The intensity of air raids on the central Iraq
city of Fallujah continued to crescendo overnight as some 10,000 U.S. Marines
prepared for what is expected to be a massive urban assault on the city that
has been most resistant to foreign occupation. But as American troops, accompanied
by hundreds of Iraqi personnel, get ready to move, international words of caution
have come streaming toward the United States.
One ominous sign of the impending attack came in the form of leaflets dropped
into Fallujah by U.S. aircraft. Residents told the Associated
Press the leaflets warn women and children but not adult male noncombatants
to leave the city for their own safety. In fact, Reuters repo! rts that U.S.
troops have announced via loudspeakers that any man under the age of 45 caught
entering or leaving the city will be detained.
According to Arab
News, Iraqi Defense Minister Hazem Shaalan estimates that only 30,000
people remain inside Fallujah, the population of which was estimated at nearly
ten times that before the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.
Some 425 Iraqi soldiers will be joining the Marines to form the operation's
ground force. The
Times of London reports the Iraqi troops are being incorporated into
the invasion force in order to, in the words of Marine Brigadier General Dennis
Hajlik, put an "Iraqi face" on the operation. Hajlik said he is confident that
the assembled force will be strong enough to "whack" the resistance "in a decisive
But some U.S. Marines are expressing concerns about the inclusion of Iraqi
troops, whom they believe are skittish, poorly trained and undisciplined, potentially
putting noncombatants or allies at grave risk.
U.S. Marine Major Mike Zachaya, an adviser to the Iraqi attachment, told National
Public Radio that the Iraqi troops are prone to "just shoot, whether they have
a target or not." He recounted a recent overnight incident during which the
base camp was hit by a rocket propelled grenade. "All night [the Iraqis] were
shooting, 'cause they were seeing ghosts out there." Zachaya said American officers
are "very, very concerned," but assured NPR they are "working very hard to minimize
any kind of friendly-on-friendly incidents. But it happens," Zachaya added.
"It happens all the time."
According to Zachaya, the Iraqi unit is the best the Iraqi military has to
offer, despite being half its original strength as a result of heavy casualties
and mas! sive desertions.
U.S. warplane crews have been bombarding Fallujah daily for several weeks,
and constantly since Thursday afternoon. Mohammed Al-Alwani, an Iraqi civilian,
told The Times that the city has been devastated in recent attacks, which
have been the heaviest since Marines retreated from Fallujah at the end of April.
"Whoever looks around Fallujah now can only feel sadness," Al-Alwani said. "The
damage is so heavy the suburbs look like they were hit by an earthquake."
The cost in lives of noncombatants has been difficult to gauge, but with nearly
every strike since more than 600 Iraqis died in Fallujah during April, there
have been reports of civilian dead arriving at the city's only major hospital.
During April's incursion, the hospital was sealed off from most incoming wounded.
The Associated Press reports that the combat hospital in the main U.S. base
near Fallujah has established a morgue and doubled its medical staff and supplies,
but ! U.S. planners have not indicated whether they intend to again block wounded
Iraqis from reaching civilian medical care inside Fallujah during the coming
Last month, a videotape surfaced depicting what appeared to be the massacre
of Iraqi civilians by a U.S. pilot following orders. Recorded in April from
the targeting camera of an American F-16 aircraft over Fallujah, the accompanying
audio track revealed that an American commander or forward observer gave the
F-16 pilot orders to bomb a group of people identified to him only as "individuals,"
apparently without verifying the targets were hostile or even armed.
Cautions Issued to U.S., Iraqi Leaders
Civilian casualties are very much on the mind
of Amnesty International. The human rights group issued a public statement on
Thursday insisting that U.S. and Iraqi troops make every effort to limit harm
Since the U.S. estimates that only about 1,200 armed rebels are operating inside
the city of Fallujah, more than 95 percent of the people presently estimated
to be inside the city limits are presumed to be noncombatants.
The Amnesty statement chastised the U.S. for recent civilian deaths and the
destruction of homes and other property around Fallujah. The group also repeatedly
reminded U.S. and Iraqi officials of their obligations under the Geneva Conventions,
to which both Iraq and the United States are signatories. The group emphasized
the rules of warfare and the treatment of captives.
Amnesty also addressed commanders of the resistance, calling on them to avoid
placing civilians i! n harm's way and to treat wounded and captured invaders
United Nations Secretary Kofi Annan, in a letter addressed to the United States,
Great Britain, and Iraq, issued cautions of his own. Annan reiterated the UN's
interest in helping Iraq hold general elections planned for late January 2005,
but expressed concerns that an invasion of Fallujah in the near future could
jeopardize those elections and be "very disruptive for Iraq's political transition."
At a Friday press conference, Annan told reporters he thought the use of force
alone to create circumstances suitable for holding elections was counterproductive.
"One also has to try … to win the hearts and minds of the people and to draw
them in," Annan said, "so that at the end of the process, at the end of the
elections, it is their product and people who have been involved and feel included
will be inclined to accept the results rather than have certain groups questioning
Interim Iraqi! Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, who is presently in London, sidestepped
Annan's letter, which is dated Oct. 30 but only came to public attention yesterday
when the LA
Times and other news organizations obtained copies. "I don't know what
pressure [Annan] has to bear on the insurgents," Allawi told the BBC. "If he
can stop the insurgents from inflicting damage and killing the Iraqis, then
he's welcome we will do whatever he wants."
Allawi also announced that "the window is closing" on the possibility for peace
talks in Fallujah. But unidentified "guerilla sources" told The Times of London
that the negotiation window has been closed for weeks, since Allawi himself
reportedly barged peace talks and declared, "It is too late, the train of war
is already in Fallujah."
U.S. and British governments quickly dismissed Annan's warnings along with
"This is an issue for the government of Iraq," British Ambassador Emyr Jones
Parry told the Times. "It's easy for those not in Iraq to underestimate
the overwhelming concern the Iraqis have for security."
Adam Ereli, a U.S. State Department spokesperson, echoed the British sentiment.
"We want a peaceful end in Fallujah as much as anybody. But this is something
the government of Iraq is working to effect and they're in the best position
to know what will work and won't."
But even inside the Iraqi interim government, there is opposition to the planned
assault. President Ghazi Al-Yawer on Monday told a Kuwaiti newspaper, Al-Qabas,
that an attack could be avoided. "The way the coalition is managing the crisis
is wrong," he said. "It is as if someone shot his horse in the head to kill
a fly that landed on it. The fly flies away, and the horse dies."