Fallujah, the 'resistance' city, is liberated yet again – for the fourth time in a decade

As history tells us, there are reasons to be cautious about the claims that the Iraqi city of Fallujah is freed from Isis control

Robert Fisk
Sunday 26 June 2016 16:41
Comments
Soldiers in Fallujah
Soldiers in Fallujah

There’s a truism long held in the Arab world: when the bad guys proclaim victory, they’re probably telling the truth. When the good guys proclaim victory, there’s usually just a little bit more fighting to be done before the promise is fulfilled; meaning another few days’ fighting, another week, another month… So when the Iraqi commander tells the people of Iraq that Fallujah has been “liberated” – for the fourth time in a decade, by my count – it’s time to use the critical faculties that politicians and armies so often lack.

Fallujah, you may remember, was the "city of mosques" whose Sunni people liberated themselves from Saddam’s rule a few days before their American liberators turned up in 2003 to tell the world they had themselves freed Fallujah from the evil Saddam. Then the city decided it didn’t want the American version of liberation and its resistance forces began attacking US troops who found themselves fighting – you guessed it – “terrorists” in Fallujah.

In two street protests in 2003, the American 82nd Airborne managed to kill 19 Iraqi civilians. They claimed – like the British 1st Parachute Regiment in Derry in 1972 – that they had been fired on by the protestors, but human rights groups said they could find no evidence of this. Nor could journalists who visited the scene. Come early 2004, and four armed American mercenaries in Fallujah, betrayed by a local Fallujah cop, were hauled from their vehicles and murdered. The Americans decided that the city should be ‘liberated’ again – and the Marines, in the preposterously named ‘Operation Vigilant Resolve’, laid siege to the city in March. They then handed it over to local Iraqi army troops formally loyal to Saddam – who promptly handed it back to the resistance (or ‘terrorists’). In November, therefore, it was time for the even more ridiculously named ‘Operation Phantom Fury’ in which hundreds of ‘terrorists’ were supposedly killed, along with dozens of US Marines.

The Americans denied using white phosphorous in the battle – then admitted they had indeed used phosphorous. And when Iraqi mothers in the city subsequently suffered a small a plague of stillborn and grossly deformed babies, their families blamed this on the use of American phosphorous shells. But in 2004, the Americans claimed they had discovered evidence of torture chambers in Fallujah and freed at least two hostages, one of them the chauffeur of a French journalist. There was no reason for surprise.

Fallujah had become "resistance city" for the army of rebels – Saddam veterans, foreign fighters and a growing al-Qaeda force in Iraq – over many months. In early 2004, I bought a series of videotapes on sale outside one of Fallujah’s largest mosques; they showed the beheading of Russian troops in Chechenya by bearded Islamists, each soldier led into a bare room where his throat was cut open in camera close-ups. They were training tapes; the Isis-to-be rebels of Fallujah were being taught the skills of a butcher -- how to decapitate prisoners.

The lessons were put to swift use. The mortuaries of Baghdad filled each morning with headless corpses – one arrived with a dog’s head sewn onto the torso – and Fallujah became a no-go city. Fallujah was not a beheading centre, but it was an untamable city. In 2012, I visited the families of the malformed but still living children born after "Phantom Fury" – all bravely saying that they would care for their sons and daughters until they died because they were a gift from God – but my journeys around the city were guarded by black-uniformed Iraqi cops. One of their colleagues had just been murdered in an al-Qaeda ambush; al-Qaeda used another policeman’s radio to claim responsibility for the killing.

So when Isis overran Mosul three years later, Tikrit, Fallujah and the neighbouring city of Ramadi were bound to return to Sunni rebel rule, although many of the armed groups were tribesmen rather than Isis members. Tikrit was recaptured last year by a deeply pessimistic (and wounded) Iraqi Shiite lieutenant general called Abdul-Wahab al-Saadi who feared that Shiite militias had murdered several prisoners and complained that his country would be divided if his men were not better trained and armed.

A month ago, the Shia Iraqi government, supported by both the US and Iran as well as local Shia militias from southern Iraq, announced an even more ill-informed ‘Operation Breaking Terror’ and laid siege to Fallujah all over again, sending thousands of civilians fleeing for their lives and taking away for ‘interrogation’ at least 60 Sunni civilians, who are now suspected of being murdered by Shia militias. As usual when Fallujah is being ‘liberated’ US air strikes were called in to smash many ‘terrorist’ buildings to rubble. A week ago, the Iraqi prime minister, Haider al-Abadi, claimed that Fallujah had been ‘liberated’ after city hall, a brown concrete block at the very entrance to Fallujah, had been captured. Then the shooting went on.

Until a few hours ago when the very same Lieutenant General Abdul-Wahab al-Saadi of Tikrit fame announced that his men had “fully [sic] liberated” Fallujah. No much of the city left, unfortunately – it’s been rebuilt twice already – but then yet further shooting was heard. What was that truism again? When the good guys proclaim victory…

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Please enter a valid email
Please enter a valid email
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Please enter your first name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
Please enter your last name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
You must be over 18 years old to register
You must be over 18 years old to register
Opt-out-policy
You can opt-out at any time by signing in to your account to manage your preferences. Each email has a link to unsubscribe.

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

Comments

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged in