Part 3: The Fallujah Model


With Fallujah being touted by Iraqi fighters as a successful example of how to liberate their country from the US-led occupation, and by the occupation leaders as a successful example of how to hand over the country to its people and avoid further bloodshed, I set out to discover the reality behind the "Fallujah model".

What I found was a city run by the Iraqi resistance, itself divided between those who supported the ceasefire with occupation forces in May that ended a month's heavy fighting in the city and those who sought to continue the struggle throughout Iraq "and all the way to Jerusalem".

To learn more about the history of Fallujah's resistance, I visited the opulent home of Abu Mohammed, a former brigadier-general in the Iraqi military. We sat in his guest hall, decorating with expensive but gaudy art, flowery and uncoordinated, typical for the region, watching a news broadcast on the assassination of Iraqi Governing Council president Izzedin Salim.

The brigadier-general's three cheerful young boys were play-fighting on a sofa, grinning at me shyly, hoping to get the attention of the foreigner. Abu Mohammed has a baby face and dimples, and smiled as much as his frolicking boys. Like most of Fallujah's people, he traced the beginning of the resistance to the US Army's killing of 17 demonstrators in late April of last year.

Abu Mohammed explained that Fallujah was more traditional than most Iraqi cities. "It is conservative and the influence of mosques is great and widespread." Saddam Hussein's control of thought and ideas, he said, meant that "you could only express yourself through the mosques and it was in the mosques that people felt there was an authority who cared and listened to them". Abu Mohammed added that "the level of education of imams in the mosque was not high".

Abu Mohammed, like all members of the previous army, lost his job when the US occupation dissolved it, along with outlawing the Ba'ath Party. He explained that this had only created enemies for the Americans. He spoke of "the massive use of force" and "disrespect for our traditions" that Fallujah experienced, as well as the "media showing American raids and attacks", meaning that "former regime people like me were forced to support revenge".

"After the war ended," he said, "we expected things to improve, but everything became worse, electricity, water, sewage, draining, so mosque speakers openly spoke of jihad and encouraged prayers to join it after a month of occupation." Abu Mohammed explained that the "mosque culture developed against the Americans in this year. The mosques were free. Mosque culture in Fallujah centered on the jihad. This attracted foreign Arabs who felt constrained by their own regimes, and of course there were neighboring countries who supported this financially. Nobody in Fallujah opposed the resistance and many different resistance groups came in. Weapons were very available in Fallujah. All soldiers and security personnel took their weapons home, and the Ba'ath Party had also distributed weapons."

Abu Mohammed was bewildered by what he called "the stupidity of the Americans", explaining, "They didn't seize ammunition depots of the army that contained enormous amounts of weapons." The military experience, the financing and the weapons were all present in Fallujah, he said, and "the nature of the people here is violent because they grow up with weapons from childhood and weapons become part of our personality". He added that "the imams of mosques took over the defense of Fallujah efficiently".

When the fighting in April started, "the people here were monitoring American movements and had the upper hand. Military experience let them know where the Americans would attack. Fallujans were expecting this to happen, especially after the four [US] contractors [were killed], and they prepared themselves for the fight. The resistance spread into positions assigned to them by Sheikh Dhafer [al-Ubeidi] and Abdallah Janabi, and the military planning and street fighting in defense of one's home requires less strategizing."

Abu Mohammed admitted that "the presence of alJazeera's [Qatar-based television station] exaggerated pictures and incitement of people led people inside and outside Iraq to sympathize with Fallujah." He compared alJazeera's Fallujah correspondent to a sports commentator: "His broadcasts were like a sports commentator, not a journalist, encouraging people to support one team against the other. And he raised the spirits of fighters."

Abu Mohammed was concerned about the new status of Fallujah. "There is no law in Fallujah now," he said. "It's like Afghanistan - rule of gangs, mafias and Taliban. If they decide somebody is a spy they will kill him. There is no legal procedure. Imams of mosques who left during the fighting were prevented from returning to their mosques." He feared that soon differences would emerge among different mujahideen groups, leading to further violence.

He told me a new Fallujah army had been formed "to contain the former army and resistance leaders from taking over and subverting the rule of law". Abu Mohammed was skeptical about the new army that he had joined. "What is the point of this new army? Who does it kill? Who does it defend?" he asked, adding that "the religious leadership decides who gets into the new army". He himself was approached by delegates from a leading mosque run by Janabi, who brought him forms and told him he was approved.

After the first five days of fighting, the former brigadier sent his family out of the city. Now they had returned, and his oldest boy was serving me coffee, but he wanted to leave the city. He told me his beliefs were different than most of his neighbors. "I am looking for the future of my children," he said.

Across the town, I visited the headquarters of the Islamic Party. One of the 25 parties belonging to the US-appointed Iraqi Governing Council, its controversial leader was Dr Muhsin Abdel Hamid. The party had strong anti-Shi'ite undertones, and Hamid had already claimed, incorrectly, that Sunnis were the majority in Iraq.

The party offices were located in an old cinema, earning it the nickname "the cinema party" by Fallujans who viewed it as too cooperative with the Americans. The Islamic Party dominated the city council, but its members were not active during the fighting and some left the city, earning them the contempt of Fallujans, who divided their community between those who stayed and fought and those who left.

By the doors boxes of medical supplies were piled high and several men in sweatpants were sprawled in front, holding Kalashnikovs. Inside the theater, piled on seats and on the stage, were thousands of boxes containing medical supplies, as well as food for the families of "martyrs" and the wounded. The party was sending hundreds of these by truck to Karbala and Najaf, where Shi'ite militias were battling occupation forces. By the door I found a poster advertising an "Islamic music band" called "the voice of the right". It showed a bloody heart in the center of Iraq with a hand plunging a spear through it. Another poster showed two pages, one with American soldiers and one with Iraqis and mosques: "With the Prophet's guidance we will unite to turn the page on the occupation." On a table they sold copies of the party's newspaper, Dar Assalam, and a radical Sunni magazine it supported called Nur, meaning "lights".

I met with Khalid Mohammed, the office director, who insisted on speaking only classical Arabic, or Fus-ha, an annoying habit akin to speaking Shakespearean English in daily conversation. Though the Islamic Party had been a key player in the negotiations with the Americans that brought about the hudna, or ceasefire, Mohammed was worried about groups in the city "who reject the hudna and want to turn Fallujah into a center to export the rebellion". Three differences had emerged during the fighting, he said, "and when we worked on the ceasefire there were other fighters who want fighting to continue until the occupation ends". Mohammed confirmed to me that former Iraqi Republican Guard general, Jassim Mohammed Saleh, had not been dismissed as some reports said but was in fact the No 2 man in power in the city.

The Islamic Party's main competition comes from the Association of Islamic Scholars, headquartered in the Abdel Aziz Mosque of the Nazal neighborhood, which was a key battle zone during the siege.

The association, long committed to resisting the occupation, commanded its own mujahideen units during the fighting. According to a Coalition Provisional Authority official familiar with Iraq, Sheikh Harith al-Dhari, one of the association's leaders in Baghdad, is also an important leader of the resistance. The mosque was alleged by Americans to contain mujahideen and was attacked, its green dome speckled with bullet holes. On one of the mosque's walls a banner announced that "violation of the mosque's sanctuary dishonors the world's Muslims". Papers taped to columns on either side of the entrance gate said, "God chose for you a group of martyrs from the city of clerics and religious science and congratulations to them who now live in the stomachs of the green birds," a reference to heaven for martyrs. Another paper said, "Congratulations on your victory, O people of pride and virtue, O heroes of Fallujah." Colorful stickers I had also seen on car bumpers in the streets showed an Iraqi flame burning the Israeli flag alongside the new Iraqi flag that the governing council had approved. Abdel Hamid Farhan, the mosque leader, told me his city was not yet free and would not be until the rest of the country was liberated.

On the large concrete blocks that guard the Fallujah provisional council from attack, I found the same resistance posters I had seen elsewhere in the city and throughout the west of the country. The resistance had capable graphic designers working for it. "Iraq is the beginning of the end of the occupation," it said, showing a fist lunging out of Iraq into an Iraqi flag. On the flag it said, "Congratulations to Fallujah's people, jihad, martyrdom, victory." Two armed resistance fighters were on either side, their faces covered by kafiyas, scarves. A US flag with a Jewish star on it was on fire, its flames burning American soldiers. The poster was produced by "the Islamic Media League".

Inside, Saad Ala al-Rawi, a lawyer and head of the local provisional council, was receiving petitioners behind his desk. He had a thin mustache and wore the Ba'athist "safari" uniform of matching shirt and pants. An elderly woman draped in a black abaya, her face wrinkled and full of traditional tribal tattoos, had come to ask for help and was shouting her problems in the presence of several sweating portly men wearing dashas and kafiyas.

Al-Rawi had taken part in the negotiations with the Americans, but was surprised to learn that simultaneous negotiations were being held without their knowledge to establish the Fallujah army and appoint General Jassim. He didn't want to answer questions about this. Though he appreciated the role played by three Iraqi Governing Council members in the negotiations, "we were expecting something stronger", he said, "because they are Iraqis and we are Iraqis from the same country. The minimum they could do was threaten to resign because their people were being slaughtered in Fallujah." I pressed him about the other negotiations, but he refused to discuss them.

He, too, mentioned the April 29, 2003, school demonstrations as a key event. "The resistance started that day," he said. "Fallujah was the first city that resisted the occupation. The killings continued when they would open fire randomly on us and raid our houses. Because of these events, sympathy with the resistance increased." His 45-member council was formed on April 1 this year. "We have spent most of our time negotiating with them [the Americans] over their human-rights violations."

Referring to the attack on the four American contract workers, he told me, "For us as Muslims and Arabs, we condemn the mutilation and burning of the four, but in a war killing happens on both sides. We are at war, so killing is normal. But mutilating bodies is not acceptable." He added that the Americans used the incident as an excuse to attack Fallujah. I asked him if they would shoot at US troops should they re-enter the city. "Let me ask you this," he said, "if someone invades your house, will you just stand by?"

TOMORROW: All power to the sheikh

(Copyright 2004 Asia Times Online Ltd. All rights reserved. Please contact for information on our sales and syndication policies.)



Copy the code below into your web page