghdad.
  • As’ad AbuKhalil, professor of political science at California State University, Stanislaus and visiting professor at UC, Berkeley. He is the author of several books, his latest is "The Battle for Saudi Arabia: Royalty, Fundamentalism, and Global Power." He runs a blog called "The Angry Arab News Service."

Transcript

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

AMY GOODMAN: Back in the U.S., Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld spoke to reporters at the Pentagon about the purpose of the assault.

DONALD RUMSFELD: If Iraq is to be free, and a peaceful society, one part of the country cannot remain under the rule of assassins, terrorists, and the remnants of Saddam Hussein’s regime. Every effort has been made to persuade the criminals running roughshod over Fallujah to reach a political solution, but they have chosen the path of violence instead. So, at the request of the interim Iraqi government, Coalition soldiers are today assisting Iraqi forces in conducting coordinated offensive operations in and around the city of Fallujah to restore law and order to this troubled area.

AMY GOODMAN: We are joined right now following Donald Rumsfeld’s news conference yesterday by Dahr Jamail, independent journalist based in Baghdad, one of the only independent, unembedded journalists in Iraq now. He publishes his reports on a blog called dahrjamailiraq.com. He joins us online from downtown Baghdad. Welcome to Democracy Now!

DAHR JAMAIL: Thank you for having me.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about the situation right now, what you understand is happening in Falluja and the response outside in Baghdad?

DAHR JAMAIL: Well, in Baghdad, the response has been outrage. All of the people I have been speaking with in the last few days concerning the situation in Fallujah, people are in solidarity in saying that this is illegal, the fact that Iyad Allawi gave his green light means nothing to us, because he’s not our interim Prime Minister anyhow. People are speaking out very strongly about the situation there, because most of the people believe it’s the Fallujahns’ right to resist the occupiers. It’s their right to defend their homes and their city. They feel like this is basically genocide. They put down these things like martial law in the city as well as across most of the country in order to justify what is certain to be massive civilian casualties. Already we have heard that yesterday at least 15 civilians were killed. There has been a public clinic that was bombed. Doctors up there are saying once again, much like they did last April during the last siege, that medical care is being impeded, ambulances are being targeted yet again. Everyone here in Baghdad is getting the news, and are absolutely outraged about what is occurring.

AMY GOODMAN: What about one of the major Sunni political parties, the Iraqi Islamic Party, announcing it’s pulling out of the interim Iraqi government, and the Association of Muslim Scholars putting forth this peace plan that apparently the U.S. has rejected? What was that?

DAHR JAMAIL: That was — the parts of the plan that they had laid out were basically asking that the U.S. military stop running patrols in the city, just let Iraqis patrol the city. To basically go back to what the situation was before the aerial bombardment of the city commenced about six weeks ago and brought us to this situation today. They let Iraqis in Fallujah control their own city. If the U.S. military needs to go in for any reason, only with the permission of the mayor of Fallujah, should they be allowed to go in. So it, was basically a try to return to the status quo. And of course, all of these requests were rejected by the so-called Iraqi interim government.

AMY GOODMAN: And the significance of the Iraqi Islamic Party announcing it’s pulling out of the interim government?

DAHR JAMAIL: It is very significant. Already, reaction to that on the ground here in Baghdad has been very strong. One man I interviewed recently, he said, concerning Fallujah, the Muslims there need to be allowed to live and have their independence. He’s very strong in support with the Islamic party pulling out of the interim government, as are many other people that I have spoken with about this. Another man that — a lawyer that I interviewed recently, he said that he believes what’s going on with the martial law and with this attacking of Fallujah, it’s an attempt to change how Iraqis think about this occupation. He said, Inshalla, God willing, they cannot. We have to defend our religion and the resistance is legal. Inshalla, the resistance will do their job and rid of us of the invaders.

AMY GOODMAN: In your last posting on your blog, you talk about the reaction in Baghdad specifically different people you have talked to. Share some of those conversations with us.

DAHR JAMAIL: It’s been really more of just outright outrage about what’s occurring in Fallujah. This is very tied in with the situation of the martial law. One man I spoke with particularly about the martial law situation said, you know, they called this martial law. They’re just putting a name in propaganda on the thing they have been doing in our country since the invasion. They have already killed 100,000 people, and so now, they want to try to put some sort of a legal mandate on it. Well, they don’t need a legal mandate, they have done it will already and they’re continuing to do it. It’s yet another U.S. policy being put forth on the ground here that’s just backfiring, where instead of it bringing the supposed security and to try to repress people it’s causing more and more resistance, more and more open support for the resistance and outrage amongst people here. Really no one I’ve talked to since I have been back this trip supports Prime Minister Allawi. No one that I have spoken with, even comes close to supporting what’s occurring in Fallujah, and it is once again just causing greater resistance against the occupation.

AMY GOODMAN: You talk in your posting about the bombs going on in Baghdad as well, although all eyes are on Fallujah.

DAHR JAMAIL: Yes. There has been very many bombs going off here. We’re still averaging at least a car bomb a day. On top of that, there has been — I’m staying at a hotel not too far from the so-called Green Zone, it’s taking mortars every day. So far, I got here Friday. Every morning I have woken up to the sound of mortars exploding in the Green Zone and in the evenings, most oftentimes, there’s mortars going off there. Just down the street, it seems like every night there’s a gun battle. There are sporadic fire that I hear throughout the city during the day, and it increases at night. And most of this is going unreported. Because, as you said, all eyes are on Fallujah. But Baghdad remains very tense. It’s chaos here. Very long petrol lines once again. Sometimes three or four or five kilometers long. Of course, electricity is sporadic. I don’t know if you can hear the generators here in the background, but as my translator said the other day, Baghdad is living on the generators. The situation remains very grim here, on top of being much more tense now. There’s the situation in Fallujah is unfolding. Everyone fully expects the fighting to increase in Baghdad as well as other parts of Iraq, as we have seen today in Baquba and Kirkuk.

AMY GOODMAN: And people leaving Fallujah, including fighters, to go to other cities?

DAHR JAMAIL: That is true. There’s been a lot of talk about that — the fact that while there is a big resistance being put up in Fallujah right now, there’s obviously at least a few thousand fighters there, many people here believe that the brunt of the resistance fighters in the city left a long timing a when the talk of the invasion began. So, they are stationed around Baghdad. They are stationed in other cities like Kaldia, Baquba, possibly even some in the south like Kufa and Najaf. They’re basically waiting to see how this unfolds and will basically mount sort of a counter attack against the occupiers in regards to what’s happening in Fallujah. They’re not stupid. They’re not going to try to go toe to toe with the most powerful military on the planet. This is a guerrilla war. They’re not going to attack when they’re expected to attack. They are going to attack when they’re not expected to attack. That’s another reason why it’s so tense here in Baghdad, because basically people are waiting for things to really start kicking off here.

AMY GOODMAN: Dahr, how do you stay safe in Baghdad?

DAHR JAMAIL: Well, I do my best to fit in. I’m not of the mindset of flak jackets and going around with security guards. I basically do the opposite. I grow a beard. I wear and I go around only with my interpreter in a very beat-up car, and I just try to lay low and I don’t speak English when I’m out on the street. I only speak English when my interpreter tells me it’s okay, which is generally when we actually will go inside someone’s home or office to conduct an interview. Staying real low key and not getting out quite as much as I would like to, but you know, it’s what you have to do under these circumstances, with kidnappings being the main threat at this point.

AMY GOODMAN: Dahr Jamail, I want to thank you for being with us. Currently based in Baghdad, unembedded, independent journalist, publishes his reports on a blog called, dahrjamailiraq.com. Joining us from downtown Baghdad, spent time in Fallujah last April. This is Democracy Now! You can get all contacts to websites through our website, democracynow.org. Stay safe.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re joined by As’ad AbuKhalil, professor of Political Science at California State University–Stanislaus, a visiting professor at U.C. Berkeley. He is also running a blog called the Angry Arab News Service at angryarab.blogspot.com. Your response to the situation in Iraq, especially Fallujah?

AS’AD ABUKHALIL: Well I think there’s a discernible trend going on in Iraq today. I find it more interesting what is taking place today in Ramadi than what’s happened in Fallujah. I think that there is a trend of a national resistance emerging that the United States will have increasing difficulty in trying to contain or deal with. I mean, the Arab media has reported all this morning that Ramadi has already been taken over by armed gunmen, and you can see what happened in the failed experiment of Samarra. If you remember a few months ago, the United States troops with great fanfare and that’s one of the election campaign themes of Bush, that they were able to take over that city. But now in the last several days, we have been hearing all of the armed gunmen and insurgents have been returning and they’re attacking the U.S. troops. I mean, I don’t understand the purpose behind what happened. Certainly, it is not linked to an overall well-thought strategy. I do believe however that Donald Rumsfeld yesterday was correct in linking what is happening, the brutalization of Fallujah over the last several weeks and escalation over the last two days is related to the election. I do believe that he was correct in pointing out that they are preparing for elections. The United States forces have come to the realization that the puppets in Iraq are quite unpopular, and there’s a lot of documentation by public opinion services that they themselves have conducted. To help these puppet leaders in Iraq, the United States is now allowing people — hundreds of thousands of people from around the world to vote in Iraqi embassies. They don’t even have to have passports to do so. I’m sure that a lot of people from red states will be allowed to vote for Iyad Allawi and other puppets in the government. The second thing the United State is doing is basically killing those who oppose the puppet government. That’s not going to work. After the subjugation of Fallujah, and in conventional military terms, there’s no doubt about the outcome, here it is going to be treated as a great heroic military victory, but you have 130,000 American troops pitted against no more than 2,500 insurgents. Although I do agree with your previous speakers, most of the insurgents have already slipped out of the city. They slipped out and went — when the time arises, they will come back in. I’m sure many of them are active in Bakuba, in Ramadi and various other places around the country. I think the credibility of the puppet government, which has always been low, is going to sink even lower. And you are the only American news media that pointed out, I think, the significant statement that was put out by the Shiite leader, Muqtada al Sadr, which was very strong in calling on all puppet Iraqi forces not to participate in the onslaught. This was something which was also reiterated in the statement by the very influential — the most influential Sunni organization, the grouping of Islamic scholars that you pointed out. The Islamic party, which withdrew from the puppet government, I should point out, is extremely pro-American. It’s the most moderate of all Sunni forces. The only Sunni force United States was able to work with. And now they’re out. So that’s going to cast more doubt on the credibility of an election that was already treated as a farce.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking with professor As’ad AbuKhalil. I wanted to switch gears from Iraq to what’s happening now being played out both at the Paris hospital and also in Ramallah in Israel and Palestine, the deteriorating condition of Yasser Arafat, and apparently now his wife, Suha, has allowed in the Palestinian delegation to see him.

AS’AD ABUKHALIL: I think the Arab media earlier reported the further deterioration in the condition of Yasser Arafat. I do believe that the United States government and the Israelis are trying to exploit the uncertainty of the situation to arrange a kind of a coup de tat in the Palestinian Authority. It’s very clear that they were the ones who pushed and urged Mohammad Dahalan and Abu Mazen, the favored Palestinians, in fact the only two Palestinians they like, the only Palestinians that Bush likes, and they wanted them to take advantage of the situation so that they would reassert the leadership when Arafat dies. There are two obstacles to the American plan, despite the statement by Colin Powell this morning about how impressed he is with those Palestinians. But it’s true that Colin Powell is always impressed with American puppets, wherever they are, in Palestine as well as in Iraq. The two obstacles for American plans, the coup de tat that is being plotted, in my opinion, are two, one, the Palestinian puppets that the United States would like to impose as leaders are quite unpopular. And two, at the time when the United States speaks about integrity and transparency in the Palestinian Authority, the two Palestinians Abu Mazen and Mohammad Dahalan are perceived by their people as crooks. So, the ability of the United States to push them further in the — under the pretext of pushing for transparency and integrity–is not going to fly with the Palestinian people. I believe that Yasser Arafat, with all of the mistakes and flaws of his character, and I think they’re numerous and despite the failures of his leadership and especially that he was so keen on trying to please his own — the enemies of the Palestinian people, not to believe the Israelis, the Americans and the oil-rich Arab governments, he has also surrendered the political decision-making of the Palestinian national movement to Arab governments who are clients of the United States. But what will come after him, however, is going to produce a time when the Israelis and the Americans will look back nostalgically to the era of Arafat. I think we do not know who will emerge after Arafat. It is certain that it’s going to be a more militant, more anti-American, anti-Israeli force and I think from now until that one leader emerges, you are going to have a very tense and most likely bloody struggle within the Palestinian national movement. But I don’t think that there is any chance that America’s candidate or Israel will prevail at the end.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk more about the difference of generations of Palestinian resistance?

AS’AD ABUKHALIL: Well, that’s an important point, because there is a new generation of Palestinians in the West Bank as well as in Gaza. People who believe that you have to have gone through the suffering, the subjugation, the humiliation of what the Israeli occupation has meant for the Palestinian people to be able to assert a position of leadership, which is a point of view that is asserted, by the way, very ironically by people inside Iraq. They insist that their own leaders should emerge from those who suffered under Saddam’s brutal rule. The new Palestinian leadership is one I believe that represents a call for end to corruption, more transparency and integrity. So on the issue of ethics, they are — they have very high standards, and they have been very critical of various Palestinian leaders, the corrupt ones like Abu Mazen, Mohammad Dahalan, and various others. They have been critical of Suha Arafat, because she also, when she was unceremoniously kicked out of the Palestinian areas three years ago, it is because as soon as she became the wife of Yasser Arafat she started engaging in financial deals to profit from her own position as the wife of the Palestinian leader. The second thing that is represented by the new Palestinian leadership, the younger generation, is that they do not want to be regarded as sellouts. They do not want solutions to come out of Washington, D.C. and they regard, and I think justifiably and very accurately, that the United States is not an honest broker, should not be treated as a mediator, because the United States has chosen that it be on the same side with Israel, and that’s true about Democrats and Republicans. That’s why many of them believe in self-reliance in trying to build up the Palestinian national movement and try to create a representative party in order to produce a plan that represents Palestinian national aspirations, and not electoral dictates of George W. Bush or Ariel Sharon.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to thank you very much for joining us, Professor As’ad AbuKhalil, professor of Political Science at California State University Stanislaus, visiting at U.C. Berkeley. His blog is called the Angry Arab News Service at angryarab.blogspot.com.

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