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Mitigating circumstances or 21st Century Guernica?

This annotated poem-essay is presented in rememberance of the second anniversary of the destruction by US forces of the Iraqi city of Fallujah.


Mitigating circumstances
or 21st Century Guernica?


Dedicated to the people of Fallujah


It began on the first day of Ramadan, 1

"Even if Fallujah has to go the way of Carthage,

reduced to shards, the price

will be worth it.”  2


the sky seethed with billowing smoke and flames

above the holy city of Mosques.


We intend to liberate the people

to bring the rule of law to Fallujah.

We have been asked by the people

to help liberate them from the terrorists and insurgents…


20 000 troops 3 surround the city; recruited

from dole queues and dead end jobs

in the shopping malls of Arbroath,

Alabama and the ruins of Baghdad.


…It seems like the Fallujah people are helping

the terrorists. Thus, the military solution will end the crisis.” 4


A state of emergency is declared.


“We’re ready to go.

I’m just ready to get this done.

I want to go and kill people,

so we can go home…


First they take out the hospital. 5


…Kill them, and go home,

that’s all we can do now.” 6


Army snipers stake out the market places and

spaces of education, worship and laughter.


“We’re going to start at one end of the city

and we’re not going to stop

until we get to the other.”  7


A family of five are gunned down crossing the Euphrates. 8 


“The enemy has a face…


No sleep,






…He’s called Satan and

he lives in Fallujah.” 9


Troops advance street by street,


“You're all in the process of making history...


house by house. 10


This is another Hue city in the making.” 11


Heat sensors, blind to age or

intention detect signs of life,

swiftly erased by bullets,

boots and rifle butts.


A wounded man is found in the Mosque.


“He's fucking faking he's dead!”

Yeah, he's breathing.

faking he's fucking dead!”

There’s a burst of gunfire.

            “He’s dead now.” 12


“Let us make ourselves clear,

we follow the rules of armed combat.” 13


People writhe under the lethal white shower,

the indiscriminate fatal gleam, that indicates

a slow, painful, choking death.14  


Shoot everything that moves

and everything that doesn’t move.”  15


A nine year old boy,

bleeds to death

in his fathers arms,

shrapnel in his stomach.

“We buried him in the garden, it was too dangerous to go out.” 16


Six weeks later the city has fallen

silent, “deserted, polluted with death.” 17

Among, the rubble

rotting dismembered bodies,

bedding, bags of flour.


“We found the bodies

right behind their front doors.

It looked to me as if

they had opened their doors…

and been immediately

shot dead.


That’s how we found them.” 18


Narrow alleys blocked by bloated corpses lying

in the dust, rabid dogs roam the streets

and ravage the remains.


No one can count the number of the dead

and on the first day of Eid

they are still digging the graves. 19


“The Americans marked the houses with

dead bodies with a cross.

That’s where we found the martyrs.

In my opinion, these people were civilians -

not terrorists; men who had stayed behind

to protect their homes.” 20


Subsequently, in its defence,

a representative of

the Coalition of the Willing



 “To those who would doubt

and scorn us, I say this,


God told us to do it.




it was a war.

We were attacked.”  21




1  The world looked the other way as the U.S. carried out “two months of almost nightly air strikes” on Fallujah between August and October 2004. On the 15th October, the first day of Ramadan, the bombing intensified with daily attacks, continuing with increasing ferocity until the ground assault on the 8th November. US military steps up bombing of Falluja


2  In an attempt to ‘prepare’ U.S. public opinion, Ralph Peters wrote, in the New York Post, “We need to demonstrate that the U.S. military cannot be deterred or defeated. Most of Falluja’s residents - those who wish to live in peace - have already fled. Those who remain have made their choice. We need to pursue the terrorists remorselessly … Even if Falluja has to go the way of Carthage, reduced to shards, the price will be worth it. We need to demonstrate our strength of will to the world, to show that there is only one possible result when madmen take on America.” And now, Falluja, 4th November 2004, full transcript


3  The forces marshalled against Fallujah were overwhelmingly made up from the U.S., estimates of the number range between 15 000 – 25 000, they were joined by the Iraqi 36th Battalion and the British Black Watch Regiment. The role of the Black Watch, far from being neutral, as reported in Britain at the time, was indispensable. Stationed at the south of the city, they were used, one commentator described, as “the anvil against which the U.S. can hammer Fallujah.” Quoted in Socialist Worker, issue no. 1927, 13th November 2004


4  Salih Kuzaie, a spokesman for the Defence Ministry, reported by Jackie Spinner in Talks to Avoid Fallujah Offensive Break Down in The Washington Post, 6th November 2004


5  BBC1 News on the 8th November 2004 reported that of the population of 300 000 it was estimated up to 50 000 remained in Fallujah. Other reports suggested as much as half the population could be left in the city. The report added the U.S. military had made a statement to the effect that the hospital was seized early “to prevent the resistance exaggerating casualties…” 38 people were killed in this action. The report suggested the assault was being carried out at the wishes of Iyad Allawi, maintaining a fiction that the U.S. forces did not represent an occupying force, for further analysis see


6 Lance Corporal Joseph Bowman, a 20 year old marine from Texas, speaking to an Associated Press reporter. Mass Slaughter In Fallujah, Doug Lorimer, 17th November 2004


7  Colonel Pete Newell, commander of Task Force 2-2 of the 1st Infantry Division; his full statement read, “We’re going to start at one end of the city and we’re not going to stop until we get to the other. If there’s anybody left when that happens, we’re going to turn around and we’re going to go back and finish it.” Iraqi commandos seize Falluja hospital, 8th November 2004


Many families were forced to take extreme risks to leave the city as life became intolerable. Leading up to the ground assault “men of military age,” usually 15-55, were refused access through the checkpoints. When the state of emergency was declared, no one was permitted to leave, road blocks were set up on every road and a 6.00pm curfew imposed, by 5.00pm.of the second day all electrical power in the city has been cut. Operation Phantom Fury [Fallujah] November 8, 2004 - ?


Fixing the problem of Falluja, Paul Wood, BBC News, embedded with U.S. Marines near Fallujah. 7th November 2004


10  It took the U.S. troops 8 days to go down three main streets in Fallujah from north to south, advancing about a quarter mile a day. The Iraqi defenders put up what a Marine division commander described as “a very stiff and determined resistance” against overwhelming firepower and technology. An attitude used to justify the subsequent brutality of the U.S. forces. US troops still face harsh battles, Christian Science Monitor, 26th November 2004



11  Announced Sergeant Major Carlton W. Kent to a meeting of 2500 marines. The battle was directly compared by the military to the battle for Hue City in Vietnam, leveled to the ground by U.S. forces in 1968.. U.S. Troops Enter Fallujah, Elizabeth Palmer, embedded correspondent with 1st Marine Expeditionary Force.


12  Footage of this execution was broadcast around the world giving a glimpse of the true nature of the assault. Full transcript can be found in Crimes in Iraq: How America Wages War in Iraq, freelance columnist Firas Al-Atraqchi, 18th November 2004


13  Lieutenant General John Sattler, commander of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force. The tone of his comment stands in contrast to his earlier description of the resistance in Fallujah as  “mugs, thugs, murderers and intimidators.” U.S. and Iraqi Forces Take Falluja, 16th November 2004


14  Documented in Fallujah, The Concealed Massacre by RAI News correspondent Sigfrido Ranucci. White phosphorus sticks to the skin and burns the flesh down to the bones. It is banned under the Geneva Convention. The Italian documentary, produced by Maurizio Torrealta, reveals what human rights activists have long asserted, that U.S. forces used white phosphorus and napalm in Fallujah. Footage shows the effect on civilians, including women and children. Following the broadcast the western press, including the Independent and Washington Post, picked up the story. Far from alerting the world to the evidence of this human rights atrocity, their coverage of the story focused on whether the use of the chemical was used technically as a weapon and therefore technically legal.


15  Reported statement of Company Commander to marines before entering the city. Falluja troops told to shoot on sight 9th November 2004


16  Muhammad Abbud, a schoolteacher, described how he was forced to watch his nine-year-old son bleed to death because the family could not take him to the hospital while bombs and gunfire poured into their neighbourhood from U.S. tanks and planes. Carnage In Falluja, Aljazeera, 10th November 2004

17  Description given by Iraqi doctor Ali Fadhil in his authoritative documentary Fallujah: City of Ghosts commissioned by The Guardian and Channel 4 News. Channel 4 have refused to broadcast this material. Full transcript,2763,1387460,00.html

18  Sheikh Jamal al-Mihimdi recorded in Falluja - The Real Story," l "18048" t "_blank

19  Legacy of Fallujah, Journeyman Pictures. This film has been made with footage from a video shot on the first day of Eid Al-Fitr, one of the biggest festivals in the Muslim year. It comes at the end of Ramadan. Traditionally celebrated by visiting family members, sharing meals together and wearing new clothes. Children receive gifts and people set off fireworks at night. Legacy shows the men of Fallujah, rather than celebrating with family and friends, they are still digging graves for them.


20  From a statement by Sheikh Jamal al-Mihimdi recorded in Falluja - The Real Story, he added, “I say this because we found the bodies in groups of two or three or four: it was Ramadan and people would naturally gather together for Iftar - the first meal after fasting.”" l "18048" t "_blank


21  This was the substance of numerous statements in justification of the war and subsequent occupation of Iraq, made in the Senate and Congress following the 9/11 attack. Some commentators have cited the Fallujah assault as revenge for the U.S. defeat in the city the previous April.  Certainly the Bush/Blair/Allawi equation has been resistance = terrorist = Fallujah, embodied in the figure of the alleged Jordanian extremist Musaab al-Zarqawi, the official target of the U.S. action. Al-Zarqawi has remained as elusive as the W.M.D.s and like them probably does not exist, this is certainly the opinion of the Shura council of Fallujah. Indeed these actions take place in a wider context, summarised in the previous statement, “The battle of Iraq is one victory in a war on terror that began on September the 11th, 2001 and still goes on.” President Bush, National Security and the War on Terror, 1st May, 2003