Foreign Policy in Focus: The Under-Examined Story of Fallujah

December 1, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Hannah Gurman

Seven years after the U.S. invasion of Fallujah, there are reports of an alarming rise in the rates of birth defects and cancer. But the crisis, and its possible connection to weapons deployed by the United States during the war, remains woefully under-examined.

On November 8, 2004, U.S. military forces launched Operation Phantom Fury 50 miles west of Baghdad in Fallujah, a city of 350,000 people known for its opposition to the Saddam regime.
The United States did not expect to encounter resistance in Fallujah, nor did it initially face any in the early days of the war. The first sign of serious hostility appeared in April 2003, after U.S. soldiers  from the 82nd Airborne division fired into a crowd of protesters demonstrating against the occupation and the closure of their local school building, killing 17 civilians and injuring 70. The following February, amid mounting tensions, a local militia beheaded four Blackwater employees and strung their bodies from a bridge across the Euphrates River. U.S. forces temporarily withdrew from Fallujah and planned for a full onslaught.

Following the evacuation of civilians, Marines cordoned off the city, even as some residents scrambled to escape. Thirty to fifty thousand people were still inside the city when the U.S. military launched a series of airstrikes, dropping incendiary bombs on suspected insurgent hideouts. Ground forces then combed through targeted neighborhoods house by house. Ross Caputi, who served as a first private Marine during the siege, has said that his squad and others employed “reconnaissance by fire,” firing into dwellings before entering to make sure nobody inside was still alive. Caputi later co-founded the group Justice for Fallujah, which dedicated the week of November 14 to a public awareness campaign about the impact of the war on the city’s people.

By the end of the campaign, Fallujah was a ghost town. Though the military did not tally civilian casualties, independent reports put the number somewhere between 800 and 6,000. As The Washington Post reported in April 2005, more than half of Fallujah’s 39,000 homes were damaged, of which 10,000 were no longer habitable. Five months after the campaign, only 90,000 of the city’s evacuated residents had returned.

The majority still lacked electricity, and the city’s sewage and water systems, badly damaged in the campaign, were not functional. A mounting unemployment crisis — exacerbated by security checkpoints, which blocked the flow of people and goods into and out of the city — left young residents of Fallujah especially vulnerable to recruitment by the resistance.

The Official Success Story

Although the initial picture of the devastated city looked grim, by 2007 Fallujah had become a key part of the emerging narrative of successful counterinsurgency in Iraq. At a press conference in April of that year, Marine Colonel Richard Simcock declared that progress was “phenomenal” and that Fallujah was an “economically strong and flourishing city.” According to the official narrative that has since crystallized, the second siege of Fallujah turned out to be a major turning point in the war. “By taking down Fallujah, the Marines denied a sanctuary for the insurgents,” said Richard Natonski, commander of the 1st Marine Division during Phantom Fury, in an oral history published by the Marines in 2009. In contrast to the insurgents who relied on “brutal tactics,” he explained, the Marines were able to win over the good will of the people. This contributed to the larger “Awakening” in Anbar province, the linchpin of counterinsurgency’s “success” in Iraq.

Official “progress” narratives of war rarely tell the whole story, especially when it comes to the war’s long-term effects on the civilian population. Seven years after the second siege of Fallujah, despite lucrative U.S.-funded contracts to rebuild infrastructure, much of the city is still in ruins, and unemployment remains high. As terrorist attacks in Anbar and across the country have risen in the past year, security is increasingly tenuous. In August, a car bomb exploded at a police station near Fallujah, killing five officers and wounding six more.

Of the current problems in Fallujah, the most alarming is a mounting public health crisis. In the years since the invasion, doctors in Fallujah have reported drastic increases in the number of premature births, infant mortality, and birth defects — babies born without skulls, missing organs, or with stumps for arms and legs. Fallujah General Hospital reported that, out of 170 babies born in September 2009, 24 percent died within the first seven days, of which 75 percent were deformed — as compared to August 2002, when there were 530 babies born, only six deaths, and one deformity. As the years go by, the problem seems to be getting worse, and doctors are increasingly warning women not to have children.

Many residents have suspected a link between the drastic rise in birth defects and the weapons deployed by U.S. military during the war. The United States has admitted to using white phosphorus in Fallujah, a toxin in incendiary bombs that causes severe burns. But it denies targeting civilians or employing a class of armor-piercing weapons that contain depleted uranium, a byproduct of nuclear weapons used in the production of munitions and armory and known to cause mutagenic illnesses.

The Science and Its Critics

Two recent studies led by Dr. Christopher Busby, a chemistry professor at the University of Ulster who specializes in environmental toxicology, have attempted to document and explain Fallujah’s health crisis. The first was an epidemiological study conducted by a team of 11 researchers who visited 711 households in Fallujah. Published in the December 2010 issue of the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, it found that congenital birth defects, including neural tube, cardiac, and skeletal malformations, were 11 times higher than normal rates, and rose to their highest levels in 2010. The study also found a seven-to-38-fold increase in several site-specific cancers, as well as a drastic shift in the ratio of female-to-male births, with 15 percent fewer boys born in the study period.

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Israel is Immune From Criticism

January 28, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By Brian Cloughley

Bombing-in-Gaza-001
The Goldstone report, which HRW supported, accused Israel of a disproportionate attack designed to punish, humiliate and terrorise a civilian population. Photograph: Hatem Omar/AP

The state of Israel has descended – plummeted – to one of the lowest levels of conscious barbarity that is currently evident in this horrible world.

Any nation that has behaved towards a subject people, as Israel has to Palestinians, is worthy only of utter contempt. On Sunday January 4 I heard a rabbi on the BBC’s morning religious program saying that he supported Israel’s air strikes on Gaza. A man of God actually endorsed the killing of hundreds of people. To say that I was – and am – aghast at the sentiment expressed is to put it very mildly. This religious leader, a person supposed to spread and preach tolerance, patience, charity and peace, was supporting war crimes of immense gravity. His approval of the killing of Arabs was blood-chilling.

And this rabbi was British. Here we have a British citizen supporting hatred and bigotry on a BBC religious program. But of course he isn’t really British. He is an Israeli religious propagandist of British citizenship whose main allegiance is to Israel. There are thousands like him in the UK and the US. They unconditionally promote Tel Aviv’s plans and policy and wield amazing influence over politicians and businesses. Killing Palestinians is Israeli policy, and these people spare no effort to justify it.

Here’s a resident of Gaza talking to the Israeli newspaper Haaretz about the horrors experienced by Palestinians (and congratulations to Haaretz for having the courage to print it): “I keep the children away from the windows because the F-16s are in the air; I forbid them to play below because it’s dangerous. They’re bombing us from the sea and from the east, they’re bombing us from the air. When the telephone works, people tell us about relatives or friends who were killed. My wife cries all the time. At night she hugs the children and cries. It’s cold and the windows are open; there’s fire and smoke in open areas; at home there’s no water, no electricity, no heating gas. And you [the Israelis] say there’s no humanitarian crisis in Gaza. Tell me, are you normal?”

No, they’re not, is the short answer, and the ruthlessness is epitomized by the evil Israeli foreign minister, Tzipi Livni, who is using the Gaza war to establish her credentials as a reliably hard-nosed barbarian. She declares “there is no humanitarian crisis in the [Gaza] Strip and therefore there is no need for a humanitarian truce.”

It was reported on January 5 that Israeli troops are using white phosphorus (WP) artillery shells in Gaza, supposedly to create smoke screens to conceal their advance.

American troops used WP – fondly known as Willy Pete – in their destruction of the Iraqi city of Fallujah, and the US tried to lie its way out of the war crime, but junior officers unintentionally blew the lies apart by writing in the magazine Field Artillery that “WP proved to be an effective and versatile munition. We used it for screening missions . . . and, later in the fight, as a potent psychological weapon against insurgents in trench lines and spider holes . . . We fired ‘shake and bake’ missions at the insurgents using WP to flush them out and high explosive shells (HE) to take them out.” In fact WP is an effective killer, and anyone who inhales particles will suffer a particularly hideous and painful death. As recorded by The Independent newspaper in Britain “In the aftermath of the battle [at Fallujah], the State Department’s Counter Misinformation Office issued a statement saying that WP was only “used very sparingly in Fallujah, for illumination purposes. They were fired into the air to illuminate enemy positions at night [which isn’t the propose of a smoke-shell], not at enemy fighters.” When The Independent confronted the State Department with the first-hand accounts of soldiers who participated, an official accepted the mistake and undertook to correct its website.” Big deal. Lie, lie and lie again, until you’re found out and it’s impossible to deny the facts. And the Israelis seem to be taking the example, as usual, and are stoutly denying what has been seen by independent witnesses.

Article two, Protocol III of the 1980 UN Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons states: “It is prohibited in all circumstances to make the civilian population as such, individual civilians or civilian objects, the object of attack by incendiary weapons.” But Israel is only following the US example. “Shake and bake” is such an attractive military option that it would be a shame to spoil their fun, especially when it has rabbinical approval.

Here is part of what is laid out in Protocol 1, Additional to the Geneva Conventions, 1977 . . . General Protection Against Effects of Hostilities: “Among others, the following types of attacks are to be considered as indiscriminate: An attack which may be expected to cause incidental loss of civilian life, injury to civilians, damage to civilian objects, or a combination thereof, which would be excessive in relation to the concrete and direct military advantage anticipated.”

Israel, supported energetically by Washington (and using US-supplied aircraft, bombs and rockets), has caused “incidental loss of life” and general civilian casualties on an enormous scale. The Israeli military and the Israeli people knew full well that their genocidal attack on Gaza would kill civilians. The use of white phosphorous in built-up areas is worthy of the Nazis at their most brutal. Stalin and Mao would nod approvingly. It wasn’t considered important that there would be countless civilian deaths. Nobody cares, and least of all American politicians.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton refuses to comment on the atrocities. The vice-president has been silent. President Obama? As Reuters reported : “Obama . . . has not commented on the Middle East crisis since Israel launched attacks on Gaza nine days ago. His advisers insist that only President George W Bush can speak for America until then.” But it was noted that “The president-elect has commented on the global economic crisis and his plans to try to pull the US economy out of recession.”

Of course he has. And were it not for the power of Israel in America he would no doubt comment adversely on the slaughter in Gaza, because he is a decent man.
But Mr. Obama dare not criticize Israel, even for its use of chemical shells. Nor can any American who wishes to enter or remain engaged in politics. The kiss of political death in the United States of America is to censure Israel. It can’t be done.

And that is why apartheid is permitted in Israel; it’s why the mass-punishment blockade was enforced months before the attack went in; and it’s why the near-genocide in Gaza is allowed to continue.

Does anyone remember the hearing on the so-called Israeli-Palestine peace process in the US House of Representatives in February 2007? Of course not. It was a farce. And why was it such a revolting and hideous charade? – Because it was a three card trick.

The main witness, of the three cards who were called, was one Martin Indyk, a former official of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee which is the richest and most powerful lobby group in the country (two of whose members are currently under a mysteriously delayed investigation for spying for Israel). From there, inevitably, he went to be US ambassador in Tel Aviv. (And, incidentally, whose book on the Middle East was the subject of a glowing review in last week’s Economist.) Another witness was David Makovsky of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (founded by Indyk; it’s all very chummy in pro-Israel sewers), which is funded extensively by American interests that support Zionism. (Among other connections, it is closely associated with the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies at Tel Aviv University.) And was the third witness a counter-balance to two energetic supporters of Zion? Could he or she present a rather less biased view of the Middle East? Perhaps a person who would make the point that Israel has contemptuously ignored UN Security Council resolutions concerning illegal occupation of Palestinian lands?

Not a bit. The third member was a comic quasi-intellectual character called Daniel Pipes who once declared that Muslim immigrants to the US were “brown-skinned peoples cooking strange foods and not exactly maintaining Germanic standards of hygiene.” (Germanic? – How quaint.) Pipes founded the Middle East Forum (MEF) which encourages university students in America to report lecturers and professors who they consider to be anti-Israel or pro-Palestinian. (In Hitler’s Germany there were awards given to young people who identified and reported those they thought to be pro-Jewish; I know a very elderly German lady who did this when she was 15. She is now terribly ashamed at the memory, because she actually informed on her own father. How times change. Or don’t, of course.)

In 2006 Pipes was given the ‘Guardian of Zion’ award, an annual prize to a prominent supporter of Israel, by the Rennert Center for Jerusalem Studies at Bar-Ilan University in Israel.

With a galaxy of partisan propagandists like Indyk, Makovsky and Pipes being the only people selected to give evidence on Israel-Palestine to the nation’s legislators in Washington, there was no chance whatever that the Congressional Sub-Committee would be presented with a balanced view of the Israel-Palestine problem. The deck was stacked, and the legislators listened. They had no choice, because of the power of the Israel lobby. They’ve been shaken and baked.

There is little doubt that the bias towards Israel will continue in the legislature and administration of the United States of America, no matter what Obama might really think, and no matter how many Palestinian children the Zionists have slaughtered. The Israelis are behaving like genocidal people, but those who stay silent about their atrocities are not far behind in the gutter stakes.

Brian Cloughley’s book about the Pakistan army, War, Coups and Terror, has just been published by Pen & Sword Books (UK)

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