Ramadi: Fallujah Redux

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.

Author: Dahr Jamail

Dahr Jamail has reported from inside Iraq and is the author of Beyond the Green Zone.