December 2004  

Bipartisan Massacre: Aftermath of War Elections

The Rape of Falluja: U.S. War Crime

Destruction of Falluja, 14 November 2004

Marines ride down main street in Falluja on November 14, after a week of bombardment
and wholesale destruction of the city by U.S. troops. 
Photo: Patrick Baz/Agence France-Presse

After the American “terror war elections” came the post-election U.S. terror attack in Iraq. George Bush figured he would celebrate his reelection with a bang: send the Marines into the Iraq rebel stronghold of Falluja and flush out the varmints. That would show the world that he means business. At mid-day on Wednesday, November 3, Democrat John Kerry conceded the election in a phone call to the White House. By Saturday, November 6, the assault on Falluja began. U.S. rockets took out their first target: the Hai Nazal Hospital, a new facility that was just about ready to open its doors. A spokesman for the First Marines Expeditionary Force said, “A hospital was not on the target list.” But there it is, reduced to a pile of rubble. Then on Sunday night the Special Forces stormed the Falluja General Hospital. They rounded up all the doctors, pushed them face down on the floor and handcuffed them with plastic straps behind their backs. With the hospital occupied, those wounded by the U.S. aerial bombings headed to the Falluja Central Health Clinic. And so at 5:30 a.m. on Tuesday, November 9, U.S. warplanes bombed that clinic as well, killing 35 patients, 15 medics, 4 nurses, 5 support staff and 4 doctors, according to a doctor who survived (The Nation, 13 December). U.S. fire also targeted an ambulance, killing five patients and the driver.

Doctors at Falluja hospital, 8 November 2004Doctors at Falluja General Hospital handcuffed and pushed to the floor when U.S. troops seize the facility, November 8. (Photo: New York Times)

“The hospital was selected as an early target because the American military believed that it was the source of rumors about heavy casualties,” when the U.S. attacked Falluja in April, wrote the New York Times (8 November). “It’s a center of propaganda,” a senior American officer said. Rumors? Propaganda? Iraq Body Count, whose tallies of Iraqi dead since the invasion have been extremely conservative, has done a detailed analysis of all available figures, concluding that out of 800-plus persons killed during the U.S.’ April attack (336 buried in Falluja’s soccer stadium), some 600 were civilians, half of them women and children.1 A hospital is a place where civilian casualties could receive treatment. But according to the U.S. military spokesmen, there were “no civilian casualties,” so no hospital was needed. Likewise, a hospital is a place where injured Iraqi insurgents might be treated. But the objective of the assault on Falluja was to kill the insurgents, every last one, so again, no hospital was needed. The Fourth Geneva Convention on Warfare declares in no uncertain terms, “Civilian hospitals organized to give care to the wounded and sick, the infirm and maternity cases, may in no circumstances be the object of attack but shall at all times be respected and protected by the Parties to the conflict.” That was written in 1949, after World War II. The Geneva Conventions also outlaw practices like torture of prisoners. But according to the White House legal counsel, Alberto Gonzales, now promoted to Attorney General of the United States, the strictures of the Geneva Convention are outdated and “quaint.”

So doubtless after careful study by the Center for Army Lessons Learned at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, the Pentagon’s first rule in its terrorist “war on terror” is now: hit the hospitals first. There are to be no statistics about women and children killed, no pictures of maimed bodies, no medical care for the insurgent or civilian wounded. The “born again” Christian George W. Bush goes by the mercenary motto, “Kill ’em all and let god sort ’em out.” But it isn’t just Republican Bush. In the 1999 war on Yugoslavia, by Democrat Bill Clinton, the U.S. deliberately bombed the Belgrade maternity hospital, all the while cynically claiming that no hospital was on the target list. (They also targeted the Chinese embassy, to teach Beijing a lesson, lamely claiming they got the address mixed up with a military warehouse.) In short, the political and military commanders of the United States are rabid mass murderers and torturers, and conscious war criminals to boot. U.S. imperialism with its mad dog leadership is, by far, the greatest threat to humanity today. The colonial occupation of Iraq (and Afghanistan) must be defeated, and the imperialist system smashed through world socialist revolution.

Moreover, the attack on Falluja was a bipartisan massacre, which had the support of both major parties of American capitalism. During the first debate (September 30) of the recent U.S. presidential election campaign, Democratic candidate John Kerry accused Bush of backing down from the assault on Falluja last April. At that time there was a worldwide outcry over the slaughter of innocent civilians that forced the Pentagon to back off. But Kerry argued that the Bush people “don’t think these things through properly,” and “you have to do that by beginning to not back off of Falluja and other places.” Neither the Democratic candidate nor any of the other liberal mouthpieces said a word against the recent criminal assault on Falluja, which they fully supported. The conservative Wall Street Journal (17 November) hailed the “Victory at Fallujah” while the liberal New York Times (22 November) wrote of the “swift and stunning American military sweep through Falluja,” but worried about the “Costly Troop Deficit in Iraq.” As Kerry did in the presidential campaign, the Times (8 November) called for sending in more U.S. soldiers, some 40,000 more, to keep the Iraqis down. On December 1, the Pentagon announced it was increasing U.S. forces in Iraq by 12,000 by keeping troops there longer.

The martyrdom of Falluja began immediately following the U.S. invasion in April 2003, when occupation forces fired on a protest demonstration, killing 18 (see “Defeat Colonial Occupation of Iraq!The Internationalist No. 16, May-June 2003). The assault a year later was a U.S. revenge attack over the killing of four mercenaries (referred to in the press as “contractors,” as if they were house builders rather than professional killers) from the Blackwater Security rent-a-merc company, whose bodies were mutilated and strung up from the railroad bridge. The April 2004 assault was already a U.S. war crime, reminiscent of Nazi “collective punishment” of the Czech town of Lidice where Reichsprotektor and deputy Gestapo chief Reinhard Heydrich was killed by partisans in 1942. But that pales in comparison to the celebration of Bush’s reelection by gutting an entire city of more than 250,000 inhabitants. According to Washington, Falluja had to be “pacified” and “secured” so that it could participate in the Iraqi “election” scheduled by occupation authorities for January. To believe that lie one would have to be clinically insane, but that didn’t stop the imperialist media from solemnly repeating this story that none of them believe. The fact is there will be no vote in Falluja in January: insurgents continue to ambush the U.S. occupiers, civilians won’t even be allowed to return to their destroyed homes for weeks. It will take years to rebuild the devastated city.

More than 25,000 U.S. troops were pulled in to surround Falluja, 15,000 of them ready to storm the rebel citadel. Plus another couple thousand soldiers and police of the puppet Iraqi pseudo-government of “prime minister” Iyad Allawi, half of whom walked out before the fighting began. Interestingly, as he was giving a pep talk to 2,500 troops lined up before going in for the kill, Sgt. Maj. Carlton Kent, the top enlisted Marine in Iraq, compared the coming battle to the bloody U.S. assault on the Vietnamese city of Hue in March 1968, trying to take back the ancient Vietnamese capital from the Viet Cong (the Vietnamese Communists), who had seized it during the Têt offensive. “You're all in the process of making history,” Kent told them. “This is another Hue city in the making. I have no doubt … that each and every one of you is going to do what you have always done – kick some butt.” He neglected to mention that although the U.S. managed to “take back” Hue, the Têt offensive was a turning point in Vietnam as it became evident even to sections of the American ruling class that they couldn’t win that dirty imperialist war. Now various people in the Bush administration are talking about Falluja as the “tipping point” in the Iraq war. But it isn’t tipping in their favor. Falluja was, as the German news magazine Der Spiegel (22 November) titled its story “A Catastrophic Victory,” echoing Bush’s description of the 2003 U.S. invasion as a “catastrophic success.”

It took the U.S. troops about 8 days to go down three main streets in Falluja from north to south, advancing about a quarter mile a day. The Iraqi defenders put up what the Marine division commander termed a “a very stiff and determined resistance” (Christian Science Monitor, 26 November) against overwhelming firepower and technology. Snipers kept emerging from the rubble to take out U.S. troops. Insurgents dressed in Iraqi army uniforms set up ambushes where they shot the attackers. The Pentagon has admitted to 51 U.S. soldiers killed in Falluja proper, and 425 wounded, which seriously understates U.S. losses. The Wall Street Journal reported over 100 U.S. soldiers dead and 900 seriously wounded in the ten days following the start of the assault on Falluja, including those killed and injured in the upsurge of fighting in Mosul, Ramadi, Samara, Taji and other cities in central and northern Iraq. A New York Times reporter who was “embedded” with one Marine company wrote that it took 36 casualties during the fighting, 25 percent of the company’s strength; a Christian Science Monitor says his unit sustained losses of 20 percent. A standard calculation for battlefield commanders is that with a 10 percent casualty rate, a unit may be “neutralized,” no longer capable of fighting (U.S. Army, FM 17-18, Light Armor Operations). So the battle for Falluja took quite a toll on the attackers, whatever the Pentagon brass may pretend.

In spite of all this, fighting is still going on in Falluja, as guerrilla squads pop up behind the U.S. troops in the neighborhoods that have supposedly been “cleared” of insurgents. Meanwhile, throughout the areas of Iraq populated by Sunni Arabs – the central region including Baghdad and the key oil producing area of the north – insurgents have launched an offensive against the colonial occupiers and their puppet soldiers and police. In the city of Mosul, while the fighting was at its height in Falluja, rebels took over nine police stations and held the center of the city for several days, killing scores of cops and troops of the quisling regime. The Iraqi police melted away: only 800 out of 4,000 stayed at their posts. So much for “Iraqization” of the war – U.S. troops are going to have to occupy the cities as long as the occupation lasts, making them constant targets in a war in which there are no fronts and no safe rear areas. Mortar attacks regularly hit the cordoned-off Green Zone in the capital where the U.S. expeditionary force and its Iraqi “government” have their HQ. The highway to the Baghdad airport is one of the deadliest stretches of road in the country. Already, U.S. troops have mutinied over being sent on a “suicide mission,” as a fuel platoon from the 343rd Quartermaster Company did in mid-October, for which 17 soldiers were arrested and may be court-martialed.

Refugees fleeing Falluja, 11 November 2004
Refugees who fled Falluja before the attack: thousands line up for food outside
military base at Habbaniya, Iraq. (Photo: Shawn Baldwin/New York Times)

What about the Iraqi insurgents and civilians killed in Falluja? At the outset of the attack on Iraq in March 2003, U.S. commander Tommy Franks declared, “We don’t do body counts.” His reluctance was a legacy of the Vietnam War when the body counts of “VC dead” that were daily announced by General Wastemoreland, as he came to be known, were notorious for their lies. Body counts or no, during the fighting in Falluja local commanders claimed that they had killed 3,000 insurgents, later reduced to 1,200. Reporters questioned the figure. But were they rebel fighters? The New York Times (15 November) commented: “The absence of insurgent bodies in Falluja has remained an enduring mystery.” So whose bodies were lying in the streets for days, “half-eaten by dogs”? Lt. Gen. John F. Sattler, commander of the First Marine Expeditionary Force, “said that he did not know of any civilian deaths,” according to the Times (20 November). Yet the International Committee of the Red Cross reported that some 800 of those dead were civilians – i.e., the overwhelming majority – many of them buried alive when their homes were shelled by artillery or destroyed by the 500 and 2,000 lb. bombs that the Air Force has been dropping on neighborhoods day and night. The few pictures that have been released show a scene of utter devastation, an entire city laid waste. Over half the 100-plus mosques in Falluja were severely damaged or destroyed.

As the photos of hideous torture at Abu Ghraib prison became the symbol of the imperialists’ obscene torture of Iraq, the storming of Falluja was summed up in the video of a U.S. soldier murdering an unarmed and wounded Iraqi prisoner in a mosque. A righteous rage at the cold-blooded executioners swept Iraq and Near East as the scene was played at length on TV, over and over (only a snippet was shown in the U.S., blacking out the shots of the bullet hitting the prisoner’s head and blood splattering as “too gruesome”). Defenders of the imperialist war and colonial occupation cynically argued that perhaps the soldier was afraid for his life, who knows, and besides the Iraqi prisoners were “people without morals.” The cameraman who filmed it said the prisoner made no threatening moves, and it is likely that four other wounded prisoners in the mosque were killed at the same time. He recounts that as the Marines emerged, a lieutenant asked “did you shoot them,” to which a soldier replied, “Roger that, sir.” Asked if the prisoners were armed, the Marine shrugged. The inescapable conclusion is that the soldiers were obeying orders or following standard operating procedure in shooting the prisoners. A journalist who had accompanied a Marine unit during the 2003 invasion immediately recognized the practice:

“Marines call executing wounded combatants ‘dead-checking.’ ‘They teach us to do dead-checking when we're clearing rooms,’ an enlisted Marine recently returned from Iraq told me. ‘You put two bullets into the guy's chest and one in the brain. But when you enter a room where guys are wounded you might not know if they're alive or dead. So they teach us to dead-check them by pressing them in the eye with your boot, because generally a person, even if he's faking being dead, will flinch if you poke him there. If he moves, you put a bullet in the brain…’.”
–“Dead Check in Falluja,” Village Voice, 24 November

The rape of Falluja was a heinous criminal act, a war crime worthy of the Nazis. In addition to the Czech town of Lidice, it recalls the martyrdom of Guernika in 1937 during the Spanish Civil War, a massacre immortalized in Picasso’s painting of a cry of anguish, where the Basque town was pounded into rubble by 100,000 pounds of bombs while German Messerschmitt dive bombers strafed those trying to flee the carnage. The obliteration of Falluja was a war crime worthy of Zionist Israel, which bombed the Palestinian refugee camp at Jenin into oblivion after an Israeli tank was taken out by intifada fighters. The Zionist army continues to carry out Nazi-style “collective punishment” in the West Bank and Gaza, killing hundreds of Palestinian civilians, including shooting school girls in uniform point-blank. Much of the Pentagon’s “strategy” and tactics in Iraq are in fact borrowed from the Israelis, including blasting in every house entered, allegedly to avoid booby-trapped doors. But more to the point, the destruction of Falluja was a hideous war crime worthy of U.S. imperialism.

The destruction of Falluja inevitably calls to mind the words attributed to a U.S. officer in Vietnam at the time of the Têt offensive: “we had to destroy the village in order to save it.” That certainly is the mentality of the U.S. military in Iraq today. In Vietnam, the United States killed upwards of 3 million Vietnamese during eight years of war. In the Korean War, the U.S. slaughtered more  than 2 million Koreans. In World War II, the U.S. notoriously slaughtered more than 200,000 Japanese with the atomic bombs that destroyed Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945. This came after the deliberate firebombing of Tokyo in March 1945, in which the U.S. murdered more than 100,000 people. Or the U.S./British firebombing of Dresden, Germany in February 1945 (150,000 to 225,000 dead, almost all civilians and wounded soldiers), part of the Allied imperialists’ systematic campaign of terror bombing German cities in the latter part of World War II which killed an estimated 635,000 German civilians. (See “The Great Chemical Weapons Hoax” and “U.S./British Massacre at Dresden” in The Internationalist No. 16, May-June 2003.) Not to mention the countless bloody crimes of Yankee imperialism in Latin America: Bay of Pigs invasion, Pinochet coup in Chile, contra terror war on Nicaragua, death squads in El Salvador, the rape of Grenada, the invasion of Panama, etc.

Already in Iraq, a study by the Center for International Emergency Disaster and Refugee Studies of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, published in the British journal of international medicine, The Lancet (29 October), has concluded that “about 100,000 excess deaths, or more have happened since the 2003 invasion of Iraq.” This is in addition to the estimated 1.5 million Iraqis who died as a result of the draconian United Nations “sanctions” following the 1990-91 Gulf War, including a million children who died of malnutrition and preventable diseases, far more than the estimated 130,000 Kurds, Shiites and communists killed by the murderous former U.S. henchman, Saddam Hussein. After the worldwide outcry earlier this year over U.S. torture of prisoners at Abu Ghraib, the imperialists try to justify the slaughter at Falluja by pointing to the grisly beheadings of hostages by Islamic fundamentalist groups. Beyond the fact that many, if not most, of the hostages work in one way or another for the colonial occupation regime, and that the upsurge of Islamicist outfits (both Sunni and Shiite) is a direct response to the imperialist war of conquest of Iraq, one can safely say that far more Iraqis have been beheaded by the imperialist barbarians with their high tech weaponry than by the medievalist Sunni zealots with their swords. Accounts of the carnage in Falluja mention quite a number of civilian dead with their heads and limbs blown off by U.S. bombs, but photos of that are never shown.

Falluja Massacre, April 2004

Scenes from the murderous U.S. assault on Falluja in April. Flag on U.S. vehicle sums up “Kill ’em all” mentality of troops.  Marine commanders assert hospitals were source of propaganda about high casualties, so they had to occupy hospitals first. But investigation by Iraq Body Count showed that some 600 out of 800 deaths due to the attack on Falluja were civilians. Photos (censored from U.S. media) showed numerous wounded children and babies killed by bombing.



One could endlessly recount the endless atrocities committed by the U.S. in Iraq, which have been systematically suppressed by the “free but responsible” bourgeois media. What’s key is to draw the political lessons, beginning with the fact that this is not just “Bush’s war,” as so many of the opportunists and pseudo-socialists say, it is a war of U.S. imperialism. They want to blame it all on the Republicans in order to sidle up to the antiwar Democrats. But with his “we can do better” rhetoric, Kerry was promising to continue the war. Nader, for his part, didn’t even call for immediate withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq, but for an “intelligent” withdrawal over six months and their replacement by European imperialist troops. Whether they have U.S. flags on their uniforms or NATO shoulder patches or United Nations blue helmets, it would still be a colonial occupation, and the Iraqis would still be right to try to drive them out. In this war, class-conscious workers the world over have a side: with the Iraqi people against the imperialist attackers and their colonial occupation. With Lenin and Trotsky, the League for the Fourth International holds that in an imperialist war on a semi-colonial or colonial country, it is a matter of elementary class principle to stand for defense of  Iraq, and Afghanistan, and all the targets of U.S. and British imperialism, and to fight for the defeat of the imperialists.

The current war is the product not of a president or a policy or a particular party, but of a system which has produced an endless string of wars over the last century, from the Spanish-American War to the First World War to the Second World War to the Korean War in the 1950s to the Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba and the Vietnam War in the ’60s, to the Afghanistan War and the contra war in Central America in the ’80s, to two wars against Yugoslavia in the ’90s (in 1995 over Bosnia and in 1999 over Kosovo) to the Afghanistan War in 2001 and the Iraq War in 2003, both of which are continuing. That system is imperialism, which as Lenin pointed out is the stage of capitalism when it has outgrown national boundaries and spreads its tentacles throughout the world, sucking surplus value out of the sweat and toil of impoverished workers from El Salvador to the Philippines, controlling sources of raw materials from Brazil to Nigeria to the Near East. The present war is not about Saddam Hussein, the former U.S. running dog who slipped the leash, who started out killing Iraqi communists by the hundreds with lists supplied by the CIA, and then used chemical weapons furnished by the U.S. to prevent the Iranians from reaching the Saudi oil fields. The war was not about “weapons of mass destruction” which Hussein didn’t have, as was clear at the time, and which the U.S. has in abundance and has used with abandon.

Falluja is ground zero of the U.S. war for imperialist domination of the planet. It will not be stopped simply by denouncing the atrocities and having a bigger and better antiwar movement. Peace parades down Fifth Avenue or circling Madison Square Garden won’t stop the Special Forces and Marine expeditionary forces. Bolsheviks are not pacifists, and call instead for class war against the imperialist war. The imperialists have to be defeated, on the battlefield in Iraq and elsewhere, above all through the mobilization of the social force that has the power to sweep away imperialism and bring the capitalist machinery of exploitation and oppression to a grinding halt. That force is the international working class, and the League for the Fourth International has fought to mobilize the power of the proletariat since the beginning of the war. We have called for and fought for workers boycotts of military cargos, concretely among rail and dock workers in Europe and among West Coast longshoremen in the United States, and for workers strikes against the war. Already in Europe in the lead-up to the attack on Iraq, train drivers in Scotland refused to move munitions trains while Italian rail workers and antiwar groups blocked railroad tracks to block trains carrying jeeps, tanks, helicopters and other heavy equipment bound for the Persian Gulf. As the war drags on and casualties mount, the possibilities of working-class action against the imperialist slaughter will rise sharply.

In the U.S., when shippers of war goods were picketed in the port of Oakland, California, police savagely attacked demonstrators, firing on them with “non-lethal” ammunition, injuring half a dozen longshoremen and arresting 25. The charges against them were dropped a year later. Last March 20, the ILWU itself held a token work stoppage protesting the war. What’s necessary is to go beyond such gestures to a knock-down, drag-out fight. It’s necessary to drive home the lesson that you can’t fight Bush with Democrats. Moreover, any capitalist party is part of the imperialist system, whether it’s the red-white-and-blue Greens (who only ran in “safe” states where they wouldn’t threaten the vote for Kerry), or oil millionaire Nader, who ran on the ticket of the right-wing Reform Party, went after so-called “illegal aliens” and vituperated against the “totalitarian” Chinese deformed workers state. It is necessary to hammer home that what’s necessary is to build a revolutionary workers party, a party that shows how the war on Iraq is a war on working people, blacks, Latinos and immigrants “at home,” and which puts forward a program to sweep away the capitalist system that breeds war, poverty and racism. Such a party must be what Lenin called a tribune of the people, that doesn’t just fight over economic issues but takes up the cause of the oppressed over every abuse and every attack.

The rape of Falluja must be avenged by Iraqis fighting to drive out the imperialist invaders and by the workers of the world, fighting to defeat the bosses’ war that targets all the exploited and oppressed. n

1See Iraq Body Count, “No Longer Unknowable: Falluja's April Civilian Toll is 600”  (26 October) http://www.iraqbodycount.net/

To contact the Internationalist Group and the League for the Fourth International, send e-mail to: internationalistgroup@msn.com