Fearful residents are now pouring out of Ramadi
after the U.S. military has been assaulting the city for months with tactics
such as cutting water, electricity, and medical aid; imposing curfews; and attacking
by means of snipers and random air strikes. This time, Iraqis there are right
to fear the worst an all out attack on the city, similar to what was done
to nearby Fallujah.
It has always been just a matter of time before the U.S. military would finally
get around to destroying Ramadi, the capital city of al-Anbar province. After
all, Ramadi is not far from Fallujah, and so similar to Fallujah both tribally
and in their disdain toward the idea of being occupied, that many people in
Ramadi even refer to Fallujah as "Ramadi." I know many people from
Ramadi who lost relatives and friends during both U.S. assaults on Fallujah,
and the level of anti-American sentiment has always been high there.
By now, we all know the scene when the U.S. military in Iraq decides to attack
an entire city
we've seen this standard operating procedure repeated,
to one degree or another, in Haditha, al-Qa'im, Samarra, parts of Baghdad, Balad,
Najaf, and Fallujah twice
so far. The city is sealed for weeks if not
months, water and electricity are cut, medical aid is cut, curfews imposed,
mobility impaired, air strikes utilized, then the real attack begins. Now in
Ramadi, the real attack has begun.
Warplanes are streaking the sky as bombings increase, loudspeakers aimed into
the city warn civilians of a "fierce impending attack" (even though
it has already begun), and thousands of families remain trapped in their homes,
just like in Fallujah during both attacks on that city. Again, many who remain
in the city cannot afford to leave because they are so poor, or they lack transportation,
or they want to guard their home because it is all they have left.
Sheik Fassal Guood, a former governor of al-Anbar, said of the situation,
"The situation is catastrophic. No services, no electricity, no water."
He also said, "We know for sure now that Americans and Iraqi commanders
have decided to launch a broad offensive any time now, but they should have
consulted with us."
Today, a man who lives in Fallujah and who recently visited Ramadi told me,
"Any new government starts with a massacre. That seems like the price
that we Iraqis must pay, especially in the Sunni areas. Ramadi has been deprived
of water, electricity, telephones, and all services for about two months now.
U.S. and government forces frankly told people of Ramadi that they will not
get any services unless they hand over 'the terrorists'! Operations started
last week, but it seems that the Marines are facing some problems in a city
that is a lot bigger in area than Fallujah. [Ramadi also has at least 50,000
more residents than Fallujah.] Killing civilians is almost a daily process done
by snipers and soldiers in U.S. armored vehicles. The problem that makes it
even more difficult for the Ramadi people than for those of Fallujah back in
2004 is that they cannot flee to Baghdad, because there they'll face the government
militia assassinations. Nevertheless, the U.S. Army is telling them to evacuate
the city. On the other hand, the government and the U.S. Army made it clear
that they will bring militias to participate in the wide attack against the
city. The UN and the whole world are silent as usual, and nobody seems to care
what is going to happen in Ramadi."
Thus, the stage was set, and now Iraqis brace themselves for yet another staggeringly
high civilian body count in Ramadi. This, amid recent news from the Department
of Defense that over $19 million has been paid out in compensation by the U.S.
military in Iraq to families who have had loved ones killed by U.S. troops.
The average payout is $2,500 per body, and nearly half of the $19 million was
paid out in the province of al-Anbar. Reflective of the drastically increased
levels of violence in Iraq, the total amount of compensation payouts for 2005
is nearly four times what it was the previous year.
The fact that the 1,500 U.S. troops who were recently brought into Iraq, specifically
to Ramadi, went unreported by most, if not all, corporate media outlets didn't
come as a surprise to the residents of Ramadi, however, as street battles between
troops and resistance fighters have been raging for months now.
The media blackout on Ramadi is already rivaling the blackout on the draconian
measures employed by the military during the November 2004 siege of Fallujah,
if not surpassing it. Thus far, the military has remained reluctant to allow
even embedded reporters to travel with it in Ramadi. With each passing U.S.
assault on an Iraqi city, the media blackout grows darker and with Ramadi,
it is the darkest yet.
Most of what we have, aside from sporadic reports from sources inside the
besieged city, is propaganda from the U.S. military spokesman in Baghdad, Major
Todd Breasseale, who only spoke of moving the newly arrived 1,500 troops in
from Kuwait into positions around Ramadi. "Moving this force will allow
tribal leaders and government officials to go about the very difficult task
of taking back their towns from the criminal elements."
As in Fallujah, thousands of frightened residents of Ramadi are fleeing the
city, then being turned away from entering Baghdad. With no tents, food, or
aid of any kind being provided to them by the military, which is a war crime,
they are left with nothing but what they carry and no place to go. These refugees
are now adding to the horrific statistic of over 100,000 displaced families
within Iraq, the majority of whom are so as the result of massive U.S. military
operations, which have a tendency to make entire cities unlivable.
Reports from sources within Ramadi for weeks now have been that U.S. soldiers
have been inhabiting people's homes in order to use their rooftops as sniper
platforms, innocent people are being shot daily, and people are confused
do they risk leaving and having nowhere to go, or risk staying in their homes
and possibly being killed?
Hassan Zaidan Lahaibi, a member of the Council of Representatives in the Iraqi
parliament, told reporters recently, "If things continue, we will have
a humanitarian crisis. People are getting killed or wounded, and the rest are
just migrating aimlessly."
He could just as easily be describing much of the rest of Iraq, where the
majority of people struggle to survive under the weight of an increasingly brutal
occupation, U.S.-backed death squads, sectarian militias, staggering unemployment,
and a devastated infrastructure.
This piece originally appeared at Truthout.org.