ROVING EYE From Guernica to Fallujah
By Pepe Escobar
difficult to believe that in this day and age, when
people are blogging, emailing and communicating at the
speed of light, a whole city is being destroyed and
genocide is being committed - and the whole world is
aware and silent. Darfur, Americans? Take a look at what
you've done in Fallujah." - Female Iraqi blogger
The Fallujah offensive has virtually
disappeared from the news cycle. But history - if
written by Iraqis - may well enshrine it as the new
Guernica. Paraphrasing Jean-Paul Sartre memorably
writing about the Algerian War (1956-62), after
Fallujah no two Americans shall meet without a corpse
lying between them: the up to 500,000 victims of the
sanctions in the 1990s, according to United Nations
experts; the up to 100,000 victims since the beginning
of the invasion of Iraq, according to the British
medical paper The Lancet; and at least 6,000 victims,
and counting, in Fallujah, according to the Iraqi Red
The new Guernica Fallujah is the new Guernica. The
residents of the Basque capital in 1937 were resisting
the Spanish dictator Francisco Franco. Fallujah in
2004 was resisting the dictator Iyad Allawi, the
US-installed interim premier. Franco asked Nazi Germany
- which supported him - to bomb Guernica, just as
Allawi "asked" the Pentagon to bomb Fallujah. Guernica
had no air force and no anti-aircraft guns to defend
itself - just like Fallujah. In Guernica - as in
Fallujah - there was no distinction between civilians
and guerrillas: the order was to "kill them all". The
Nazis shouted "Viva la muerte!"
("Long live death")
along with their fascist Spanish counterparts before
Marine commanders said on the
record that Fallujah was the house of Satan. Franco denied
the Guernica massacre and blamed the local population -
just as Allawi and the Pentagon deny any civilian deaths
and insist "insurgents" are guilty: after all, they dared
to defend their own city, hiding inside their hundreds
of formerly intact mosques.
Fallujah has been
reduced to rubble, and thousands of civilians have died.
But Asia Times Online sources in Baghdad confirm that
according to residents, the southern - and larger - part
of Fallujah is still controlled by the resistance; the
Americans control only the north and some eastern spots.
Small groups made up of five to 20 mujahideen still
conduct hit-and-run attacks. More than 15,000 refugee
families may be living in sordid makeshift shelters
around Fallujah - not to mention the upwards of 200,000
residents who escaped the city before it was leveled.
Talking to al-Jazeera television network this past
weekend, Sheikh Abd as-Salam al-Kubaysi, chief of the
public relations department of the powerful Sunni Association
of Muslim Scholars (AMS) confirmed that "until
now, more than half of Fallujah is in the hands of
the resistance". Al-Kubaysi added that "the Americans are
entrenched in Fallujah but cannot get out and on to
any street or alley in more than half the city, whether
that be in Jolan, Shuhada or the industrial zone, or
Nazal, or in many places".
Dr al-Kubaysi is an
unimpeachable source. A native Fallujan and university
professor of Islamic Sharia, he represents the AMS
outside Iraq and lived in Fallujah until before the
invasion of Iraq. AMS clerics in Baghdad also confirm
Iraqi Red Crescent estimates, via its spokesman Muhamad
al-Nuri, that more than 6,000 people - mostly civilians
- may have died. Nuri confirms "bodies can be seen
everywhere and people were crying when receiving food
parcels. It is very sad, it is a human disaster."
Another Halabja? Fifteen years ago in
Halabja - at a time when Washington was an enthusiastic
supplier of chemical weapons to Saddam Hussein -
thousands of Kurds were gassed. Even the US Central
Intelligence Agency has disputed Saddam's
responsibility, blaming Iranians instead. Assuming
Saddam did it, and did it deliberately, the US may have
done the same thing in Fallujah. As Asia Times Online
has reported, Fallujah doctors have identified either
swollen and yellowish corpses without any injuries, or
"melted bodies" - victims of napalm, the terrifying
cocktail of polystyrene and jet fuel. Our sources
confirm testimonies by residents who managed to escape
the Jolan neighborhood of bombing by "poisonous gases".
A resident called Abu Sabah told of "weird bombs that
smoke like a mushroom cloud ... and then small pieces
fall from the air with long tails of smoke behind them.
The pieces of these strange bombs explode into large
fires that burn the skin even when you throw water over
them". This is exactly what happens to people bombed
with napalm or white phosphorus. The UN banned the
bombing of civilians with napalm in 1980. The US is the
only country in the world still using napalm.
Upwards of 250,000 Fallujans at least had the
chance to escape: instead they became Fallujah refugees.
Practically not a single word from them about the
massacre is to be found in US corporate media.
This is yet one more extreme, bitter irony of the war:
President George W Bush and the neo-conservatives
invaded Iraq based on "intelligence" supplied by
five-star refugees like Ahmad Chalabi and Allawi - but
blueprint The defining image of Fallujah - for
Iraqis, for the Arab world, for 1.3 billion Muslims - is
the summary execution of a wounded, defenseless Iraqi
man inside a mosque by a marine. This execution, caught
on tape, suggests "special" rules of engagement were
applying. Marine commanders have been on the record
telling their soldiers to "shoot everything that moves
and everything that doesn't move"; to fire "two bullets
in every body"; in case of seeing any military-aged men
in the streets of Fallujah, to "drop 'em"; and to spray
every home with machine-gun and tank fire before
entering them. These "rules" are all confirmed by
residents of Fallujah who managed to escape.
The counterinsurgency blueprint in Iraq is a 182-page
field manual distributed to each and every soldier and
issued in October by the Pentagon. It's very enlightening to
confront its provisions with the reality on the ground
in Fallujah - and also take into consideration the fact
that the rules of engagement became even "looser".
Counterinsurgency missions must achieve
the end state established by the president. All
leaders must keep in mind the purpose of their
operations and the criteria of success used to assess
them. Achieving success in counterinsurgency
operations involves accomplishing the following tasks:
Protect the population.
Establish local political institutions.
Reinforce local governments.
Eliminate insurgent capabilities.
Exploit information from local sources.
By any standards, the whole mission
was a political disaster. Fallujah's population was not
protected: it was bombed out of the city and turned into
a mass of thousands of refugees. Political institutions
were already in place: the Fallujah Shura was running
the city. No local government can possibly run a pile of
rubble to be recovered by seething citizens, not to
mention be "reinforced". "Insurgent capabilities" were
not eliminated; the resistance dispersed around the 22
other cities out of control by the occupation, and
spread up north to Mosul; and the Americans remain
without intelligence "from local sources" because they
antagonized every possible heart and mind. All this to
achieve the "end state" established by Bush.
This course favors violence rather than
mass mobilization and normally results in an inverted
pyramid, with the combatants themselves the bulk of
the movement. This was the approach taken by [Fidel]
Castro in Cuba during the 1950s and may be an approach
some insurgents in Iraq have taken against the
post-Saddam government, although some efforts to
mobilize have been reported.
combatants are not "the bulk of the movement": they are
an armed vanguard representing the widespread Sunni
struggle against the occupation. Whole cities are
mobilized against the occupation. Whole sectors of
Baghdad - for the first time since April 2003 - are
totally out of the Americans' control. Many in the Sunni
triangle told this correspondent one year ago they were
at the tipping point of joining the armed resistance.
They've already crossed the line long ago.
Security of the populace is an imperative.
This is security from the influence of the insurgents
initially. The population is then mobilized, armed and
trained to protect itself. Effective security allows
local political and administrative institutions to
operate freely and commerce to
Sunnis simply don't
trust US-trained security forces, period: they
are identified as collaborationists, just as in
Nazi-occupied France, or in Algeria fighting French
colonialism in the early 1960s. The resistance has
widely infiltrated the US-trained Iraqi forces.
Additional proof is that hundreds deserted and joined
the resistance immediately before the Fallujah
As quickly as possible, though, HN [host
nation] military and police must assume the primary
combat role. A long-term US combat role may undermine
the legitimacy of the HN government and risks
converting the conflict into a US-only war. That
combat role can also further alienate cultures that
are hostile to the US. On the occasion when the threat
to US interests is great and indirect means have
proven insufficient, preemptive US combat operations
may be required. Direct use of US combat forces in
counterinsurgency operations remains a policy option
for the president, and army forces provide it when
The majority of Iraqis know this
has always been a US-only war; they have been
"alienated" for a long time now, if not downright
hostile. Fallujah was indeed a "preemptive US combat
operation", so this means an indigenous resistance was a
"great" threat to US interests; this also means,
according to the Pentagon itself, that the
responsibility for the Fallujah massacre is ultimately
Excessive or indiscriminate use of force
is likely to alienate the local populace, thereby
increasing support for insurgent forces.
Pentagon describes Fallujah, even before it happened.
The American way of war has been to
substitute firepower for manpower. As a result, US
forces have frequently resorted to firepower in the
form of artillery or air any time they make contact.
This creates two negatives in a counterinsurgency.
First, massive firepower causes collateral damage,
thereby frequently driving the locals into the arms of
the insurgents. Second, it allows insurgents to break
contact after having inflicted casualties on friendly
forces. A more effective method is to attack with
ground forces to gain and maintain contact, with the
goal of completely destroying the insurgent force.
This tactic dictates that military forces become
skilled in pursuits. The unit that makes the initial
contact with the insurgent force requires rapid
augmentation to maintain pressure against the fleeing
force, envelop it, and destroy it. These augmentation
[reaction] forces should be given the highest
The "American way of war" once
again messed up in Fallujah, whatever the method.
"Massive firepower" indeed caused widespread "collateral
damage"; and reaction forces failed to "maintain
pressure against the fleeing force". The resistance is
reorganized all over the Sunni triangle, as well as in
Mosul, and still controls at least 60% of destroyed
The successful conduct of
counterinsurgency operations relies on the willing
support and cooperation of the populations directly
involved. Greater priority and awareness is needed to
understand the motivations of the parties involved in
the conflict and the population as a whole. The
understanding of the background and development of the
conflict into which US forces are intervening is of
particular significance. This requires a detailed
understanding of the cultural environment and the
human terrain in which the US forces will be operating
and thereby places a heavy reliance on the use of
HUMINT, human intelligence, was the
first casualty in Fallujah. When you have marine
commanders justifying an attack on a whole city because
it is the house of Satan, any "detailed understanding of
the cultural environment" had already been buried in the
Failure to recognize, respect, understand
and incorporate an understanding of the cultural and
religious aspects of the society in which US forces
are interacting could rapidly lead to an erosion of
the legitimacy of the mission.
this whole scenario started playing out as early as
April 2003, when the resistance movement was born at the
Abu Hanifa Mosque in Baghdad and when marines opened
fire on a peaceful demonstration in Fallujah.
The mission of PSYOP [psychological
operation] is to influence the behavior of foreign
target audiences to support US national objectives.
PSYOP accomplishes this by conveying selected
information and advising on actions that influence the
emotions, motives, objective reasoning, and ultimately
the behavior of foreign audiences. Behavioral change
is at the root of the PSYOP mission.
record shows that the majority of world public opinion
does not support "US national objectives" in Iraq,
regardless of whatever extensive PSYOPs they have been
Deny insurgents access to the population
and resources. Deny the enemy the ability to live. Cut
them off from food, water, clothing - everything.
Identify and prioritize population sectors and
resources to be secured and protected. Unify and
coordinate all civil and security forces and assets
within the community with special attention given to
around-the-clock security, intelligence collection,
PSYOP and civil affairs. Include HN forces in
security-related plans and operations to the maximum
extent possible. Mobilize, arm, and train the local
population to provide their own local community
security. Structure security force activity and
actions to lead to the populace overtly picking a
side. However, these activities and actions must not
be abusive. Establish leverage. Use advice, equipment,
and money to attempt to change people's attitudes and
This is the same old
"starve the water and the fish will die" tactic, already
analyzed in a previous article (Counterinsurgency run amok ,
Nov 18). Once again it has been an abject failure, as
the "fish" keep breeding, the "water" is no less than
the whole Sunni triangle, and nobody is able to identify
a single tangible benefit of life under occupation.
Typical objectives for a population and
resources control operation include the following:
Sever any relationship between the population and
insurgents. Identify and destroy insurgent support
activities within the community. Identify and destroy
insurgent organizational infrastructure. Identify and
eliminate the insurgent political apparatus
(communications). Institute harsh penalties for those
caught supporting the insurgents. Create a secure
physical and psychological environment for the
population, one in which people are free to go about
their business and prosper without worrying about
insurgents taking their freedom and prosperity from
them. Counteract enemy propaganda. Conduct a national
IO campaign strategy with interagency planning and
resources that distributes its message and is
responsive to current events to ensure relevancy.
The cumulative US failure is due to
well-known reasons: cultural insensitivity; no local
human intelligence, because hearts and minds have been
alienated by a "circle the wagons" mentality; and total
incapacity of creating "a secure physical and
psychological environment for the population". Moreover,
counterinsurgency "experts" have no definitive weapons
against the democratization of high technology. A marine
can call an air strike with a satellite phone? The
resistance replies with thousands of engineers,
technicians and mechanics able to rig thousands of cellular
phones and remote-control doorbells to set up ambushes
and booby traps.
Regardless of the legal status of those
persons captured, detained or otherwise held in
custody by US soldiers, they receive humane treatment
until properly released. They are provided with the
minimum protections delineated in the Geneva
Compare it with Abu Ghraib
prison, where abuses took place. And compare it with the
leveling of a whole city in order to "save it".
The facts of the occupation
The "success" of US counterinsurgency efforts can also
effectively be measured against the occupation record so
Dead Iraqi civilians are estimated to be
anything from 15,000 to 100,000 (the British Lancet
report). Johns Hopkins University is 90% certain there are more
than 40,000 dead civilians.
The resistance was around 5,000 strong in late 2003.
Now it is at least 20,000 strong. Some British generals
put them at 50,000 strong - and counting.
Of the US$18.4 billion in Iraqi
reconstruction funds, Washington/Baghdad has spent only $1.7
billion. Our Baghdad sources confirm the capital has
degenerated into a giant, hyper-violent slum, getting worse by
the day. There's 25% less electricity now compared with Saddam
times in early 2003 - 66% less in Baghdad.
At least 400,000 Iraqi children suffer from chronic
diarrhea and have almost no protein, according to a UN
development report. Sixty percent of rural Iraqis and
20% of urban Iraqis are forced to drink contaminated
According to a Gallup poll - taken before
the Fallujah massacre - only 33% of respondents
thought their lives were better than before the war.
Ninety-four percent said Baghdad was more dangerous.
Sixty-six percent believed the occupation could degenerate into
a civil war. And 80% wanted the occupation over
right after the January 30 elections.
thousand Guernicas What Americans and US
corporate media seem incapable of understanding is that
counterinsurgency operations - however massive and
deadly - simply are not enough to break the back of wars
of national liberation. The Fallujah offensive was a
typical demonstration of the power of which Washington
"chicken hawks" are fond. But if they had read their Che
Guevara (Episodes in the Cuban Revolutionary War)
and their General Vo Nguyen Giap (Writings) of
the Vietnam resistance correctly, they would have seen
that instilling fear and terror is useless as a strategy
of capturing hearts and minds. No wonder the majority of
Sunnis (the "water") keep supporting the resistance (the
"fish") with weapons, cash and shelter, and are inclined
to boycott the elections.
Much more than grieve
over the dead and the rubble to which Fallujah was
reduced, they took note of two very important facts. Not
a single government agency, be it American or Iraqi,
offered any kind of assistance to the 200,000-plus
residents who in a flash were turned into refugees:
instead they turned off water and electricity in the
city. And the UN High Commissioner for Refugees was
nowhere to be seen - as well as any other representative
of the "international community". The real story of what
happened to Fallujah is being told by these 200,000-plus
new refugees, and a few lucky hundreds who managed to
escape during the battle. They are the Picassos who will
paint the new Guernica for future historians.
soon as these thousands of refugees return home, so will
the bulk of the resistance: after all they are residents
of Fallujah themselves, enjoying total local support;
and they will certainly attack any US-trained kind
of force left behind to protect whatever US-installed
puppet government is put in place. So the Americans may
leave the "house of Satan", and then the Fallujah
mujahideen Shura (council) that was running the city
since last April inevitably will be back to power; or
the Americans may stay in Fallujah, and the resistance
will continue to wreak havoc in a string of other cities
in the Sunni heartland. The result will be the same: the
new Guernica sacrificed for nothing.
Not really. The iron-clad, not-so-hidden
neo-conservative agenda for the Middle East is
balkanization of the Arab world - serving the interests
of their allies, the Likud Party in Israel. The neo-cons
want the Middle East to fracture along ethnic and tribal
lines. They want Sunni against Shi'ite. They want civil
war in Iraq. They want chaos, as in "the empire of
chaos" as formulated by stellar French scholar Alain
Joxe. Israel Shahak's The Zionist Plan for the Middle
East details that to survive, Israel must become an
imperial regional power by balkanizing all existing Arab
states. In this scenario, a major counterinsurgency
operation like Fallujah, the new Guernica, may have been
the first. It certainly won't be the