Posted by: Lister | January 29, 2008

Return to Fallujah

Patrick Cockburn had to pass through 27 checkpoints in order to get to Fallujah. Only residents and (some) journos are allowed past. He has written two articles in the Independent:

Return to Fallujah:

[Fallujah’s] streets, with walls pock-marked with bullets and buildings reduced to a heap of concrete slabs, still look as if the fighting had finished only a few weeks ago.

I went to look at the old bridge over the Euphrates from whose steel girders Fallujans had hanged the burnt bodies of two American private security men killed by guerrillas – the incident that sparked the first battle of Fallujah. The single-lane bridge is still there, overlooked by the remains of a bombed or shelled building whose smashed roof overhangs the street and concrete slabs are held in place by rusty iron mesh.

The police chief of Fallujah, Colonel Feisal Ismail Hassan al-Zubai, was trying to show that his city was on the mend.

As we looked at the bridge a small crowd gathered and an elderly man in a brown coat shouted: “We have no electricity, we have no water.”

Others confirmed that Fallujah was getting one hour’s electricity a day. Colonel Feisal said there was not much he could do about the water or electricity though he did promise a man that a fence of razor wire outside his restaurant would be removed.

Fallujah may be better than it was, but it still has a very long way to go. Hospital doctors confirm that they are receiving few gunshot or bomb blast victims since the Awakening movement drove al-Qa’ida from the city over the past six months, but people still walk warily in the streets as if they expected firing to break out at any minute.

[…] There are new buildings in the main street. I used to eat at a kebab restaurant called Haji Hussein, which was one of the best in Iraq. Then, as the occupation went on, I started attracting a lot of hostile stares. The manager suggested it might be safer if I ate upstairs in an empty room, and soon after it was destroyed by an American bomb. It has now been rebuilt in gaudy colours and seemed to be doing good business.

At one time Fallujah had a population of 600,000, but none of the officials in the city seemed to know how many there are now.

‘If there is no change in three months, there will be war again:

A crucial Iraqi ally of the United States in its recent successes in the country is threatening to withdraw his support and allow al-Qa’ida to return if his fighters are not incorporated into the Iraqi army and police.

“If there is no change in three months there will be war again,” said Abu Marouf, the commander of 13,000 fighters who formerly fought the Americans. He and his men switched sides last year to battle al-Qa’ida and defeated it in its main stronghold in and around Fallujah.

“If the Americans think they can use us to crush al-Qa’ida and then push us to one side, they are mistaken,” Abu Marouf told The Independent in an interview in a scantily furnished villa beside an abandoned cemetery near the village of Khandari outside Fallujah.

[…] His threat is highly dangerous for the US and Iraqi government, neither of which made any headway in ending the Sunni insurgency against the US occupation for four years until the tribes of Anbar, the province in which Fallujah lies, turned against al-Qa’ida. They formed the Awakening movement, known in Arabic as al-Sahwah, of which Abu Marouf, whose full name is Karim Ismail Hassan al-Zubai, is a leading member.

[…] The Iraqi government fears ceding power to the Awakening movement which it sees as an American-funded Sunni militia, whose leaders are often former military or security officers from Saddam Hussein’s regime and are unlikely to show long-term loyalty to the Shia and Kurdish-dominated administration.

Abu Marouf – a thin man aged about 40, with a short beard and wearing a brown suit and lilac tie – says he was “security officer” before the US invasion of 2003. Afterwards he became a resistance fighter and, though he will not say which guerrilla group he belonged to, local sources say he was a commander of the 1920 Revolution Brigades. He is also a member of the powerful Zubai tribe that was at the heart of anti-American resistance in an area which saw the fiercest fighting during the Sunni rebellion against the occupation.

He has a precise memory for dates and figures. He says that he started secretly working against al-Qa’ida at a meeting as long ago as 14 April 2005. He and his men gathered intelligence. Eight months later they started making attacks on al-Qa’ida, which was trying to monopolise power in Sunni areas.

“They cut off people’s heads and put them on sticks, as if they were sheep. They cut off my brother’s head with a razor. Thirteen of my relatives and 450 members of my tribe were killed by them,” he said.

[…] The US calls the Awakening movement groups “Concerned Citizens”, as if they were pacific householders heroically restoring law and order. In fact, the US has handed over Sunni areas to the guerrilla groups such as the 1920 Brigades and the Islamic Army who have been blowing up American solders since 2003.

[…] The city of Fallujah – many of its buildings still in ruins since the US Marines stormed it in November 2004 – is peaceful compared with six months ago. Al-Qa’ida fighters, who once dominated it, have either gone or are keeping a low profile. The Americans have a large military camp on its outskirts. But the defeat of al-Qa’ida is not exactly a victory for the Iraqi government.

In the centre of the city is a much-attacked police station run by Colonel Feisal Ismail Hassan al-Zubai, an authoritative looking man, who is the elder brother of Abu Marouf. A career officer in Saddam Hussein’s Special Forces since 1983, who fought in 11 battles against Iran, he was appointed police chief in December 2006. When I asked what he did previously he said: “I was fighting against the Americans.” Asked why had he changed sides he replied: “When I compared the Americans to al-Qa’ida and the [Shia] militia, I chose the Americans.”

Beside Colonel Feisal is a gold framed picture of himself as a young officer. “That was when I was a lieutenant in the real Iraqi army,” he says. Behind him is the old Iraqi flag which the government is trying to replace.

He says: “The worst day of my life was when Saddam Hussein fell in 2003.” He chokes himself off from giving an account of the first battle of Fallujah against the Americans in April 2004 in which he appears to have played a role. “The Americans now give me everything I want,” he says.

There is no doubt that Abu Marouf and Colonel Feisal are far better people than the savage sectarian bigots of al-Qa’ida whom they have driven away.

But, far from America having won a victory in Iraq, violence has fallen largely because the United States has handed power to the guerrillas who fought it for so long.

If the Iraqi government pretends it has conquered its enemies and refuses to give men like Abu Marouf a share in power then Iraq will soon being facing another war.

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