Iraqi military tactics in the assault on Fallujah: a strange sense of deja vu.

Fallujah, a town in western Iraq, was recently taken over by what the BBC describes as ‘Sunni militants allied to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), as well as armed tribesmen angry with the government’.

In response, Iraqi regime forces – and anyone familiar with their human, civil and political rights record should have no qualms in referring to them as a regime – have surrounded the city, with the stated intention of regaining control.

Human Rights Watch yesterday released a report documenting some of the abuses that have been carried out by regime forces against the residents of Fallujah since the onset of the fighting.

And those who can remember the U.S. military assault on the city in November 2004 won’t fail to notice the similarities between the tactics that were used by the U.S. military back then, and the tactics being used by the Iraqi military now.

Here I outline some of them.

According to the BBC’s summary of the Human Rights watch report, it documents how:

‘Iraqi troops had fired “mortar and gunfire into residential areas, in some cases with apparently no al-Qaeda presence”‘, which had ‘killed 25 residents and injured 190 since the fighting began’.

In the same vein, a report from The Observer, published on 14th November 2004, described how:

‘US military claims of ‘precision’ targeting of insurgent positions were false’, and how ‘civilian injuries were caused by the massive firepower directed on to city neighbourhoods during the battle’.

Released by Col. Olivier R. USMC

The article documents how Human Rights Watch had:

‘echoed concerns expressed by the UN on Wednesday that a government blockade of Falluja and Ramadi was limiting access to food, water and fuel’.

Similarly, in March 2005, Jean Ziegler, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food at the time, had made the claim that:

‘What is proven is that at Fallujah, denial, the blockade imposed on food and the destruction of water reservoirs was used as weapon of war’, adding that he was ‘maintaining a firm condemnation, very firm, of the humanitarian consequences of this strategy and the military tactics applied since March 2003 by the occupying forces’.

The article then goes on to state that:

‘Thousands of families have fled the fighting, the UN and NGOs report. Families with children told HRW they were allowed to leave the city but only with “extreme difficulty”. Single men are not being permitted to leave’.

The U.S. military also prevented military aged males leaving Fallujah, with an AP report from November 13th 2004 describing how:

‘The military says it has received reports warning that insurgents will drop their weapons and mingle with refugees to avoid being killed or captured by advancing American troops. As it believes many of Fallujah’s men are guerrilla fighters, it has instructed U.S. troops to turn back all males aged 15 to 55’.


So the main similarities seem to be:

  • Indiscriminate shelling of residential areas
  • The denial of food and water as a weapon of war
  • Treating single males/military aged males as potential insurgents and preventing them leaving the city, with all the deeply troubling implications that entails.

The U.S.’s role in the fighting, it must be said, isn’t actually a thing of the past.

Recent reports have documented how the U.S. ‘is speeding up the supply of military equipment to Iraq to help its government fight militant groups in western Anbar province’. Something which can’t help but signal support for the assault, and complicity in its execution.

No condemnation of a brutal regime ‘killing it’s own people’ here from the U.S., then, but rather participation.

And when it comes to collectively punishing and brutalising civilian towns, it seems the Iraqi military have learnt from, and are still being facilitated by, the best.

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