What follows is a collage put together from the eyewitness accounts of reporters with major newspapers and news services, most of them embedded with U.S. troops. It is meant to be a portrait of Falluja well, you can’t quite say “after the battle” since — as in the Chechen capital Grozny after the Russians flattened it in 1999 — the fighting goes on and on. I’m sorry to say that I suspect the following only begins to catch the scale of the destruction in Falluja:
“Even the dogs have started to die, their corpses strewn among twisted metal and shattered concrete in a city that looks like it forgot to breathe. The aluminum shutters of shops on the main highway through town have been transformed by the force of war into mangled accordion shapes, flat, sharp, jarring slices of metal that no longer obscure the stacks of silver pots, the plastic-wrapped office furniture, the rolls of carpet [T]he insurgents were putting up their most tenacious resistance as US and Iraqi forces pursued them through a bleak landscape of bombed-out cinder block factories and houses reminiscent of the movie Blade Runner’ It is still far from clear when civilian residents will be allowed back in [to Falluja] — or what they will think of this post-apocalyptic wasteland when they are Driving down Highway 10, the main street running east to west through the heart of Falluja, is like entering a film that is set sometime on the other side of Armageddon. Cars sit on the roofs of buildings. Lamp posts lie at odd angles on the street. Just south of the highway, a minaret has been snapped off near the base like a pretzel stick, and another minaret is missing a huge chunk. Fire has blackened the facade of building after building As he trudged through the desolate, rubble-filled streets, [Marine Sgt Aristotel] Barbosa said he remembered thinking how bad the city looked, worse than he had imagined. Basically every house has a hole through it,’ he said
“A drive through the city revealed a picture of utter destruction, with concrete houses flattened, mosques in ruins, telegraph poles down, power and phone lines hanging slack and rubble and human remains littering the empty streets. The north-west Jolan district, once an insurgent stronghold, looked like a ghost town, the only sound the rumbling of tank tracks Restaurant signs were covered in soot. Pavements were crushed by 70-ton Abrams tanks, and rows of crumbling buildings stood on both sides of deserted streets. Upmarket homes with garages looked as if they had been abandoned for years. Cars lay crushed in the middle of streets The reaction of US troops to attacks, say residents, have been out of all proportion; shots by snipers have been answered by rounds from Abrams tanks, devastating buildings and, it is claimed, injuring and killing civilians. This is firmly denied by the American military. About 200,000 refugees fled the fighting, and there have been outbreaks of typhoid and other diseases The city’s Haj Hussein mosque was destroyed in one overnight air raid, [residents] said. The U.S. military says it considers mosques legitimate targets if insurgents use them for military purposes
“Rasoul Ibrahim, a father of three, fled Falluja on foot on Thursday morning and arrived with his wife and children in Habbaniya, about 12 miles to the west, at night. He said families left in the city were in desperate need. There’s no water. People are drinking dirty water. Children are dying. People are eating flour because there’s no proper food,’ he told aid workers in Habbaniya, which has become a refugee camp, with around 2,000 families sheltering there Cowering in their house with nothing to eat or drink as bombardments and firefights shook their neighborhood, Iyad al-Mashadani and his family dug a 3-foot hole in their yard and drank the brackish water. We were sure that we would die,’ said Mashadani, 32, a car mechanic
“The brutal assault has crushed homes and mosques and ground much of the southern neighborhoods into rubble. Survivors are hungry and aid convoys have been unable to reach them. Reports of civilian suffering, expected to spread after the Americans loosen [their] grip on the city, could transform Fallujah into a shrine to Muslim warriors killed in the fighting The town’s main east-west drag, a key objective of U.S. troops, is a tangle of rubble-filled lots and shot-up storefronts. Shattered water and sewage pipes have left pools of sewage-filled water, sometimes knee-deep. Scorched and potholed streets are filled with debris; power lines droop in tangles or lie on the ground. Many mosques, the city’s pride and joy, are a shambles after insurgents used them as shelter and firing positions, drawing return fire from the Marines The entire municipal government complex must be rebuilt and secured. The police station, City Hall and other government buildings have been seriously damaged, heavily looted and are occupied by Marines Despite the clear military gains, the city remains insecure enough that major civil affairs units that will oversee reconstruction have yet to arrive. But more than $50 million in contracts has already been let, and people are standing by, ready to start work as soon as it is safe enough In the works is some kind of Welcome Back to Fallouja’ campaign, directing residents to military civil affairs offices where people can find reconstruction help Though a weeklong American offensive smashed the insurgents’ haven of Falluja, snipers continued Tuesday to shoot at American troops roaming the debris-covered streets. Residents began to warily step out of their homes, emerging into a wasteland devastated by American bombs and bullets.”
[The sources for the quotes above are in order: the Washington Post‘s, Jackie Spinner, “Fallujah Battered And Mostly Quiet After the Battle”; the Boston Globe‘s Anne Barnard, “In hidden spots, a tenacious foe”; (the New York Times‘ Robert F. Worth, “Battleground: As Fire Crackles in Falluja, G.I.’s Look to Rebuild a Wasteland”; Spinner, “In Fallujah, Marines Feel Shock of War”; the British Independent‘s Michael Georgy in Fallujah and Kim Sengupta, “A city lies in ruins, along with the lives of the wretched survivors”; Reuters‘ Michael Georgy and Fadel al-Badrani, “U.S. Forces Say Rebels Trapped in Southern Falluja”; Barnard, “Fallujah refugees describe ordeal of life in crossfire”; the Associated Press‘s Jim Krane, “U.S. racing insurgents for influence in Fallujah as battle winds down”; the Los Angeles Times‘ Patrick J. McDonnell, “Iraqi City Lies in Ruins”; the New York Times‘ Edward Wong, “U.S. Troops Move to Rein In Rebels in North of Iraq.”]
And the latest reports indicate that American troops are still mortaring parts of Falluja, that insurgents are attempting to slip back into the city, and that at least one of the leaders of the homegrown Fallujan rebels remains there, and defiantly so. (“‘The Americans have opened the gates of hell,’ Abdullah Janabi said Monday in Fallujah The battle of Fallujah is the beginning of other battles.’ Iraqi officials had said they believed Janabi, a 53-year-old Sunni cleric, had fled the city before U.S. troops pushed into the insurgent stronghold. But he spoke from the city’s southern section, at times boasting of losses inflicted on U.S. troops and at other times insisting that other insurgent leaders remained in Fallujah with him.”)
All of this provides a context for Jonathan Schell’s discussion of the battle for “hearts and minds” in Iraq (which the editors of the Nation magazine have kindly allowed Tomdispatch to publish on-line). From his experience covering the Vietnam War long ago for the New Yorker Magazine (see his classic book The Real War), Schell knows a good deal about that “battle” and the escalating levels of destruction that tend to go with it. His most recent book The Unconquerable World offers an unparalleled three-century-long perspective on imperial attempts to nail down hearts and conquer minds, almost invariably in the long run without success but at a horrific cost in life and limb.
Read regular dispatches by Tom Engelhardt at Tomdispatch.com, a web log of The Nation Institute.