November 20, 2004

Stalking Freedom in Fallujah

Throughout the Muslim world, from the West coast of Africa to the southern-most
islands of the Indonesian archipelago, worshippers in mosques are lifting their
hands to the heavens and praying for Fallujah. As the United States’ gun-ships
strafe the city known as the City of Mosques and her centurions conduct house-to-house
searches, Fallujah has come to mean more than just a town to the world’s Muslims
but an idea: the belief that a life sacrificed for freedom is better than a life
spent living under occupation.

In March, 1917, Britain’s General Stanley Maude stood in Fallujah and offered
the assurance that, “we come as liberators, not as invaders”. He is
buried on the outskirts of Baghdad. Today, the US offers the same empty assurances
to the people of Fallujah; choosing to ignore the obvious civilian impact of
attacking a populated city and ignoring the repeated fact that the Fallujan
resistance are viewed not as bandits or oppressors, but as heroes imbued with
the nationalism that has spread across the country.

In April, the US attempted to seize the city in Operation: Vigilante Response,
a response to the killing of four US military contractors and the ambushing
of a US convoy a few days afterwards. The resistance was able to successfully
defend the city from US forces until April 30, when the US retreated and left
the city to the Fallujah Brigade consisting of former Iraqi Army members and
the insurgents themselves. Likewise, the key regional towns of Samarra, Baquba
and Ramadi were all left under guerilla control and the “Sunni Triangle”
became an effective no-go zone for US forces.

This latest operation to capture Fallujah-named Operation Phantom Fury-will
deliver a phantom victory. Although the 15,000 US troops may ostensibly defeat
the relatively small number of “insurgents” in the city, the victory
will be pyrrhic: the damage to the city and civilian deaths necessary to secure
the city will mobilize more Iraqis against the occupation; and the Sunni population
of Iraq, who make up at least 20 percent of the population, will become further
alienated.

However, if the US doesn’t attack Fallujah then the anti-American attacks will
continue regardless, and the upcoming election-a crucial step of the US exit
strategy-will be undermined. Without the involvement of the Sunni Muslims, the
election of the US-purchased Iyyad Allawi would not have the veneer of legitimacy
it requires. Already, the major Sunni Muslim political party, the Iraqi Islamic
Party, has quit the interim government in protest of the attack. The main religious
body, the Association of Muslim Scholars have called for the boycott of the
elections, saying they will be held, “over the corpses of those killed
in Fallujah and the blood of the wounded.” It is difficult to see how such
a climate is conducive to democracy.

Indeed, despite assurances to the contrary, the security situation in Iraq
is worsening: attacks on Americans have doubled to over 2,000 a month since
the June handover; in November, the Pentagon claimed there were 5,000 resistance
fighters whereas now they claim there are 20,000. For every fighter killed,
there are more waiting to join the ranks of the resistance; and with every Iraqi
killed there will be more Muslims, inspired by the horrific imagery that will
surely emerge from the wreckage of Fallujah, who will be willing to travel to
Iraq to help their brothers in faith. Whether in fact or merely in perception,
America’s occupation of Iraq is seen by increasing numbers of Muslim faithful
as a Holy War.

It’s a view that is shared by some members of the US military leadership. Rallying
the troops before the attack, US Marine Colonel Gary Bradl said, “the enemy
has got a face. He’s called Satan. He’s in Fallujah and we’re going to destroy
him.” The reality is that despite the obfuscation of the United States
and its Quisling government in Baghdad, Fallujah is not a town held hostage
to a gang of insurgents or foreign fighters led by the mysterious Abu Mus’ab
al-Zarqawi; it’s a town that has refused to be subjugated to the United States
occupation in the same way as it refused to be subjugated to British occupation
in the early 20th century. The enemy being hunted in the streets and markets
of Fallujah isn’t Satan, it’s the irrepressible desire of a people to be free.

Amir Butler is executive director of the Australian Muslim Public Affairs Committee
(AMPAC). He can be contacted at
abutler@muslimaffairs.com.au

[taken from iviews.com]

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