The April Uprising in Falluja




I


n
late April, the U.S. ended its effort to forcibly reconquer Falluja
and brought to an end the April uprising there. For almost a month,
perhaps 2,000 insurgents had fought an often pitched battle with
about 4,500 U.S. troops over who would control the streets of the
city of 300,000. 


According
to the Coalition leadership, this was the end of one chapter in
the ongoing pacification of the most obstreperous of the Iraqi cities;
and the beginning of a new effort to root out what U.S. commanders
had variously labeled as the hoodlums, thugs, Saddamists, and imported
terrorists who—according to Coalition authorities—had
made the city a haven for terror against Iraqi civilians, Coalition
forces, and civilian contractors attempting to rebuild the country. 


The
Coalition command vehemently denied that this was a defeat for its
troops or its policy. When Colonel John Coleman, in command of the
Marines in Falluja, was asked by

New York Times

reporter
John Kifner what he would tell his unhappily retreating troops,
he replied, “I would tell these marines they have been replaced
by another element of their force.” It was, in short “a
transition of forces” (Kifner and Wong,

NYT

, 5/1/04). 


But
this is not how the people of Falluja—or even the Falluja Brigade—interpreted
the withdrawal. Reuters reporter Fadel Badran, arriving as the Marines
began packing, reported hearing the victory cry, “God has given
this town victory over the Americans” announced across the
rooftops from loud speakers from the mosque’s minaret. “This
victory came by the acts of the brave Mujahideen of Falluja who
vanquished the American troops” (5/1/04). Kifner and Wong of
the

New York Times

displayed a picture of celebrating Falluja
residents, while the new commander of the Brigade asserted that
his force’s mission was providing “security and stability
in Falluja without the need for the American Army, which the people
of Falluja reject.” 


The
depth of this feeling was made plain the following week when U.S.
troops decided to enter the city once again. According to Kifner,
what began as a “show of strength” was “revised,
scaled down, postponed, and, apparently nearly abandoned” before
it took shape as a short ride down the shut-down main thoroughfare,
lined with Fallu- ja Brigade troops, while a few residents “stared
glumly” at the convoy which “did not venture into the
tough neighborhoods where the Americans had fought the insurgents”
(

NYT,

5/11/04).


 


Then,
after the convoy and its embedded

Times

reporter retreated
once again to the outskirts of the city, independent journalist
Jahr Jamail reported for The New Standard, “Spontaneous celebrations
erupted as crowds of residents gathered in the street and began
chanting and waving banners. Members of both the Iraqi Police and
Iraqi Civil Defense Corps joined in the celebration, waving their
guns in the air and flashing the two-fingered ‘Victory’
sign” (www.newstandard news.net). The general understanding
was that this would be the last they saw of the U.S. troops; and
in the month afterward, no U.S. patrol entered the city.






Despite
denials of Coalition generals, the U.S. had suffered a definitive
defeat in Falluja. But the texture and meaning of this defeat can
only be understood by looking at the whole history of the confrontation. 



The Coalition Abandons the Cities 



T


he
story really begins in Summer 2003 with the first great failure
of the U.S. occupation: the failure of the occupying army to protect
Iraqi citizens. Peter Galbraith summarized the national picture
when he described events in Baghdad: “When the United States
entered Baghdad on April 9 last year, it found a city largely undamaged
by a carefully executed military campaign. However, in the two months
following the US takeover, unchecked looting effectively gutted
every important public institution in the city with the notable
exception of the Oil Ministry” (