Fallujah marks a turning point: A Guernica of the 21st century

The monstrously oppressive nature of US imperialism stands exposed in all its bloody nakedness. Fallujah is being reduced to smoking rubble before the eyes of the world. Heavily armed American gunships are slowly pounding it into dust. Many civilians have fled in panic; many lay buried beneath the shattered remnants of their homes.

"And when they have created a wilderness, they call it peace." (Tacitus)

The monstrously oppressive nature of US imperialism stands exposed in all its bloody nakedness. Fallujah is being reduced to smoking rubble before the eyes of the world. Heavily armed American gunships are slowly pounding it into dust. Many civilians have fled in panic; many lay buried beneath the shattered remnants of their homes.

The sugary illusions about "smart bombs" and "selective target" stand exposed as hollow lies. They do not bother even to repeat them. It is open, vicious, indiscriminate murder. It is the Guernica of the 21st century.

It is a sobering thought that this wanton slaughter and destruction is occurring on the first anniversary of the "victory" of the Coalition forces. This was a war that was supposedly fought to "free" the Iraqi people. The television screens of the "free" world were full of scenes of jubilant Iraqi crowds welcoming the invaders and wildly cheering the toppling of Saddam Hussein's statue.

Where are the cheering crowds today? It is impossible to manufacture even the fake scenes that were invented by smart public relations men to create a false sensation that the Coalition forces were really a liberating army, and not an army of occupation. Nobody is cheering. Nobody is celebrating. The only sounds that greet this sad anniversary is the chattering of machine guns, the pounding of heavy artillery, the groans of the dying and the wailing of widows.

This is the real balance sheet of twelve months of foreign occupation of Iraq.

George W. Bush, who has an unerring sense of unconscious humour, refers to the present conflict as the work of "small groups of foreign terrorists and diehard supporters of Saddam Hussein."

These "small groups" appear to have been remarkably successful in confronting the might of the US army for the past three weeks or so. In reality, what we are witnessing is not the work of "small groups" and certainly not of foreigners. It is the foreign armies of occupation that are being confronted by a mass uprising of the Iraqi people.

The brutal methods of the invaders have caused revulsion around Iraq and the rest of the region. The anger is being directed at Iraq's occupiers.

Using the excuse of the killing of four American contractors (in reality mercenaries) on March 31st, the American forces launched an all-out assault on Fallujah that killed hundreds and injured many more – men, women and children. This attack was no accident. It was planned in advance and reflected the desire of the most Christian President of the United States to crush what has been the most active and militant centre of the Iraqi resistance.

Just as Hitler tried to break the spirit of the Basque people by bombing their ancestral capital, so George Bush wished to make an example of Fallujah – an example so terrible that it would make all other Iraqis think twice before taking up arms against their "liberators".

With the most callous determination, all the terrific firepower and technology of the most powerful imperialist state in the world was concentrated on this one spot. The US commanders were confident that the enemy would rapidly be terrorised into surrendering. They were wrong. The marines smashed their way into Fallujah, killing more than 200 Iraqis, including women and children, while using tanks fire and helicopter gunships against gunmen in the Baghdad slums of Sadr City. The real situation was made brutally clear to the whole world: the Coalition is engaged in the "liberation" of Iraq – from the Iraqi people.

Meeting with unexpectedly ferocious resistance, the US forces were unable to conquer and occupy the city. Finally, the Americans were forced to negotiate a truce with local tribal and religious leaders: the Fallujah insurgents would give up their heavy weapons in exchange for a looser curfew, unrestricted "humanitarian" access to the city and a gradual return of families that had fled.

The use of the word "humanitarian" by those who have been engaged in the indiscriminate bombing and shelling of the city for weeks is typical of the rotten hypocrisy of imperialism. But behind these weasel words lies a most unpalatable truth. By agreeing to a truce, the mightiest army in the world was confessing a defeat. Its plan to shatter the resistance forces in Fallujah, to annihilate them and break their nerve, has signally failed.

This is a major humiliation for the Americans, and one that will have incalculable military and political consequences. It shows to the people of Iraq and to the entire world that the military might of US imperialism is not invincible, that it has definite limits and can be defeated. In retrospect the battle for Fallujah will be seen as a turning point in the war in Iraq, just as the Tet offensive was a turning point for the war in Vietnam.

The truce itself has a very relative – not to say fictitious - character. Neither side trusts the other. Each side is seeking to gain an advantage prior to a renewal of hostilities. American commanders have complained that only a derisory pile of rusted weapons has been handed over. Naturally, the rebels have no intention of disarming – that is to say, they have no intention of committing suicide.

For their part, the US forces have warned that unless this changes, it will be "days, not weeks" before they consider moving into the city again. It is only a matter of time before the murderous assault begins again. The rebels cannot afford to surrender, and the American army cannot afford to fail. In the end Fallujah will be pounded to a bloody pulp. It will be utterly destroyed. But from the ashes a new spirit of Iraqi resistance will be born. Even though they win a military victory, US imperialism will have suffered a decisive political defeat.

Fallujah has become a signal and a symbol of the opposition of all Iraqis to the enforced occupation of their country. All the attempts of the occupiers to demonize the insurgents as "small groups of Islamic fanatics and die-hard supporters of Saddam Hussein" have been exposed as lies. An Iraqi academic, Sulieman Jumeili, who lives in the city of Fallujah, told how he discovered that 80 per cent of all rebels killed were Iraqi Islamist activists. Only 13 per cent of the dead men were primarily nationalists and only 2 per cent had been Baathists.

Armed resistance to foreign domination has spread with the speed of an uncontrollable forest fire that has engulfed the entire country. The coalition forces are being attacked everywhere. While the US army continue to surround Fallujah, a Sunni city, the radical Shia cleric, Muqtada al-Sadr Najaf and his militia are confronted by American troops.

The American demanded that he be captured or killed. Brave talk indeed! Now, however, they have decided that discretion is the better part of valour. As in Fallujah, they have been forced to negotiate. The Americans are demanding that he disband his militia. A very modest request! A heavily armed robber enters your house. You pick up a kitchen knife to defend yourself, and the robber demands that you hand it over to him in the name of peace and good neighbourliness! Naturally, Muqtada al-Sadr Najaf is somewhat reluctant to agree.

Despite this unreasonable attitude, the Coalition are wary of going after him. They realise that this is an animal that bites! Moreover, there are political considerations. Iraq's top Shia cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, has warned strongly against an American attack on Najaf, a Shia holy city, calling it a "red line" that must not be crossed. Thus, they are faced with the same dilemma as in Fallujah. They can win a military victory (though not without heavy losses), but the price they will have to pay is the alienation of the entire Shia population in Iraq. As a matter of fact, they have already achieved this. But those Shia "moderate" leaders who have been willing to talk to them will be utterly undermined.

The uprising will compel the Coalition forces to act with still greater brutality. This will anger yet more ordinary Iraqis and drive them into the arms of the resistance. This will lead to further fighting, which will in turn provoke more violence on the part of the occupation forces, and so on in a never-ending downward spiral.

The Americans' hope to hand over power to a puppet government in Baghdad now looks forlorn. As the June 30th deadline for the transfer of sovereignty to Iraqis approaches fewer and fewer people give it the slightest credibility. The attack on Fallujah has so alarmed the "moderates" (i.e. collaborators) that they openly criticised the conduct of the USA. It is if a ventriloquist's dummy suddenly developed a mind of its own and started to argue with its master. This little fact is a graphic expression of the fury that is building up in the bowels of Iraqi society.

In desperation, the American government has announced a relaxation of its de-Baathification policies. It will now be easier for former members of Saddam's Baath party to appeal against the blanket ban on joining the government and the new Iraqi army. The move may be intended appease angry Sunnis in areas like Fallujah. The Sunnis were privileged under Saddam, and the ascendancy of the Shia majority since his fall is one cause of frustration among them. But the new policy probably has a more practical impetus: the coalition needs trained Iraqis to shoulder more of the security burden.

The attempt to create an Iraqi police that would take over a big part of the tasks of keeping the population down – and also take a big part of the losses currently being sustained by American soldiers – has ended in a farce. The nascent Iraqi security forces cannot control the country. During the recent fighting they deserted, refused to fight, or even turned their guns against the Americans who had trained them.

If the idea of allowing former servants of Saddam Hussein into positions in the security forces was to appease the Sunnis it was a big miscalculation. Coming after the massacre in Fallujah, it will not impress the Sunnis in the slightest. Their hatred of the invaders is now indelible. It will not satisfy the Sunnis – but it will further infuriate the Shias and other groups who suffered under the old regime. On the other hand, if the Americans are reinstating the old officers who were responsible for murder, torture and all manner of crimes against the Iraqi people, what is left of the claim that the invasion was intended to bring about a "change of regime" and a new age of peace and democracy in Iraq?

The Americans are also looking around for more foreign troops in addition to more trained Iraqis. But their chances are not great. The decision of the new socialist government in Spain to pull its 1,400 troops out of Iraq has started a chain reaction. Honduras and the Dominican Republic have announced that they would withdraw their own small contingents. Condoleezza Rice, the American national security adviser, has admitted that she believes other countries might follow.

So far, Japan, South Korea and Italy have stood firm on their commitments, despite the high-profile kidnappings of their civilians. But for how long can this continue? The bloody quagmire in Iraq will inevitably cause new earthquakes that will echo through the political life of all these countries, setting off after-shocks that will rock governments and overthrow them.

The growing desperation in Washington and London is expressed in appeals to the United Nations to intervene. Lakhdar Brahimi, the United Nations' special envoy to Iraq, returned recently from an 11-day trip to the country with a plan for the post-June 30th government. Under this plan, the coalition-appointed Governing Council would be abolished. In its place would be a team of technocratic ministers, chosen by the UN in consultation with coalition leaders and current Governing Council members. These would run Iraq until elections could be held in 2005.

The Economist writes: "Senior Bush administration officials have expressed cautious support for the plan, probably recognising it as the price for a new UN Security Council resolution blessing the changeover. But the Americans may want to limit the sovereignty of the transition government—on Thursday, the Bush administration suggested curbs on the Iraqis' ability to control the armed forces and pass new laws. This could scupper agreement on a new Security Council resolution.

"A new resolution would be diplomatically useful, giving coalition members political cover to keep their troops in the country. But the pullout of Spain, Honduras and the Dominican Republic, combined with wavering comments from Poland, Thailand, Kazakhstan and the Philippines, suggest this may not be enough. No wonder the Pentagon has drawn up plans to increase significantly America's troop strength in Iraq."

These lines adequately express the real rationale behind the latest diplomatic manoeuvre of Washington. The UN, which they so cavalierly excluded from all their calculations before the invasion of Iraq, is now being invited to clear up the mess. But this pleasant prospect is to be subject to certain conditions: while the French and Germans do all the hard work, the Americans and British will keep control of security – that is to say, they will keep in their hands the real power, and use it as they wish. Moreover, there seems little possibility that the Americans will contemplate sharing Iraq's oil and the lucrative construction projects with other nations. No wonder the French and Germans are not falling over themselves to accept.

Nor will a new UN resolution do much to encourage those nations that are pulling out of Iraq to send their troops back there. In reality, the only country apart from the USA that maintains anything resembling a credible military force in Iraq is Britain. Thus far, the British have seen far less violence than the Americans have in central Iraq. But that cosy situation is ending. Very soon the British troops will face the same kind of uprisings we have seen elsewhere. This will add fuel to the protest movement in Britain, where Tony Blair every day looks more like an aging professional boxer who has received too many blows to the head.

Britain's prime minister originally announced that he sees no need to add troops to Britain's deployment of 7,500 in Iraq despite the renewed conflict. This reflected the fact that even this pig-headed man is beginning to feel the pressure. However, the withdrawal of the Spanish troops soon forced him to think again. More British troops will have to be sent, and more than one will return home in a coffin.

By tying his country so close to the USA, blindly following the dictates of George Bush, Blair is preparing to commit political suicide. His every action betrays the mentality of a man who has lost his bearings, and is adrift without a map or a compass, being carried on currents that he cannot understand and still less control.

On 09 April 2004 Robert Fisk wrote: "A War founded on illusions and lies and right-wing ideology was bound to founder in blood and fire. Saddam had weapons of mass destruction. He was in contact with al-Qa'ida, he was involved with the crimes against humanity of 11 September. The people of Iraq would greet us with flowers and music. There would be a democracy. […]

"Even this week, as the promises and lies and obfuscations fell apart, the American military spokesman was still only able to give military casualties - this when more than 200 Iraqis are reported to have been killed in the US attack on Fallujah.

"Over the months, the isolation of the occupation authorities from the Iraqi people they were supposed to care so much about was only paralleled by the vast distance in false hope and self-deceit between the occupying powers in Baghdad and their masters back in Washington."

Commenting ironically on the claims of the US military commanders, Fisk writes:

"And so the bloodbath spreads ever further across Iraq. Kut and Najaf are now outside the control of the occupying powers. And with each new collapse, we are told of new hope. Yesterday, General Sanchez was still talking about his "total confidence" in his troops who were "clear in their purpose", how they were making "progress" in Fallujah and how - these are his actual words, "a new dawn is approaching".

"Which is exactly what US commanders were saying exactly a year ago today - when US troops drove into the Iraqi capital and when Washington boasted of victory against the Beast of Baghdad."

These lines, written by one of the very few western journalists not afraid to speak the truth, express the real situation in Iraq. One year after the so-called "victory", the Americans are not winning the war. They are losing it. The reasons for this situation are not military but political. When a whole people stand up and say "No!" no power on earth can keep them down. Against this power, all the rockets, satellites and technology in the world are impotent. With every bomb that falls on the residential slums of Baghdad and the Iraqi southern cities, the hatred of the invaders will grow more intense.

The conflict in Iraq has entered into a new phase. The Iraqis who have risen up against the occupation are not "insurgents" or "terrorists". They are the whole Iraqi people, who have risen up against a brutal foreign occupation of their country. The labour movement of the whole world must support the right of the Iraqi people to determine their own destiny, free from external interference. We must demand the immediate withdrawal of all foreign troops from Iraqi soil.

End the criminal occupation of Iraq!

Bring the troops home now!

Down with imperialism and capitalism – the source of all wars, hunger and misery in the world!