‘On This Day’ 2004: US Forces Launch Operation Vigilant Resolve, First Battle of Fallujah
On March 31, 2004 four guards from the private security company Blackwater USA entered a part of Fallujah, Iraq controlled by resistance fighters. It was a mistake that would cost them their lives; after being brutally tortured and murdered, their bodies were doused in gasoline and set on fire before being dragged through the streets and hung from a bridge. That same day five Marines were killed not far from the city by a roadside bomb.
Photos of the charred bodies of the four Blackwater mercenaries outraged Americans. In response, the Marines suspended their “kinder, gentler” approach, which was aimed at winning hearts and minds, and announced that Fallujah would be “pacified.”
On April 4, US forces commenced Operation Vigilant Resolve, a major campaign to find and kill those who were resisting foreign occupation of their homeland. Although women, children and old men were permitted to leave the city (albeit four days into the offensive), several hundred of them still died along with a few hundred Iraqi resistance fighters. Worse, US forces, mostly Marines, blocked access to the city’s main hospital and the BBC reported that American troops were shooting at ambulances. Wounded civilians bled to death for want of medical care. American officials declared that US forces were operating with “extraordinary precision,” and they were– women, children and old men were all precisely shot by American snipers, including an old woman waving a white flag of surrender.
In the end, Operation Vigilant Resolve was a complete failure. That November, the United States would again try to take Fallujah. This time they called it Operation Phantom Fury. The military estimated that 70- 90% of the city’s civilian population fled in advance of the coalition attack. This meant that there were still anywhere from 30,000 to 90,000 people remaining in the city. Furthermore, US forces surrounded Fallujah and refused to allow any male between ages 15 to 55 to leave, another clear violation of the Geneva Conventions. It was preposterously presumed that every single last one of them was an insurgent.
“We were told… that every single person that was walking, talking, breathing was an enemy combatant,” said veteran Jeff Englehart, “As such, every single person that was walking down the street or in a house was a target.” The “free-fire zones” of Vietnam infamy were alive and well in Fallujah.
When the Marines rolled into Fallujah for the second time, they literally came with a vengeance. They shot and killed unarmed, wounded prisoners. Snipers intentionally targeted civilians, including the elderly, women and children as young as four. “The Americans are shooting anything that moves,” one horrified resident told CBS News.
Seventeen-year-old Hudda Fawzi Salam Issawi recounted what happened to her family the day the Marines returned to her city:
“On 9 November American marines came to our house. My father and the neighbour went to the door to meet them. We were not fighters. We thought we had nothing to fear. I ran into the kitchen to put on my veil, since men were going to enter our house and it would be wrong for them to see me with my hair uncovered. This saved my life. As my father and neighbour approached the door, the Americans opened fire on them. They died instantly.”
“Me and my 13 year old brother hid in the kitchen behind the fridge. The soldiers came into the house and caught my older sister. They beat her. Then they shot her. But they did not see me. Soon they left, but not before they had destroyed our furniture and stolen the money from my father’s pocket.”
Hudda comforted her dying sister by reading verses from the Quran. She died four hours later. Hudda and her surviving brother hunkered down with the decomposing bodies of their slain family for three days until hunger forced them out into the deadly city streets. They attempted to flee Fallujah but were spotted by a US sniper who shot her brother through the back, killing him instantly. Hudda was hit in the leg.
“I prepared myself to die,” she told Dr. Salam Ismael, “but I was found by an American woman soldier, and she took me to hospital.” Hudda was eventually reunited with the surviving members of her family. Many others weren’t so “lucky.”
American and Iraqi forces raided the General Hospital where they beat and tied up staff (including one doctor in the middle of delivering a baby), dragged patients from their beds, and strip- searched female doctors. Not only did US troops often refuse to aid injured civilians, they also attacked smaller medical clinics, killing patients and staff alike despite promises to spare them.
The Americans also used white phosphorus, a chemical and incendiary weapon banned for use against civilians. It ignites on contact with air and burns at nearly 1,500 degrees Fahrenheit, scorching flesh straight through to the bone. Water does not extinguish it. It can cause a very slow, very agonizing death.
The slaughter of unarmed civilians went on for weeks. Operation Phantom Fury turned Fallujah into what one reporter from Britain’s Guardian called “a city of ghosts.” Rabid dogs and cats feasted on the rotting human corpses that littered the streets. Thousands of homes and dozens of mosques lay in ruins. Many of the ones left standing were vandalized. “Fuck Iraq and every Iraqi in it” was scrawled in lipstick on one woman’s living room mirror.
While American commanders lamented the loss of several dozen US and coalition troops, the shell-shocked residents of Fallujah were burying hundreds of their own dead. While nobody can say for sure exactly how many civilians perished in the fearsome American assault on the city, the Red Cross says the number is at least 800.
The war-ravaged people of Fallujah are still dealing with the effects of Vigilant Resolve and Phantom Fury. Some 200,000 residents who left have still not come home.
Those who remained have dealt with years of violence, economic hardship and devastated infrastructure. An extraordinary number of children born in the wake of the U.S. invasion have deadly cancers and severe deformities most likely linked to toxic weapons used by American forces. One doctor reported treating one birth defect every two months before the invasion; by 2010 she was treating a case a day. One child was born with six fingers, another with just one eye. Some come into the world with horribly twisted bodies. One was born with two heads.
American forces relied heavily upon depleted uranium (DU) munitions during the battle for Fallujah and in the wider Iraq war. Fired from tanks, planes, helicopters, in artillery shells and from guns, these radioactive rounds are extremely dense and ideal for piercing hardened armor. But when the shells explode on impact they release deadly dust particles that linger in the soil, water, food and air for many years. Four-and-a-half billion years, to be exact. People breathe the particles into their bodies, poisoning their organs, their blood, their nervous systems and their very DNA. While the Pentagon publicly states that DU is not known to cause any harm, an Army training manual warns that “contamination will make food and water unsafe for consumption” and requires soldiers coming within 80 feet of DU-contaminated material to wear protective clothing.
American military vehicles hit with DU “friendly fire” were buried in the Arabian desert after Operation Desert Storm, yet children are allowed to climb and play on the burnt-out hulks of Iraqi tanks blasted by DU rounds. Geiger counter readings of DU-contaminated sites in densely populated urban areas have consistently shown radiation levels that are 1,000 to 1,900 times higher than normal.
Sick veterans from Canada, Britain and the United States who submitted urine samples for testing were alarmed to discover uranium levels that sometimes exceeded 100 times the level considered safe. The same tests revealed that the majority of Iraqis from the southern city of Basra and 40% of Baghdad residents had elevated levels of depleted uranium in their urine as well. Yet the US military continued to insist that DU was safe.
Now you know how American troops “pacified” the terrorists of Fallujah– not to mention the non-terrorists of Fallujah and much of the rest of Iraq, for that matter, as well as generations of Iraqis yet to be born. It’s absolutely unbelievable how most Americans consider the Iraqis who fought to free their families, their homes and their country from foreign invasion and occupation to be terrorists, yet the US troops who purposely shot civilians, utilized horrific incendiary weapons in dense urban areas and fired off thousands of tons of radioactive munitions that have caused grotesque birth defects and poisoned the Iraqi soil for infinite generations to come are seen as liberating heroes.
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