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More Going On In Fallujah Than Simple U.S. Victory

More Going On In Fallujah Than Simple U.S. Victory

by Mark W. Anderson
November 25, 2004

Now that the smoke over Fallujah has cleared, and victory declared, let’s review:

War is wrong. Always has been, always will be.

Perhaps former President Jimmy Carter put it best when he concluded his acceptance speech for the 2002 Nobel Peace Prize by saying, “War may sometimes be a necessary evil. But no matter how necessary, it is always an evil, never a good. We will not learn how to live together in peace by killing each other’s children.”

Unfortunately, for the past couple of weeks, the U.S. military has been engaged in doing exactly that: killing other people’s children.

It may not seem like it, judging from the almost complete lack of truth-telling on the evening news, or the increasingly difficult to believe statements of the U.S. military that few, if any, civilians are being killed.

But, as part of its recent attempt to clean out “insurgents” from the Iraqi cities of Fallujah, Mosul and elsewhere, that’s what has been happening.

And civilians, perhaps hundreds or thousands of them, have been caught in the crossfire.

In case you haven’t been paying attention, the war in Iraq heated up quite a bit during the past few weeks, with American forces staging an all-out attack on Fallujah and conducting increased operations in perhaps a dozen other Iraqi cities. November is already the second-bloodiest month for U.S troops, with more than 100 soldiers killed.

The stated reason for the American military effort is simple: Loyalists from the old regime, coupled with newly arrived foreign fighters, are opposing U.S. efforts to bring a stable, free and democratic society to the people of Iraq by attacking American troops and threatening upcoming elections.

The rebels had taken over all of Fallujah and parts of other cities, turning them into “no-go zones” for U.S. troops, and the military decided it was time to take those areas back. Unfortunately, the way U.S. troops decided to take those areas back relied on the only weapon it had in its arsenal: massive, overwhelming firepower.

After days of heavy bombardment and air strikes from artillery and fighter jets, troops moved in with tanks and armored vehicles to engage in close, door-to-door fighting in a dense urban environment.

And while it hasn’t been examined in great detail here in the United States, the devastation U.S. forces have wrought seems to be significant.

On Nov. 15, Associated Press reporter Edward Harris quoted Sgt. Todd Bowers, a Marine civil affairs specialist, charged with planning reconstruction of the city, as saying “It’s incredible, the destruction. It’s overwhelming. My first question is: Where to begin?”

The news out of Fallujah—what little there is—paints a dire picture for anyone trapped inside.

There’s reportedly little food, water or electricity. A hospital in the center of the city was destroyed. Hundreds of buildings, including many mosques, have been razed. Harris reported that walls and security gates are laced with bullet holes, and Marines have blown holes in walls and knocked down doors to search homes and shops.

On the same day, the BBC reported that dead bodies lay decomposing in the streets. “It is starting to become a serious health risk,” said reporter Paul Wood. “It is quite a horrific picture … Cats and dogs are now starting to eat these bodies.”

The United States dropped leaflets on the city before the assault, warning the women and children to leave, which usually means a firestorm is coming. And an estimated three-quarters of the 200,000 to 300,000 inhabitants of the city fled, while others stayed behind.

But, acknowledging they had no way to distinguish between civilians and rebel fighters, males between the ages of 15 and 55 who were attempting to leave before the assault were required by U.S. forces to remain in the city.

Which means, despite attempts by the U.S. military to downplay the possibility, civilians were killed in Fallujah. Both the International Red Cross and Amnesty International expressed concern over those who remained, with a spokeswoman for Amnesty International telling the Associated Press, “According to what we’re hearing and some testimony from residents who have fled Fallujah, it looks like the toll of civilian casualties is high.”

And what of the children? They are suffering and dying. You won’t find them in the American media, but they’re there. You don’t eradicate a guerrilla insurgency in an ancient city through the use of tanks, heavy artillery and fighter jets and not kill some innocent bystanders.

The U.K. newspaper The Guardian reported in April that of the 600 civilian casualties resulting from an aborted attempt by the U.S. military to take back control of the city earlier this year, “the vast majority of the dead were women, children and the elderly.”

This time, it’s likely to be different only by degree.

And it’s worth noting, even though a large portion of the American population has helped justify the war in Iraq by believing Saddam Hussein was involved in the attack of 9/11, it’s simply not true.

What is true is that the civilians dying in Fallujah and elsewhere had nothing to do with that horrific day when America was attacked.

But the U.S. military killed them—and continues to, for all we know—just the same. In an effort, we say, to bring democracy to the long-oppressed people of Iraq.

That’s what we are doing, we tell ourselves.

And the evening news and the morning papers help us along in our beliefs, telling us that “the city is back under control” and “we’re clearing out the last of the rebel fighters.”

And that “we had no choice but to do what we did.”

But they don’t tell us that it’s wrong to kill other people’s children.

Or that war is evil, even if it’s American troops doing the killing.


Mark W. Anderson is an independent journalist and writer based in Chicago. Visit him at

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