[News] "The Tent of Occupation"

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Mon Jan 17 13:14:09 EST 2005



January 14, 2005    counterpunch.org

Fallujah's Refugees Won't Return Home, Won't Vote

"The  Tent of Occupation"

By  ROBERT FISK
The Independent
Baghdad.

They live beneath old fly-blown tents  in the car-park of the Mustafa 
mosque and their canvas-roofed  kitchen stands next to a pool of raw 
sewage, but the refugees  from Fallujah will not return home.

First, because many have no  homes to go to; second, because they are - 
with the encouragement  of local clerics - listing a series of demands that 
include the  withdrawal of all American soldiers from the city, the 
maintenance  of security by Fallujans themselves, massive compensation 
payments  and the return of money and valuables which those who have 
just  visited Fallujah say were stolen by American troops.

And they are very definitely  not going to vote in the 30 January 
elections. Squatting on the  floor of his concrete-walled office in his 
black robes to eat  a lunch of chicken and rice, Sheikh Hussein - he pleads 
with  me not to print his family name - insists that his people are  not 
against elections.

"We are not rejecting  this election for the sake of it," he says. "We are 
rejecting it because it is the 'tent' of the occupation. It is  the vehicle 
for the Americans to ensure that [interim President  Iyad] Allawi gets back 
in. And we are still under occupation."

A bearded and bespectacled  academic is sitting beside the sheikh, Dr 
Abdul-Kader of the  department of Islamic Science at Baghdad University, 
who gravely  reminds me of the civilian dead of Fallujah. "There 
were  hundreds," he says. "We found bodies in homes and graves  in the 
gardens of homes."

The sheikh's closest relatives  live in Fallujah; his own Sunni mosque lies 
at the centre of  the camp in Baghdad where 925 of Fallujah's 200,000 
refugees  are living. But he says he has travelled twice to his 
family's  homes and tells a disturbing story of what he found. "The  first 
time I visited after the Americans occupied the city, our  main house was 
standing. It had survived. All the things inside,  beds, furniture, rugs, 
were safe. But when I went back a week  later, it had been destroyed. Many 
other houses were in the same  state.

"They survived the American-resistance  battles intact but were then 
destroyed afterwards. Why? People  there told me they saw movie cameras and 
that the Americans fired  shells into the empty houses and that they were 
making some kind  of film."

Tales of American theft in  Iraqi cities are not new. Amnesty International 
has listed numerous  incidents in which US troops took money from homes or 
from the  clothes of arrested men. The US authorities acknowledged 
one  case of large-scale pilfering by a young American officer south  of 
Baghdad in 2003 but said that he had been moved out of Iraq  and would be 
"too difficult" to trace.

The stories of looting in Fallujah  are only adding to the refugees' sense 
of grievance. And to the  over-enthusiastic demands for compensation. "We 
will settle  for $5bn (£2.7bn) to $10bn," Sheikh Hussein says.  "This is 
for the destruction in Fallujah, the shedding of  blood and the killing of 
innocents; history will write of this.  The Americans started off by 
killing native Americans and still  they kill people they look down on." 
Everyone in the room,  including a student of computer sciences from 
Fallujah who has  so far listened in total silence, vigorously nod their heads.

"One day," the sheikh  continues, "I was stopped and taken to an American 
base  and questioned by the CIA, and they said, 'You are a religious  man 
and we want advice'. I said, 'What I want to tell you is not to enter the 
cities because the people are waiting for a  chance to attack you. They 
will make you suffer in different  ways. Pull out your troops to the 
deserts, far away from the  gunfire of the resistance, though that 
stretches a long way'.  But they were very, very stupid. They didn't take 
the chance  to go out. They stayed to force us to have elections so 
they  could get out and leave their agents in power. I say this; 
the  American troops will retreat suddenly, or they will find 
themselves  prisoners inside the trap of Iraq.

"You know, you Westerners  laugh at us Easterners, especially when we say, 
'If Allah wills'.  But the Prophet - peace be upon him - once said that the 
Iraqis  would be scourged, that they would not receive a single dirham  or 
a grain of rice in the hand, and this happened in the economic  embargo of 
the 1990s.

"Then America came here  after 9 April, 2003, with all its power and 
soldiers, so proud  of getting rid of Saddam Hussein. But now the morale of 
these  soldiers is rotting each day. They have psychological problems.  My 
advice to them is to leave. They have a choice to make: they  must leave or 
they will be forced out."

Fighting continues each night  in Fallujah despite American claims of 
victory and to be "breaking  the back" of the insurgency. As the sheikh 
puts it, not  without some humour: "The Americans move in the streets 
during the day from 6am to 6pm but they do not move when the muqawama 
(resistance) imposes its own curfew on them between  6pm and 6am."

Outside in the windy car-park,  the tents flap and the refugees queue to 
take soup from a 4ft-deep  cauldron of yellow, scummy soup. Bags of dates 
have broken open  and spilled on to the concrete.

It is Fallujah in miniature.  Twenty teachers from the city are now running 
a camp school for  120 children. Doctors see patients in the sheikh's 
private home.  A great-grandfather in the camp says he cannot go back to 
his  city while the Americans are there. And when I ask him if he  will 
vote, he laughs at me. "The Americans must leave Fallujah unconditionally," 
the sheikh says. "They have done  too much harm there to be accepted."

I suggest that Fallujah's troubles  started the day the 82nd Airborne 
killed 18 protesters outside  a local school just after the fall of Baghdad 
in 2003. Dr Abdul-Kader  admonishes me. "It started even before that," he 
says.  "Fallujah people suffered under Saddam and they liberated their own 
city. They did not do so to live under occupation."
  Robert Fisk is a reporter for The Independent and  author of Pity  the 
Nation. He is also a contributor to CounterPunch's  hot new book, The 
Politics of Anti-Semitism.



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