The Victory of Popular Resistance In Occupied Iraq

Under the influence of U.S. military propaganda, Western accounts of occupation and resistance in Iraq have tended to characterize the occupation forces and their Kurdish and formerly exiled Iraqi allies as representing legitimate authority, stability, and security in Iraq and popular resistance forces as “insurgents” or “terrorists.” An ever-changing official narrative in which U.S. forces must be held blameless for the violence of the invasion and occupation has required the demonization of the Iraqi Resistance and fueled an endless quest for the roots of violence in caricatures of Iraqi history that have gained wide acceptance in Western popular culture.

One of the main thrusts of this propaganda is to define people involved in popular resistance as a class of people who cannot be understood or reasoned with, let alone identified with. This not only preserves political support for occupation, but it also serves to justify policies of extreme violence, or even genocide, against resistance fighters and the civilian populations who support them.

For several years, the Iraqi Resistance stood virtually alone in the world against U.S. and British aggression, but it ultimately succeeded in making continued occupation futile and counter-productive for the occupying forces, forcing them to withdraw. This, in turn, forced U.S. policy-makers to make significant revisions to their global war policy, sparing other countries the fate suffered by the people of Iraq.

The UN Abandons The People Of Iraq

In 2003, the people of Iraq found themselves living under a hostile military occupation, one that was characterized from the very start by violence, corruption, disregard for human life and public welfare and systematic violations of the Geneva Conventions and international humanitarian law. The invasion itself violated the UN Charter and was defined as a “crime of aggression” by the British government’s senior legal advisors in a series of pre-war documents that were declassified by the Chilcot Inquiry in the UK in 2010. Like hostile military occupations throughout history, the occupation confronted every Iraqi with the classic, excruciating choice between collaboration and resistance to the hostile military occupation of their country. The only third choice was flight and about five million Iraqis (about one in six) eventually abandoned their homes and their lives to become internally displaced persons or refugees in other countries.

In a succession of resolutions following the invasion, the United Nations Security Council undermined any hope the people of Iraq might have clung to that the UN would act to uphold the protections guaranteed to them and to people everywhere by the UN Charter, the Geneva Conventions and international humanitarian law. On May 22, 2003, resolution 1483 recognized the United States and the United Kingdom as occupying powers in Iraq, institutionalizing and consolidating the results of their crime.

In August 2003, UNSC resolution 1500 recognized the U.S.-backed Iraqi Governing Council as an “important step towards the formation by the people of Iraq of an internationally recognized, representative government that will exercise the sovereignty of Iraq.” The Iraqi Resistance responded to the UN’s complicity in aggression and occupation by destroying its headquarters in Baghdad. In October 2003, as the violence of occupation and resistance took root and escalated, UNSC resolution 1511 authorized a “Multi-National Force” for Iraq, placing the lives and safety of the population in the hands of the very same American and British forces that had unleashed this violence in their country in the first place.

The UN mandate for the Multi-National Force (MNF) in Iraq was intended to expire on the formation of an interim Iraqi government, but it was instead renewed several times, riding roughshod over legal and constitutional requirements that this be approved by the Iraqi Council of Representatives (ICR). One hundred and forty-four members, a majority of the ICR, even signed a letter to the UN Security Council, explaining that it had not approved the 2007 renewal request and asking it to reject the request unless a firm timeline for the withdrawal of the occupation forces was included. But the Security Council paid no attention and renewed the MNF mandate for another year. Public anger at the occupation and political pressure from the ICR finally forced the Maliki government to negotiate a Status of Forces Agreement at the end of 2008 that included firm deadlines for a complete withdrawal of the occupation forces by the end of 2011.

The actions of the UN Security Council ensured that from 2003 on the Iraqi people were left with no middle ground between collaboration and resistance. The international community was not going to rescue them. Successive governing institutions established by their occupiers were comprised largely of former exiles who had been flown in with the invasion forces, including many who had long-standing and publicly acknowledged relationships with the CIA and MI6. The Iraqi Governing Council and the Coalition Provisional Authority were the first institutions of a “divide-and-rule” strategy that destroyed the secular 20th century Iraqi state and divided power among former exiles affiliated with different sects and ethnic groups. The occupation pitted these groups against each other in a struggle for power within the Green Zone, with the occupying powers as mediators and kingmakers, while U.S. forces and U.S.-led Iraqi forces recruited under occupation unleashed five years of ever-increasing violence against popular resistance groups and the majority of the civilian population who supported them.

The Emergence Of Popular Resistance

Immediately following the invasion in 2003, there was a natural and spontaneous explosion of democracy in many parts of Iraq. Local people began to organize elections in Mosul, Samarra, Hilla, and other areas. U.S. military officers who took American propaganda about democracy and freedom at face value supported and assisted these efforts. But in June 2003, before these processes could bear fruit, they were ordered to halt them, leaving Baathist military officers, with American support, in charge of most local governments in Iraq. As Paul Bremer candidly observed to the Washington Post, “In a postwar situation like this, if you start holding elections, the people who are rejectionists tend to win.”

At the same time, largely non-violent street protests against U.S. and British occupation were organized in several Iraqi cities. The long history of resistance in Fallujah began with a march to a local school that had been commandeered by U.S. forces to demand that the school be returned to the community so that children could return to school. The marchers were confronted by armed paratroopers blocking the road, people threw stones and troops opened fire. They killed 13 people and wounded many more.

When Sami Ramadan, an Iraqi sociologist teaching in London, returned in September 2003 to visit Baghdad where he’d grown up, he found a great deal of anger at the brutality of the occupation and popular support for armed resistance. But he also found a common feeling that armed resistance was “premature” and that peaceful, political means could be more effective. He believed that American violence was a deliberate tactic to terrorize the population and that the Americans were making an example of Sunni-majority cities like Fallujah, Mosul, and Ramadi to send a message to the larger Shia-majority populations in Baghdad and the South that they had better cooperate.

In November 2003, the CIA issued a report on the growth of armed resistance in Iraq. The CIA reported that resistance to the occupation was spreading; that growing numbers of Iraqis believed that this was the way to end the occupation; and that greater violence by U.S. forces would only provoke more widespread resistance. The CIA also warned that resistance in central Iraq could easily spread to Shia-majority populations in Sadr City and the South, implying that stoking sectarian differences into mutual hostility would be the only way to forestall the emergence of a unified nationalist resistance movement.

At the time of the CIA’s report, resistance attacks against U.S. forces numbered about 35 per day and only 400 Americans had so far died in Iraq. The determination of U.S. policymakers to complete and consolidate their conquest of Iraq tragically led to the deaths of 4,000 more Americans and probably more than a million Iraqis. The scale of resistance subsequently grew from 35 operations per day to 150 per day over the next 3 years.

While U.S. propaganda drew attention to resistance operations in which civilians were killed or harmed, the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency maintained a breakdown of “enemy-initiated attacks” throughout the war which revealed that more than 90 percent were against military targets. Once the U.S. had recruited and trained Iraqi forces to fight under its command, those forces became the targets of about 15 percent of resistance attacks, but 75 percent were still directed at foreign occupation forces. Many of the less than 10 percent of attacks that did target civilians were aimed at U.S.-backed exiles, puppet government officials, or other collaborators. The small number of genuine acts of terrorism were horrific and deplorable, but seem to have been mainly carried out by small groups of religious extremists, not by the larger nationalist groups that led the broader resistance to the occupation. But the occupation authorities and the Western media presented these relatively isolated incidents as the principal form of violence in occupied Iraq and as a justification for continued occupation, rather than as the predictable and horrific result of an illegal and violent American occupation.

The United States Launches A “Dirty War”

It became clear in December 2003 that the U.S. response to resistance in Iraq was taking a sinister turn. Seymour Hersh reported in the New Yorker that U.S. special forces were being trained by Israeli assassins, or Mista’aravim, in Israel and North Carolina to conduct assassination operations in Iraq. Hersh’s military sources told him that they had already killed or captured most of the senior officials of the Iraqi government and that they now believed the growing resistance movement was being led and supported by “mid-level” Baath Party members, in effect casting suspicion on the entire middle class of the country and making them targets of this campaign. An American advisor to the occupation government told Hersh, “The only way we can win is to go unconventional. We’re going to have to play their game. Guerilla versus guerilla. Terrorism versus terrorism. We’ve got to scare the Iraqis into submission.” Another U.S. officer told Newsweek, “The Sunni population is paying no price for the support it is giving the terrorists. From their point of view, it is cost-free. We have to change that equation.”

As these officials made clear and, as in previous American-backed “dirty wars” in Latin America and Southeast Asia, the purpose of such a campaign is not to precisely identify and kill resistance fighters but to target and terrorize the civilian population that supports them. In much of Iraq, the occupation became a war against the entire population, characterized by indiscriminate violence, mass arrests, torture, collective punishment, and illegal rules of engagement. These included:

·       orders to “kill all military-age males” during
certain operations

·        “free fire” or “weapons free” zones

·        “dead-checking” or killing wounded resistance fighters

·       standing orders to “call for fire” (air-strikes) in civilian areas, even on apartment buildings full of people

·        “360 degree rotational fire” on streets full of civilians

These war crimes were justified in the minds of U.S. forces by propaganda that falsely linked the people of Iraq to terrorism in the United States. A Zogby Poll in 2006 found that 85 percent of American troops in Iraq believed that their mission was “to retaliate for Saddam’s role in the 9/11 attacks.”

By the end of 2003, U.S. forces began recruiting Iraqi paramilitary units to fight under U.S. command. The $87 billion war appropriation in November 2003 included $3 billion for a classified program headed by an Air Force brigadier-general to fund these paramilitary units. The first units were comprised of Kurdish peshmerga militiamen and members of three former exile groups: the Iranian-trained Badr Brigade, the CIA-backed Iraqi National Congress, and the Iraqi National Accord. As the American “dirty war” in Iraq escalated in the coming years, U.S. propaganda obscured its strictly American roots, blaming the Iraqis for the terror that was unleashed in their midst. But the campaign was launched with the full support of important opinion-makers in the U.S. Having apparently learned nothing from the lies dressed up as secrets (and liars dressed up as experts) that launched the war in the first place, the Wall Street Journal declared in an editorial, “The Kurds and the Iraqi National Congress have excellent intelligence operations that we should allow them to exploit…especially to conduct counter-insurgency in the Sunni Triangle.”

In March 2004, Stephen Grey investigated the assassination of Professor Abdul-Latif Ali al-Mayah in Baghdad for an article in the New Statesman. Professor al-Mayah was the director of the Baghdad Center for Human Rights and the fourth professor from al-Mustansiriya University to be killed. He died in a hail of bullets 12 hours after denouncing the corruption of the Iraqi Governing Council in a television interview with Al-Jazeera. American officials blamed his death on “the guerillas,” but a senior Iraqi police officer gave Grey a very different account of his death. After making him swear to protect his identity, the officer told Grey, “Dr. Abdul-Atif was becoming more and more popular because he spoke for people on the street here. He made some politicians quite jealous…. You can look no further than the Governing Council. There are political parties in this city who are systematically killing people. They are politicians that are backed by the Americans and who arrived to Iraq from exile with a list of their enemies. I’ve seen these lists. They are killing people one by one.”

Dr. Isam al-Rawi, the chair of Iraq’s Association of University Lecturers, compiled details of 300 academics and university staff killed in 2004. He estimated that another 2,000 had already fled the country. The Minister of Education reported that another 296 faculty and staff were killed in 2005. Dr. Al-Rawi stayed in Baghdad and was assassinated outside his home on October 30, 2006. Iraqi novelist Haifa Zangana, herself a victim of Saddam Hussein and exiled in London, wrote in the Guardian in 2006, “Like many Iraqis, I believe these killings are politically motivated and connected to the occupying forces’ failure to gain any significant social support in the country. For the occupation’s aims to be fulfilled, independent minds have to be eradicated. We feel that we are witnessing a deliberate attempt to destroy intellectual life in Iraq.”

Smoldering Resistance Bursts Into Flame

March 25, 2004 was a turning point for the Iraqi Resistance. Paul Bremer announced that U.S. forces would not be departing Iraq after the nominal transfer of power to an interim Iraqi government in June 2004. In fact, all Iraqi forces recruited by the new government would remain under direct U.S. military command and the U.S. would retain control of all “reconstruction” funds and of the political process in the Green Zone. Armed resistance had seemed premature to most Iraqis in September 2003, and 39 percent of Iraqis nationwide even told pollsters in February 2004 that they “supported the presence of coalition forces in Iraq,” but Bremer’s announcement lit the flame of resistance that had been smoldering beneath the surface for a year. U.S. forces were forced to retreat to heavily fortified bases, or “crusader castles” as Robert Fisk called them, from where they launched devastating assaults on Resistance-held areas for the next four years. Because it was no longer safe for Westerners to travel through most of Iraq, Western journalists hunkered down in the Green Zone in Baghdad or were “embedded” with U.S. forces. This enhanced their role as mouthpieces for military propaganda, unable to follow up on what they were told or to construct an alternative narrative of the war to the one that was spoon-fed to them in the Green Zone briefing room.

After four American mercenaries were killed in Fallujah and their bodies were burned and hung from a bridge, U.S. Marines launched a murderous assault on the city in which dozens of civilians were killed and wounded by American snipers. This provoked precisely the unified resistance that American officials feared most. Muqtada Al-Sadr dispatched a unit of his Mahdi Army militia from Sadr City to Fallujah to fight alongside their Sunni brothers and people all over Iraq collected relief supplies for the people in the beleaguered city. Al-Sadr declared, “You are witnessing the union of Sunnis and Shiites toward an independent Iraq, free of terror and occupation…. Our sentiments are the same, our goal is one, and our enemy is one. We say yes, yes to unity, yes to the closing of ranks, combating terror, and ousting the infidel West from our sacred lands.”

U.S. forces called off the assault on Fallujah, leaving it, and many other cities (and much of Baghdad), in the hands of the resistance. While resistance forces could not obtain funding from the central government to rebuild areas under their control, they could at least provide law and order, basic public services, and defend their communities from American attacks by organizing resistance and mining roads. At the same time, U.S. forces stepped up their propaganda campaign to demonize the resistance and to blame it for the violence of the occupation. The campaign’s new poster child was the Jordanian “terrorist mastermind” Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi. A U.S. military intelligence officer described Zarqawi’s role in U.S. propaganda to the Daily Telegraph: “We were basically paying up to $10,000 a time to opportunists, criminals, and chancers who passed off fiction and supposition about Zarqawi as cast-iron fact, making him out as the lynch-pin of just about every attack in Iraq…. Back home this stuff was gratefully received and formed the basis of policy decisions. We needed a villain, someone identifiable for the public to latch on to, and we got one.”

The process of staffing an interim government was nominally delegated to UN Representative Lakhdar Brahimi, the former foreign minister of Algeria. Brahimi traveled throughout Iraq meeting with civil society groups and attended a conference in Baghdad in May 2004 that brought together many of these groups under a slogan taken from the anti-monarchist movement of the 1950s: Iraq for the Iraqis. Brahimi recommended that none of the U.S.-backed Iraqi Governing Council should have any role in the new government.

But U.S. officials made the critical decisions while Brahimi was sidelined, and a long-time CIA and MI-6 asset, Ayad Allawi, became Prime Minister and Iraq became sovereign in name only. Brahimi finally broke his diplomatic silence at a press conference before leaving Iraq: “Bremer is the dictator of Iraq. He has the money. He has the signature.” Pressed on who he would have chosen to head the interim government, he made the situation very clear, “I will not say who was my first choice and who was not my first choice…. I will remind you that the Americans are governing this country.”

Special Police Commandos

In June 2004, CIA asset Ayad Allawi became Interim Prime Minister of Iraq, supported by John Negroponte as U.S. Ambassador to Baghdad. The Iraqi-American Falah al-Naqib was appointed Interior Minister, and Steven Casteel, who had run the Interior Ministry during the formal U.S. occupation, stayed on in Baghdad as Naqib’s senior U.S. adviser. In September 2004, Naqib appointed his uncle, General Adnan Thavit, to lead a new paramilitary force called the Special Police Commandos. The training of these forces was entrusted to retired Colonel James Steele.

The backgrounds of these men encompassed some of the darkest chapters of recent U.S. history. When Ayad Allawi first offered his services to MI6, he was a Mukhabarat agent in London, spying on fellow Iraqi medical students. He broadcast propaganda for the Saudis during the First Gulf War and was the figurehead of the CIA’s hapless coup attempt against Saddam Hussein in 1996, which identified every CIA agent in the country to the Mukhabarat, denying the U.S. any genuine human intelligence in Iraq in the years to come.

As Political Officer at the U.S. Embassy in Saigon from 1964 to 1968, John Negroponte was involved in the rise of Nguyen Van Thieu and his election as President of South Vietnam in 1967. As U.S. Ambassador to Honduras from 1981 to 1985, he oversaw the “disguised, quiet, media-free” approach to America’s dirty wars in Central America, which served as a model for current U.S. war policy. And from 2001 to 2004, he represented the United States at the United Nations as it committed aggression against Afghanistan and Iraq in violation of the UN Charter.

Falah al-Naqib was the son of General Hassan al-Naqib, the former Chief of Staff of the Iraqi Army, who defected to the U.S. in the 1970s and co-founded the Iraqi National Congress (INC) in 1992 with Ahmad Chalabi and the Rendon Group, a Washington public relations firm under contract to the CIA. The INC’s “Information Collection Program” fabricated most of the phony intelligence used to justify the invasion of Iraq.

Steven Casteel was the former Chief of Intelligence of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA). He worked for the DEA for 30 years in the U.S., Peru, Bolivia and notably Colombia, where the DEA worked with Los Pepes, a death squad that became part of the Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia (AUC) paramilitary force, who were responsible for about 75 percent of violent civilian deaths during more than a decade of dirty war.

After taking part in the secret U.S. war in Cambodia, James Steele commanded the U.S. Military Advisor Group in El Salvador from 1984 to 1986, working with Salvadoran forces that killed tens of thousands of civilians. He lied under oath to the Senate Intelligence Committee about his role supervising shipments of weapons and supplies to the Contras in Nicaragua from Ilopango air-base, but he avoided prosecution by giving evidence against U.S. Ambassador Edwin Corr. Steele later became a vice president at Enron.

By October 2004, two battalions of Special Police Commandos were operational, and four more were being recruited and trained. General Thavit told Reuters that they included “police who have previous experience fighting terrorism, and also people who received special training under the former regime.” An American officer in Iskandariya told Reuters, “The hardest fighters we have are the former special forces from Saddam’s days.” But one of the first two units, the Wolf Brigade, was recruited mainly from the Iranian-trained Badr Brigade militia and was commanded by a Shiite general named Mohammed Qureshi, more commonly known as Abu Walid. By November, the Wolf Brigade was in action against the Iraqi Resistance in Mosul during the U.S. assault on Fallujah.

In January 2005, U.S. forces built a high-tech national command center for the Special Police, complete with satellite phones, computers with uplinks to U.S. forces networks and direct connections to all U.S. bases and the Iraqi Interior Ministry. A Special Police commander told a U.S. military reporter, “This is the first Iraqi force created in the organization of the Ministry of the Interior to fight the insurgency. The Americans have provided the equipment, supplies, munitions, phones and training.”

Siege Warfare And The Massacre In Fallujah

While the Special Police Commandos would soon become America’s weapon of choice in Baghdad, the advent of the interim government also marked the beginning of a new campaign of direct U.S. military force to besiege, bombard and invade other resistance-held cities. U.S. forces attacked Najaf in August, Tal Afar in September, and Samarra in October. This campaign climaxed with the almost complete destruction of Fallujah in November 2004. Ramadi was destroyed more gradually, but almost completely over the next three years.

Like sieges throughout history, American sieges used bombardment and deprivation to pressure civilians to surrender their cities or turn over resistance fighters—any refusal to do so justified escalating violence. U.S. forces systematically ignored modern prohibitions against collective punishment and against using starvation, thirst, and deprivation as weapons of war against civilian populations. Jean Ziegler, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, condemned the United States for “using hunger and deprivation of food or water as a weapon of war” in “a flagrant violation of international humanitarian law.”

Despite the criminal nature of these tactics, they were openly acknowledged as part of U.S. military doctrine in Iraq. As the siege of Fallujah began, a professor at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey told the San Francisco Chronicle that civilians were being “encouraged” to leave Fallujah “by cutting off water and other supplies” as well as by aerial bombardment. Civilians who heeded American orders to flee besieged cities had to run the gauntlet of U.S. checkpoints where they risked arbitrary arrest and indefinite detention without trial. U.S. officials cited the fact that civilians had been ordered to leave as justification for bombing and starving those who remained, and they used vital supplies for the civilian population and the threat of bombardment as bargaining chips to demand that townspeople hand over resistance fighters.

U.S. forces bombed and starved Fallujah for three weeks before they began their final assault on the city. Civilians streamed out of the city, but males between the ages of 15 and 55 were either detained or ordered back into the killing zone of the besieged and bombarded city.

On November 8, U.S. forces occupied Fallujah Hospital, across the river from the main part of the city. Two smaller clinics in the heart of the city were bombed to the ground, killing doctors, staff and patients. Dr. Sami al-Jumaili, who was working at the Central Health Center on the morning of November 9, reported that 35 out of 60 patients were killed, including 5 small children, as well as 4 doctors—Drs. Abbas, Rabia, al-Kubaissy and Sheriff—and 20 other staff members.

By November 9, the Red Cross reported that at least 2,000 families whose homes had been destroyed were stranded in the open in the city with no shelter, food, water or protection from bombardment and ground fire. A UN Emergency Working Group reported on November 11 that this number kept growing. U.S. officials denied repeated requests from Dr. Chiad, the director of the hospital, that he be allowed to send doctors, ambulances, and medical supplies into the city. On November 16, Louise Arbour, the UN Commissioner for Human Rights demanded an investigation of the disproportionate use of force and the targeting of civilians in Fallujah, and insisted that those responsible “should be brought to justice.”

Arab journalists in the city reported widespread indiscriminate killing of civilians. Burhan Fasa’a of LBC Television in Lebanon spent 9 days in a house with a population that swelled to 26 people. With no means of evacuation, people who were wounded or whose houses were destroyed took shelter with neighbors or just huddled in the ruins. Many died of their wounds. Eventually a squad of U.S. Marines burst into the house, yelling orders in English that most of the residents didn’t understand. If people responded too slowly, they shot them on the spot. “Americans did not have interpreters with them,” Fasa’a explained, “so they entered houses and killed people because they didn’t speak English…. Soldiers thought the people were rejecting their orders, so they shot them. But the people just couldn’t understand them.”

As for the Iraqi resistance, the nominal target of the assault, about half of its trained fighters were evacuated before the American assault began, many of them to launch a new front for the Resistance in Mosul. Two U.S. Stryker battalions had been dispatched from Mosul to Fallujah to man a cordon around the city, but the Resistance operation in Mosul forced the U.S. command to withdraw them, leaving only a porous cordon around Fallujah and allowing other resistance fighters to escape the city.

The 1,000 trained and organized resistance fighters in the city when the assault began avoided direct confrontations with U.S. forces and took advantage of their better knowledge of the terrain. The American battle plan relied on leap-frogging across the city, taking over strategic buildings as “lily-pads” from which air strikes could be called in on strongholds of resistance. This plan played into the hands of the resistance. After two weeks of fighting, U.S. forces had set up lily-pads and snipers’ nests across the city, but about 400 resistance fighters were still free to roam 60 percent of the city, and to ambush American patrols whenever they strayed too far from their bases.

A renewed American bombing campaign destroyed even more of the city, but, despite killing at least 4,000 civilians, U.S. forces never really defeated the resistance in Fallujah. The final scale of the bloodshed and destruction was hard to assess, in part because U.S. forces disposed of bodies before relief workers could enter the city. On December 25 and 26, a team from the hospital went through 6 of the city’s 28 residential districts and recovered 700 bodies, of which at least 550 were of women and children.

On March 25, 2005, the chair of the Fallujah Compensation Committee reported that the U.S. assault had destroyed 36,000 homes, 9,000 shops, 65 mosques, 60 schools, one of 2 bridges, both train stations, both power plants, 3 water treatment plants and the entire sewer and communications systems. Local authorities reported that 60 percent of the houses in the city were either destroyed or uninhabitable. By March 2006, less than 20 percent of the damaged houses had been repaired and water, electricity and sanitation had not been fully restored. Only 24 of 81 public reconstruction projects had been completed, and many others were being cancelled for lack of funding.

Western reporting on the destruction of Fallujah was distorted by imprecise population data. The Washington Post reported in April 2005 that 90,000 of the city’s “250,000 residents,” more than a third, had already returned, albeit “to find wide swaths of the town in ruin.” The UN claimed in March 2006 that 70 percent had returned—230,000 out of 300,000. But the UN’s official figure for the pre-war population of Fallujah was not 250,000 or 300,000, but 435,774. The Iraqi government put it even higher, at 600,000, and Patrick Cockburn of the Independent, who had worked in Iraq for 25 years, found the higher number credible. The higher population figures support the claim by the Study Centre for Human Rights and Democracy that there were 350,000 refugees from Fallujah stranded in the surrounding area following the destruction of the city, as well as many more scattered to the wind in other parts of Iraq, Syria and Jordan.


Nicolas J.S. Davies is author of Blood On Our Hands: the American Invasion and Destruction of Iraq (2010). He presented this paper at the Peace History Society conference in Miami on October 21, 2011, the same day that Obama announced that the United States would honor its commitment to withdraw all its occupation forces from Iraq by the end of 2011.