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A socialist newsweekly published in the interests of working people
Vol. 68/No. 43November 23, 2004

lead article
U.S., Iraqi troops assault Fallujah
in offensive to take ‘Sunni Triangle’
Iraqi gov’t declares state of emergency, seals border with Syria
Getty Images/Scott Nelson
U.S. Army troops prepare to seize building in Fallujah during assault on November 9.

A force of 15,000 U.S. troops and Iraqi National Guard soldiers launched a major ground offensive into Fallujah November 7. Three days later, as this issue went to press, they had reportedly taken over most of the city and were battling antigovernment militias block by block. The assault is aimed at destroying these militias, which have had several thousand members in the city, and putting Fallujah under the control of the Iraqi interim government prior to elections scheduled for the end of January. The attack in Fallujah is combined with operations to consolidate the regime’s control in nearby Ramadi, and will be followed by assaults in dozens of cities in the “Sunni Triangle” in central Iraq.

British troops of the Black Watch regiment that recently redeployed to Baghdad to free up U.S. troops for the current offensive are now part of the 25,000-strong U.S.-led forces that have surrounded Fallujah and Ramadi. A small number of British soldiers have taken control of two bridges over the Euphrates River leading into Fallujah, with the aim of cutting off efforts to resupply the militias. The killings of four soldiers from the Black Watch regiment the first week of November has firmed up London’s determination to get more deeply involved in the imperialist war.

The offensive in Fallujah includes at least 2,000 Iraqi soldiers, including members of the Iraqi 36th Commando Battalion. The operation started after sustained bombardment of militia positions by U.S. warplanes and artillery for three weeks, and following formal authorization by Iraqi prime minister Iyad Allawi.

On November 7, the Allawi administration declared a 60-day state of emergency throughout most of the country, except the Kurdish areas in the north, and a 24-hour curfew in Fallujah. In addition, Allawi said Iraq’s borders with Syria and Jordan would be sealed, allowing only essential goods to pass through.

Washington and Baghdad claim that “foreign fighters” crossing the border from Syria are largely responsible for the campaign of bombings of civilian and military targets, as well as kidnappings and beheadings of hostages, in the “Sunni Triangle.”

Under the state of emergency, the interim government has suspended all members of the Fallujah police and security forces indefinitely, and has closed all roads into that city as well as Ramadi.

Iraqi troops are playing a significant role in the attack on Fallujah as they did in October in retaking Samarra and Najaf. In both cities the Iraqi troops were credited with routing militia forces who had taken sanctuary in Muslim mosques. Washington and Baghdad have drawn lessons from the challenges they faced in putting down risings by anti-government militias in Fallujah, Ramadi, and Najaf in April. The battle in Fallujah will give Washington and Baghdad a chance to further train and bloody a new Iraqi army.

A combined force of U.S. Marines and Iraqi troops seized two bridges leading into the Fallujah and the city’s main hospital November 7. They kicked in doors at the hospital in and ordered patients and hospital employees to sit or lie on the floor while troops tied their hands behind their backs. An hour later the cuffs were removed from most patients and doctors had returned to treating the most seriously ill, reported the New York Times.

U.S. commanders justified the seizure of the hospital with the claim it was the source of “promilitia propaganda” that inflated the numbers of civilian deaths during an assault on the city in April. At the time, the Allawi regime reportedly called off the attack in part because of reports of high civilian deaths by this hospital.

Days before the assault, U.S. troops made appeals over loudspeakers and handed out leaflets urging residents of Fallujah to leave, the November 5 London Telegraph reports. According to the U.S. military, at least 70 percent of the city’s population of 300,000 has fled.

Three members of London’s Black Watch regiment were killed just two days after their redeployment to reinforce positions near Baghdad held by U.S. and Iraq troops that were freed up for the assault on Fallujah and Ramadi. A fourth died November 8. Most of the 8,500 British troops have been deployed in the relatively calm areas around Basra. The deaths bring the total British combat casualties in Iraq to 74.

Britain’s prime minister, Anthony Blair, and Defense Secretary Geoff Hoon defended the redeployment of the regiment against criticisms from parliamentary opponents who charged it had been placed in unnecessary danger. Blair took the occasion to stoke patriotic feelings for the war, extending condolences to the families of the dead soldiers and also thanking the regiment for a “heroic job.” Holding successful elections in January is “the single most important element of bringing stability to Iraq and therefore stability to the wider Middle East,” Blair added.

“While we mourn a lost colleague, the whole battle group has just been made more determined by this to complete our important mission,” said Cpt. Stuart Macaulay, spokesperson for the Black Watch regiment, after the death of the fourth British soldier, according to the London Independent.

The interim regime and U.S. commanders have been preparing for weeks to attack the two cities, which they claim are a refuge for Tiwhad and Jihad, a “terrorist” group led by Jordanian Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. The November 7 offensive was launched after former Baathists and other political leaders in Fallujah and Ramadi refused to turn over leaders of this group and other militias entrenched there. Tiwhad and Jihad has taken responsibility for a number of beheadings of hostages and bombing attacks on military and civilian targets, at least one of which resulted in the killing of dozens of Iraqi children.

Fallujah and Ramadi are part of the “Sunni Triangle,” which was the strongest base of support for the Baathist regime of Saddam Hussein. Leading Sunni clerics had threatened to issue a fatwa (a religious decree) ordering Muslims to conduct street protests and civil disobedience if the government carried out the assault on Fallujah. Others have threatened to boycott the elections.

At a November 5-6 European Union (EU) summit Blair joined Allawi in appealing to governments in the EU, especially Paris and Berlin, to step up support for the Allawi regime, according to the Bloomberg news agency. Asserting that there is a “new reality,” Blair said it’s “important to work with the Americans and with the Iraqi government.”

French president Jacques Chirac countered that “the affirmation of a strong American policy naturally leads to the necessity to reinforce Europe politically and economically.” German chancellor Gerhard Schröder, however, said he had spoken with U.S. president George Bush and agreed that it’s “time to look into the future or we will get stuck in discussions about the past.”

A day before the EU meeting, during a visit to Rome, Allawi criticized the lack of support his government has received from Paris and Berlin, calling the two governments “spectators” in the effort to stabilize Iraq.

Chirac did not attend the session in which Allawi was to address the EU summit, claiming he needed to leave in order to attend the funeral of the president of the United Arab Emirates. Chirac denied snubbing Allawi, but diplomats attending the meeting said the French delegation had managed to get a phrase explicitly welcoming Allawi deleted from the draft summit statement, according to ABC News.

Schröder called Allawi’s remark a “slip of the tongue,” reminding the Iraqi prime minister that Berlin was training Iraqi police and military in the United Arab Emirates and had offered to write off a substantial amount of Iraq’s foreign debt to Germany.

At the end of the two-day summit, the EU leaders announced a $41 million aid package for the Allawi regime to train police and election workers, and to finance a special UN security force.
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