Remember Fallujah

Milan Rai, 25th November 2005ce

This is the story of Fallujah, and how it became so famous and so dangerous; how it became a ruined city. It is also the story of how the United States - and Britain - became the problem in Iraq, not the solution. In April 2004, Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said, ‘[I]t was not the Americans who cast the first stone, either in Fallujah nor in the areas where they came under attack.’ This is a lie.


In April 2003, US troops entered the peaceful city of Fallujah (which had not resisted the US-led invasion), occupying the local secondary school. On 28 April, an unarmed demonstration by local people demanding the withdrawal of the troops and the re- opening of the school was met with US gunfire. 13 civilians, including 3 teenagers, were killed.

The troops were probably responding to the sound of guns being fired in the air nearby to celebrate Saddam Hussein’s birthday. British journalist Phil Reeves concluded that the soldiers were not fired on: ‘There are no bullet marks on the facade of the school or the perimeter wall in front of it.’ (Independent on Sunday, 4 May 2003, p. 17)

Despite this unprovoked atrocity, Fallujah continued to protest nonviolently. Another unarmed demonstration followed two days later.

At the demo, reporters from the Daily Mirror saw a young boy hurl a sandal at a US jeep. A soldier in the jeep, perhaps mistaking it for a grenade, unleashed a 20-second burst of his machine gun at ‘a crowd of 1,000 unarmed people’. Two people were killed.

Reporter Chris Hughes said, ‘We heard no warning to disperse and saw no guns or knives among the Iraqis whose religious and tribal leaders kept shouting through loudhailers to remain peaceful.’ After the shooting, those in the crowd still standing—‘now apparently insane with anger—ran at the fortress battering its walls with their fists. Many had tears pouring down their faces.’ (Daily Mirror, 1 May 2003, p. 4)


Two unprovoked massacres in three days. Fifteen unarmed civilians dead. No apology. No punishment of any soldiers. No withdrawal of troops.

The people of Fallujah, a city of 300,000, turned decisively to violence. Sheikh Jamil Ibrahim Mohammed said, ‘What can you do if a man sees American troops kill his son, and then you see these same men on our streets every day? Of course he will seek revenge, especially if he sees there is no justice from the Americans.’ (Times, 12 June 2003, p. 16)

‘Everyone here was happy at first that the Americans threw out Saddam,’ Ibrahim Hamad, a retired soldier, said. ‘But these killings will make all our children go off with bin Laden.’ (Reuters, 1 May 2003)


The message of the April massacres was: US soldiers must prioritise their own safety, whatever the cost to the civilian population. Any potential threat may be destroyed, without fear of punishment.

These rules of engagement have been applied throughout the US zone of occupation. The resulting civilian deaths have fuelled and expanded the insurgency. This is how Fallujah and the wider ‘Sunni triangle’ became a hotbed of insurgency.


Amnesty International said in a July 2005 report: ‘US forces have committed gross violations of international human rights and humanitarian law. They have not taken necessary precautions to minimize risk to civilians. They have used cluster weapons in bombing residential areas, which have resulted in the deaths of many civilians. They have used excessive force in responding to demonstrations, tortured and ill-treated detainees and made them “disappear”. They have made arbitrary arrests and held people in prolonged incommunicado detention. These violations have incensed the Iraqi population, especially in the predominantly Sunni areas in central and western Iraq, and are believed to have fuelled the armed insurgency.’


The 28 and 30 April massacres were almost immediately erased from history. Reporting from Fallujah on a US operation on 16 June 2003, the Telegraph (p. 10), the Guardian (p. 10), and the FT (p. 6) all referred to anti-US attacks, and local hostility, without mentioning the massacres.


Since April 2003, there have been two major invasions of Fallujah (US forces were forced to withdraw from the city soon after the massacres). The first came after the killing, mutilation and public burning of four ‘private military contractors’ (mercenaries) by a massive crowd just outside Fallujah on 31 March 2004.

Five days earlier, US marines had swept through Fallujah killing ‘at least six Iraqi civilians, including an 11-year-old boy, and a television cameraman’. (Observer, 28 March 2004 ) Could this have contributed to the crowd’s hatred? The media did not ask.

At least one US battalion had ‘orders to shoot any male of military age on the streets after dark, armed or not’. One US soldier told the New York Times ‘he had seen an American helicopter fire a missile at a man with a slingshot. “Crazy huh?” ’ (NYT, 14 April 2004 ).

According to the local hospital director, 731 civilians were killed by US forces in Fallujah. (link)

The invasion was halted by protests inside and outside Iraq, partly because of the loss of civilian life.


In November 2004, there was another massive US assault (with direct British military support), but there were no large-scale protests either inside or outside Iraq, despite US Lt. Col Gareth Brandl’s remark on the eve of battle that ‘the enemy has got a face. He’s called Satan. He lives in Falluja, and we’re going to destroy him.’ (The Times, Nov 7 2004)

US forces announced before the bombardment that men under the age of 45 trying to leave the city would be arrested. (Sunday Telegraph, 7 Nov. 2004> It was estimated that around 60,000 civilians but only between ‘600 to 6,000’ fighters remained in Fallujah before the assault. It was reported that ‘Anyone still in the city will be regarded as a potential insurgent.’ (Observer, 7 Nov. 2004 )

Dr Rafa’ah al-Iyssaue, director of the main hospital in Fallujah reported to the UN after the invasion that more than 700 bodies had been recovered from the rubble in 9 out of the city’s 27 neighbourhoods. 550 were women and children.


The main justification offered for the November assault was the need to break the hold of ‘the terrorists’. However, in October, ‘local insurgent leaders voted overwhelmingly to accept broad conditions set by the Iraqi government, including demands that they eject foreign fighters from the city, turn over all heavy weapons, dismantle illegal checkpoints and allow the Iraqi National Guard to enter the city.’

True, the insurgents had their own conditions, ‘which included a halt to U.S. attacks on the city and acknowledgment by the military that women and children have been among the casualties in U.S. strikes.’ (Washington Post, 28 Oct 2004). But this might have achieved the bloodless exclusion of ‘foreign fighters’ and heavy weapons from the city, if this was indeed the purpose of the invasion. The offer was rejected out of hand.

A (mainly Sunni) coalition proposed ‘a plan to establish the rule of law in those areas through peaceful means’ on the basis of six measures, ‘including a demand that U.S. forces remain confined to bases in the month before balloting’ for the January elections. An official involved in establishing the transitional government said this was ‘very significant... If you look at their demands, they’re not impossible. They are things that can be discussed.’

Larry Diamond, who served in the US-led occupation authority, said, ‘If there’s a chance that this could be the beginning of political transformation that could change he situation on the ground, I think we’ve got to take it.” (Washington Post, 6 Nov. 2004)

These proposals might not have worked. They were not tried.


The real purpose of the assault was to teach Fallujah a lesson in terror. A lesson that has been taught elsewhere since, including in Karabila, Qaim, and Tal Afar. Noted commentator Juan Cole remarks: ‘the massive force employed clearly announces that a subsidiary goal is to terrify the Sunni Arab population and to “encourage” them to report on the guerrillas from now on... Saddam called this sort of policy “tarhib wa taqrib”: first you terrify your subjects, then you find ways of pulling them close to you.’

We follow Saddam’s path.


Pace Jack Straw, the US did ‘throw the first stone’ in Fallujah. With British support, and media self-censorship, the US continues to fuel the insurgency with its racist brutality. Remember Fallujah, and resist.

The above article was previously published online by Remember Fallujah, and on paper as a pull-out in Peace News by Voices In The Wilderness.

At the time of publishing, Milan Rai is serving a prison sentence after refusing to pay a fine of £2,135 for defacing the Foreign Office in London.

Mil sprayed Foreign Office with fake blood and stencilled 'Blackwatch out' and 'Don't attack Fallujah' before the US/UK onslaught of the Iraqi city of November 2004.

He said: I've refused to pay this sum, because I think that marking the Foreign Office with anti-war messages was a legally and morally justifiable response to the threatened assault on Fallujah.'

Mil explained to the magistrate that the issue of guilt had been settled, he said: 'I have pleaded guilty to doing too little too late to help the people of Fallujah, but I don't believe I am the only guilty person in the room.'


Indymedia report of Mil's action at the Foreign Office

Mil\'s prison writings

Justice Not Vengeance

George Monbiot's articles on Fallujah:
War Without Rules
the use of white phosphrous in Fallujah

A War Crime Within A War Crime Within A War Crime
the response to the white phosphorous story