Dahr Jamail, a Truthout staff reporter, discusses the Fallujah civilians being killed by Iraq’s government; the events leading up to the 2004 killing of four Blackwater mercenaries and the subsequent US assault on Fallujah; the continuing consequences of Bush’s disastrous Iraq war; and why Nuri al-Maliki is basically a Shiite Saddam Hussein.
Welcome back to the show, I’m Scott Horton this is my show, The Scott Horton Show. This is going to be like a time warp back to ten years ago, I got Dahr Jamail on the phone.
Luckily he’s not in Iraq. He’s reporting forÂ www.truth-out.org. The latest is the Iraqi Government killing civilians in Fallujah. You see what I mean about a time warp?
Welcome back to the show Dahr how are you doing?
Dahr Jamail (DJ): Hey Scott, good to be with you, thanks
Scott Horton (SH):Â Very good to have you here, well let us have it, tell us your story here
DJ:Â You’re right it is unfortunately too much like a time warp here except instead of the US military directly attacking Fallujah – shelling people, engaging in collective punishment like not allowing medical supplies into the city, more civilians being killed than fighters, we are all too familiar with that story. I’ve talked with you about it on air right here
But instead of the US military, it’s the Maliki Government. To a certain extent by proxy for the US military because it is the US Government that has been rushing arms to Maliki to use against the people in Fallujah since this crisis turned much more violentÂ starting this past January.
But that is essentially what has happened. Overall we have a situation where the Islamic state of Iraq and Syria, ISIS, a small contingent have been moved in to the city and started fighting against Malikiâ€™s Government forces there along side people inside the city – more generalized resistance forces that have been there, taking up arms against the Maliki Government as a result of failing to meet demands.
We have to just backtrack a little bit here first. Starting back in late 2012, I know that you’re aware of this Scott, becauseÂ www.antiwar.comÂ has reported on this extensively as it was going on – but starting in late 2012 there started to be a massive ongoing protest every Friday, often times blocking the highway that goes between Baghdad and Oman, Jordan – it runs right in front of Fallujah.
So people would gather there during Friday prayers, do their prayers and then have a protest against the Government because the Government – they were accusing them of coming in, conducting home detentions, taking people -Â suspected fighters etc, literally doing the exact same thing that the US military used to do in Fallujah.
Simply because these people were in opposition to some of Maliki’s sectarian tactics from the Government in Baghdad.
He was retaliating by targeting people in Anbar Province because that’s where most of the resistance was coming from, again, conducting home raids, bringing people into prisons, torturing people, raping people – both men and women and this was rampant all across Anbar and parts of Baghdad where Maliki was meeting resistance as well.
Again, if we replace Maliki with US forces and back up ten years it’s basically the same story.
But those protests were going on all through 2013, and none of the demands being met, the situation continued to worsen and Maliki’s army started opening fire on demonstrators – killing people from time to time in various places around Anbar Province sometimes in Baghdad.
Then it really hit a crescendo this past January when overt fighting broke out and resistance fighters started open attacks on the Maliki Government forces kicking them out of Ramad kicking them out of Fallujah – that’s when ISIS slipped in and joined the fight. Of course Maliki basically started waving the terrorist flag saying, ‘Look, once again Al Qaeda has taken control of Fallujah just like when you guys were here’, – saying this to the Obama administration,- ‘We need some more arms here pronto’.
So in addition to the already twenty billion dollars of weaponry and training that the US Government has provided Maliki, who is now looked upon by many in Iraq as a ShiaÂ Â Saddam, -the US provided even more weapons and missiles and rush-shipped them to him. This January he started to use them on the people of Fallujah.
So we have a situation no again, resembling much of what happened in 2004 that you and I talked about regarding the US military, the Iraqi Government circled Fallujah, they can’t get in to the city, so they’re shelling it on a daily basis and once again we have a situation where clearly the majority of the people being killed are civilians.
I spoke with Dr Ahmed Shami, the Chief of Resident doctors at Fallujah hospital and he told me that last week, up to then and these numbers are going to be a little bit out of date now because they are about a week old, but up to that point there were at least 109 civilians that had been killed and 632 that were wounded.
Of those at least 10 of the dead were children, another 40 of the wounded were children. As far as women go at least 5 of the dead were women, and 35 of the wounded were also women.
SH:Â Wow. So part of this story is about the success of terrorism. It always seems to work for what we used to call Al Qaeda InÂ Iraq, this tiny percentage of the Sunni insurgency -the al-Zarqawi-ites – now they call themselves the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria as you said.
And all they have to do is hoist the black flag, fire an AK-47 into the air a couple of times and provoke a massive violent clamp down or at least create the excuse for the Maliki Government, the Shiite Baghdad Government, to clamp down and drive more people in to their cause.
Their cause at this point now it’s much more focused on fighting Assad, I think, than fighting Maliki – they already kind of lost the war to Maliki a few years back but they can at least provoke Maliki into driving up their recruitment as they head west.
And of course it’s good politics for Maliki too – to say, ‘Hey, I’m the leader of the Shiites, I’m protecting the Shiites from the Sunni’s’. Because he wasn’t going to get the Sunni votes anyway right?
To mis-paraphrase James Baker about F-them they don’t vote for us either way so ….
DJ:Â That’s accurate Scott. That really is, in a nutshell, politically the rough sketch of what’s going on. That’s why we’ve seen these clashes from inside Iraq bleed up to the borders with Syria. We’ve seen Iraqi military guys killed up on the border of Syria by these ISIS fighters.
Then, that going in to Syria and we have literally Sunni fighters pouring into Syria to take on that fight as well – and then Shia militias are going up into Syria as well to back the Assad regime. So we already have an intra-country war in that respect and this is basically one facet of it.
But you’re right, at the end of the day the tragedy of it is, just like you said, we have a small number of these ISIS guys come into Fallujah, they literally did just what you said, raise the black flag, they were within minutes told by the tribal leaders in the city who really are the people in control of the city, just like when the Americans were seizing it, said, ‘Look, that’s not going to fly, you’re not running the show here get those flags down’. They were down less than 5 minutes after they were raised. They were put properly in their place. And that just shows who’s in charge, but then of course that gives the Maliki Government carte blanche according to them anyway – to encircle the city.
They’re not letting any medical supplies in, according to Dr Shami, and they’ve been shelling it every day since. Some of the other doctors I spoke with in there, one on the condition of anonymity and this Dr had actually had to flee the city because her neighborhood was being shelled so heavily. She told me mosques were being targeted.
I have a photo in the story I wrote forÂ www.truth-out.orgÂ _from Dr Shami of the outside ofÂ Fallujah General Hospital – shells have landed nearby. The hospital itself is taking shrapnel from those shellings and you can see that in one of the photos I posted.
This is a great tragedy. We have at least one main hospital being shelled, several mosques, we have civilians being killed, the shelling continues and to date, from Fallujah it’s an estimated 300 000 people, so the majority of the people of Fallujah, once again had to flee their city.
That is almost the exact same number that had to flee in 2004. If we look at Anbar Province more broadly and bring Ramadi into the mix, which isn’t too far from Fallujah, there is also a lot of ongoing fighting there and we have another, approximately 100 000 people who have been displaced there. So once again we have a massive displacement of people within Anbar Province.
Tribal leaders calling for the Maliki Government to back off, to just let people go home. We’ve got to get relief supplies in there, but once again the Maliki Government is just keeping the city encircled and continuing with the shelling. Unfortunately as of right now we don’t see an end in sight.
SH:Â Oh man, it’s such a mess. When we get back from the break I want to backtrack a little bit to something Ray McGovern said in his speech the other day about the beginning of the war in Fallujah back ten years ago in the Spring of 2004 – the first battle of Fallujah – right after the election of 2004
I seem to remember Dahr, learning from you, the cause and effect and we went down the chain and you really explained on the show years ago about how much that had played in to precipitating the civil war that took hold after the election and the constitution and the rise of the Iraqi United Alliance.
More with Dahr Jamail atÂ www.truth-out.org
SH:Â I want to hear all about the current casualties and any of that that you want to prioritize. I was also hoping I could hear from you – the entire war was a disaster from beginning to end, nobody would ever justify any part of it I don’t think, not anymore.
But it did not have to be quite as horrible as it was. I remember you explaining about how the original attack on Fallujah generated so many refugees that they ended up generating more refugees where they landed and then those refugees generated ……and how in the lead up to the voting on the constitution and the voting for who was going to rule the Parliament and all of that, how this had really helped solidify all the enemy sides in time for the vote to make it all that much worse.
I hope I didn’t just tell the whole story …and also if you could, I would have you talk about the surge and the benchmarks which were supposed to include the so-called victory that makes the Iraq war anything but a defeat for America somehow is that David Patraeus saved the day.
But the deal was, Maliki was supposed to allow the Sunni tribal leaders – their political representation into the Government and have a multi-party democracy, going forward.
You know how well that worked out. Especially in terms of the protest movement and now the renewed civil war that you have been describing here. And now I’ll be quiet and turn the mic over to you
DJ: There is so much there to discuss. I’ll start with the point that you ended with and then get to a couple of other things that you bought up that I think are really important to what’s going on in Fallujah right now.
I’ll start with the Salah forces, the so-called Awakening Forces that you were just speaking about – that the US just basically went in, it was part of the so-called surge in 2007. What they did that was even more important than injecting 30 000 more troops into Iraq, was they re-constituted an old strategy that Sadaam used to keep things under control in Anbar Province – which was to find the Sheiks of certain tribal leaders who would do business with them- basically pay them millions of dollars and get them to distribute that money to people under their power and control – basically pay off their fighters to lay-low and not attack the big man in charge, and that is exactly what the US did.
They went out and found which Sheikhs would play ball with them, they started funneling hundred of millions of dollars in to them. One of these, Sheikh Affan actually a Saudi man, who was part Iraqi, who came back in to Iraq in 2006 and basically posed as a native Fallujah man, a Sheikh in power and came in, took the US money, quickly cobbled together with that money a 900 man militia under his command. He bought a real nice palace on the outskirts of Fallujah, built up the walls, put a bunch of machine gun emplacements in it and became the leader in charge of Fallujah until he was then assassinated.
That’s how this has run its course. Where the US basically props these guys up, so these guys would take more of the hit than the US military was. It was barely effective at the time at splintering off some of the resistance movement who went with the Salah forces, took the money, until the US left them high and dry.
Of course, as you just said, Maliki broke his promises – ‘Hey we’re going to take these 100 000 guys, we’re going to incorporate them into the Iraqi military, we’re going to give them jobs, pay them, give these folks representation within the Government – NONE of that happened.
These guys started not being paid immediately and the US left, left them hung out to dry. Now what we’re left with is the Salah forces, some of them still align themselves with Maliki’s army, a few of them have gotten jobs, the majority of them have not, yet they still are often areÂ being targeted.
You take a look at the daily updates on what is going on in Iraq atÂ www.antiwar.com. Every other day you’re going to see Salah guys being taken out and/or with their families and that is continuing to this day. So these guys are there and they’re still being taken out, and they will be because they are still being seen by the majority of people in the Maliki resistance as collaborators – which for the most part the majority of them are. That of course is just one level of this very complex situation as to how and why Iraq is the absolute train wreck that it is today.
Then going backwards, just a quick history, something that you brought up right before the break, you mentioned Ray McGovern’s talk about what really got the ball rolling in Fallujah. So many people think it is when the Blackwater guys were killed – their bodies burned and hung from the bridge on March 31, 2004.
But we could go back to the beginning of the invasion, but even just backing up a little over a week before that date, we can look at what happened in the Gaza Strip at the hands of the Israeli military – on March 22nd 2004, Sheikh Ahmed Yassin,Â the Spiritual Leader of Hamas was assassinated by an Israeli missile.
That then created conditions in Fallujah where what formed up in Fallujah at the time was a Sheikh Ahmed Yassin revenge brigade. When the four Blackwater guys were killed on March 31st, actually I believe it was AP had reported at the time that the people who claimed responsibility for killing the Blackwater guys called themselves the Sheik Yassin Revenge Brigade and they did it out of revenge for the Israeli assassination of Sheikh Yassin.
They spread fires around the scene of where they killed the Blackwater guys. Some of the flyers were hung on the backs of trucks and some of the nearby shops. They had warned people the attack was coming, so that’s why the streets were relatively empty. Then when the Blackwater guys came through and they knew they were coming, they were ready for them.
And so we can actually, in that time frame you could argue, fairly confidently that the entire situation of Fallujah, the spark that lit the fire was actually lit by the Israeli military in Gaza on March 22nd. So yet another example as you know Scott, you have covered this on your show with myself and many other guests over the years, that when the Israeli military beats its wings in Gaza the echoes go across the entire Middle East.
Here is one very bloody example of how Israeli policy literally led to the lives of, well, some private security contractors for starters, but then hundreds of dead US soldiers as a result of Israeli foreign policy.
SH:Â Alright and then, can you talk about the blowback from, especially the second attack on Fallujah in 2004 and the refugees, because it seemed like that was what really gave the suicide bomber resistance rather than tribal Sheikhs trying to negotiate the upper hand from the Sunni point of view – all the conflict that was generated from that.
Again, you can always go back to the, you know what, history is always going to go back to the original sin of the invasion of March 2003 like Bush is Woodrow Wilson or something. I mean, boy did you not have to do that, stupid, to set all of these horrible dominos falling and knocking each other over and leading to all of this conflict.
But specifically he also did not have to send the marines into Fallujah the way he did. He was just proving what a tough guy he was. In fact, remember General Sanchez reproduced Bush’s little pep talk, ‘This is a moment, and so we have to bomb them and go save democracy’, or whatever. He told them to just go in there and bomb the hell out of everything to prove that we are the winners here. And then what happened Dahr?
DJ:Â That’s exactly right Scott. That whole time period was really insane. It was a lesson in hubris. Just before, when the US election happened in 2004, already the decision had been made to invade Fallujah.
Of course not everybody on the ground was aware of that, least of all the people on the negotiating team in the city of Fallujah. Dr. Muhamad Al-Darraji, who I quoted in the article I wrote last week about what’s going on in Fallujah, he helped found an aidÂ NGO operating in the city – he was actually on the negotiating team of leaders in the city – tribal Sheikhs, Dr’s etc, aid workers â€“ they were in negotiations with people in the US military. They thought they were good faith negotiations they still thought and hoped there was a way to ward off this massive siege that they knew would result in hundreds if not thousands of casualties – which it did – mostly civilians. Up until the last minute they were negotiating in good faith and still thinking maybe they would be able to avert this.
Of course, the on the ground leaders of the US military were hoping it could be averted for obvious reasons. Then of course the election happened, and then they gave it a few days and then on November 8th, out of nowhere, which surprised everybody in the negotiations at least on the Iraqi side, Ayad AllawiÂ former CIA asset who was at the time the interim Prime Minister of Iraq who the US had put in place….conveniently. He gave the green light for the siege, as though he had any power to instruct the US military what to do.
So we of course know exactly where that order came from.
You just touched on it by playing the recording to remind us all of former President Bush, and where that order came from. So the city was sieged.
Al Darraji’s NGO estimated upwards of 5000 casualties, the majority of them civilians. Then as a result we had 300 000 plus refugees – many of whom to date have never been able to go back home …
SH:Â Hey you know what, let me ask, can you stay another ten minutes Dahr. I hate to just cut you off before the break but I gotta take it, can you stay another ten?
DJ:Â Sure thing.
SH:Â Okay great
SH: Â I’m on the phone with Dahr Jamail. I really should have given him a better introduction at the beginning of this thing. Dahr reported on the Iraq war, from near the beginning, for years and years – from Iraq as an unembedded reporter and he wrote at least a couple of books about it ..
I can tell you that this guy, Dahr Jamail, he was there. He’s not just telling you what he read about Iraq or what he learned from talking to somebody who was there, like me, he was there. He was the guy I was talking to who I learned this stuff from in the first place.
I’m really happy to have the opportunity to give him a chance to talk to you guys today.
So, I do want to get back to current events and whether there is any hope of peace here. Or we’re just going to have a Sunni Arab – Shiite war from now on because of George Bush or what?
But first of all you were telling the history of the blowback from siege two of Fallujah in November 2004
DJ:Â So, where we left of is, that we had several hundred thousand people displaced from that siege who still haven’t gone home. This is a problem, Anbar Province, where Fallujah is, the large western province, this is where the brunt of the resistance has come from against the US military when the occupation was ongoing.
Now against the Maliki regime because we have, once again, a Government set up where there is a large portion of the population, in this case large minority Sunni’s who really don’t have adequate representation in Government.
The Shia, its a Govenment basically set up to fail and the US designed it, and put it there, and left it there in place – set it up along sectarian lines, knowing that this was going to happen.
We’re looking now at the situation in Iraq where it is such a bloodbath, it’s so unstable, there is really no end in sight as far as a solution – what, in the geo-political reality of the situation what is really going to need to happen – there is no chance for it to happen.
We can trace so much of this back to the US. So many of the things that you and I talked about Scott over the years, like back in 2004 when they brought in John Negroponte to be the US Ambassador to Iraq.
SH:Â The El Salvador option
DJ:Â Exactly – who brought in retired Colonel James Steel to set up death squads in Iraq – again – sectarian based death squads. Pulling them from the Mahdi army and the Badr Brigade, the two bigger more well armed and funded Shia militias and them sending them out to hunt Sunni’s.
So all these sectarian based policies, the tit for tat killings along sectarian lines for political lines drawn, again along sectarian lines and this is what has created the conditions for what is present day Iraq. It goes without saying, nothing like democracy, nothing like equal representation in a real power balance within the Government.
You have Maliki who has come in, he’s created his own secret service, his own private militias, his own torture dungeons, and is he is basically running the Government as a Shia Saddam – as a Shia dictator.
So essentially the US switched horses. Saddam wasn’t playing ball the way the wanted him to play ball anymore, after playing ball with them quite happily for a couple of decades, so they went in, invaded the country, replaced him, went through a couple of other previous guys who had dictator potential and then settling on Maliki.
We’ve got them now riding the Maliki horse, they’ve already donated 20 billion dollars in arms and training as I said earlier, and in general that isÂ now whyÂ we have the bloodbath that we do in Iraq today. And the great tragedy is, I don’t see a solution, not one that would occur in practicality on the ground. There is no solution in sight.
The US is absolutely not going to get directly involved again. There is no way that is going to happen so instead they’re just going to keep funneling in arms – there is no indication they’re going to stop doing that, into Maliki while he’s carrying out these draconianÂ military missions against people in Anbar and on a smaller scale in parts of Baghdad.
SH: If you go back and think about it, if we had just cut and run back in 2004, I mean, nobody knows exactly what would have happened, but the Shiite parties, the United Iraqi Alliance, would have had so much more incentive to negotiate with the Sunni’s and come to some kind of settlement without us there.
But as long as they had us, that was the success of the surge if it was anything, was finishing up the complete sectarian cleansing of Baghdad, or not complete, but itâ€™s about 85 – 90% Shiite Arab city now because they were able to get the US Infantry and the US Marine Corp to fight that war for them.
Remember all the excuses, ‘No we can’t cut and run now because the violence will get worse`, but if we’d left then there would have been much more incentive for the Shiite’s to compromise.
Now, since the Americans helped them take the capital city, now they can just tell the Sunni’s, ‘Screw off, we don’t have to share any of the oil money with you, we don’t have to share any of the resources with you, we don’t have to do anything for you, we already won, you already lost’, and that is where they’re at now.
I’m not saying it would have been perfect, though we never should have invaded at all. Thinking back to all the bogus arguments, catch phrases and slogans of the war party that kept us in that war all those years, how fake they all were, how many people knew better, back then.
Even Sadr wanted in 2004 to join an alliance with the insurgent tribes and Fallujah, ‘Let’s have a Nationalist Arab allied Government against the Iranian’s and the Americans both’, and of course the Americans vetoed that and ended up turning over the south to the Iranians – and getting their asses kicked out back in 2011
DJÂ That’s right. I think it is a solid argument that if the US had withdrawn then that Iraq would be in better shape than it is today. It would have been a more level playing field politically and all sides would have had no choice but to try to work things out more diplomatically as opposed to now.
It did play out as you described – the US stayed in there, continued the power imbalance favoring Maliki and his cohorts, and now there is this massive imbalance. I was in Fallujah a year ago this month and I remember, I went to one of these Friday demonstrations and I interviewed one of the leading Sheikhs of that demonstration on that day, and he said, ‘What Maliki is doing is wrong. They’re dividing us. He’s kidnapping us, he’s displacing us, we’re making these demands just to have our human rights respected. We’ve been making these demands peacefully for months, and he keeps coming in and now he’s starting to kill us, when we’re having non-violent protests on the highway for two hours a week, and they’re not being met,’ and this was as far back as last March, the protest I went to, they were calling it Last Chance Friday. They were saying, ‘Look this is it, if they don’t meet our demands now then we might have to start fighting’, and that’s what he told me on that day.
Well they went another 9 months almost without starting to fight back against the Maliki army, it’s amazing that they stayed peaceful for that long, I think that is a testament to their intentions – that they didn’t want things to evolve into this level of violence, but then push came to shove and you know, they killed so many dozens of protestors and eventually the Sheikhs weren’t going to be able to control the fighters under them and then you have a new wave of resistance against the Government and that’s what we’re looking at now.
They can’t punch into Fallujah because the fighting is too fierce so they just surround it and shell it and keep tightening the noose around what supplies they let in to the city – medical supplies or otherwise. And that is what we have now.
We have a civil war marginally along sectarian lines as we just talked about, you can trace the cause of this right back to the exploiting of sectarian lines in the very bias sectarian policies of the US military and Government while the occupation was going on. This was set up, I think clearly by design. Just like the Government in Lebanon is set up – there is always going to be an imbalance of power and that way we’re never going to truly have a representative stable Government.
That’s what we have in Iraq. Short of massive, radical changes on the ground, starting with getting rid of Maliki and his regime and having some real elections, and remember he lost the last election to Allawi,Â where he literally didn’t even win the majority of the votes and here he sits as Prime Minister.
SH:Â Which is amazing, because Allawi, he was the former CIA truck bomber sock puppet in 2004 and people even preferred him to Maliki by then.
In January 2004 the Ayatollah Sistani said ‘We want one man one vote’ – none of this Paul Bremer designed caucus system. And he said, ‘If you’re a Shiite and you believe in God I want you go outside and demand one man one vote’, so all the Shiites went outside and said, ‘You want to start this war over again Bush’, and Bush said, ‘No’.
At that point the best they could do was the disaster to come
DJ:Â Yeah, that’s right. That is exactly right. I was in Baghdad when that happened; they were the single biggest demonstrations that I have witnessed in my life. It was as though, at that time Baghdad wasn’t as predominantly Shia as it is now, but even then there were well over a million people – the entire capital city was shut down.
Just masses of people in the streets any direction you looked and all the Bush administration could do was have the military fly a bunch of helicopters around and have them taking pictures of them, and talking on their walkie talkies – which we were listening in on at the time and that’s all they could do and they knew at that point they had to back down ..
SH: Remember Richard Pearl and David Wormser thought they were going to get a Hashemite sock puppetÂ King like in Jordan – or if not that maybe Ahmed Chalabi – to be loyal and install AEI policy the whole time – I think that fantasy fell apart on day two of the invasion
So the chaos rages on â€¦.
So, where else can we find you?
DJ:Â www.dahrjamail.netÂ I am reporting now full time withÂ www.truth-out.org
SH: Well, it was great to have you back Dahr, thank you so much for your time
DJ: Always a pleasure Scott, take care