Report Back from Japan

I just returned from Japan after participating in a week of events for Iraq. Although these events were organized by Iraq Inquiry, a group of Japanese aid workers who are pressuring their government to do a formal investigation into the crimes committed against Iraq; the issue Japan’s increasing militarization, at the request of the US government, was also a major focus this week. 10679948_906097836068271_4014630711624782349_o

After World War II, Japan drafted a peace constitution. Article 9 of that constitution forbids Japan from participating in war or preparing for one. But that article was recently reinterpreted, allowing Japan to now participate in “collective self-defense”. This reinterpretation of the constitution has been called a “political coup“, and many fear that this will allow the US to drag Japan into foreign wars in the future. IMG_1026

Japan assisted the US in its invasion and occupation of Iraq by shipping weapons, by allowing the US to use its bases in Japan for logistical operations to Iraq, and by send Japan’s Self-Defense Forces to Iraq as humanitarian workers. Many Japanese citizens opposed Japan’s participation in this war and occupation. A class action lawsuit was led by Yoshinori Ikezumi in 2004, arguing that the deployment of Japan’s SDF violated Article 9 of their constitution. This lawsuit succeeded in getting a ruling from the Nagoya High Court in July 2007 that acknowledged the unconstitutional nature of Japan’s participation in Iraq; however, no Japanese politicians were ever held accountable. The new interpretation of Article 9 will make future actions like the one led by Ikezumi impossible.

For all of the above reasons, Japanese citizens are extremely worried about their country’s path towards militarism. We held speaking events in six cities and found large and engaged audiences, of anywhere from 40 to 100 people, each night. I was extremely impressed at the turn out to these events. Nothing similar is currently possible in the US. Although we have several vibrant movements here, the anti-war movement is small and insular. So I was really encouraged to see such a strong movement. I also met several aid workers who are doing great things to help Iraqis.  1502175_906097919401596_3589336983716619478_o

Our events discussed the human consequences of the US-led invasion and occupation of Iraq. People were shocked to learn the horrible details of what has happened to Iraqis. There was also a lot of interest in PTSD, and especially in Moral Injury. I described for them the VA’s inability to deal with moral injury when it’s related to the issue of participation in an illegal and immoral war, and they seemed genuinely concerned–not just for US vets, but also for what might happen to their own SDF in the future. We also discussed the Islamic State, and whether Japan should get involved in the US’s (new?) war in Iraq. It appears that the Japanese media has reported on IS in much the same way that the US media has by representing IS as the lone purveyor of violence in Iraq.

All in all, we had an extremely successful week. We received a lot of positive media coverage, even by Japan’s mainstream media (which also is not currently possible in the US). I hope that the momentum created by this week’s events will lead to the creation of an independent committee within the Japanese government for a formal investigation into the crimes committed against Iraq. I also hope that we in the US can take a lesson from our friends in Japan. Great things are happening in the US for Palestine, for the environment, and against police brutality. But nothing is being done for Iraq, and that needs to change.

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Veterans Day/Memorial Day

Veterans Day and Memorial Day are really the same bullshit twice a year. This article by myself and Kali Rubaii, which originally appeared in STIR Journal on May 25, 2014, is an argument against the selective memory that is characteristic on these holidays.

On Memorial Day, What We Choose to Remember and What We Forget

By Kali Rubaii and Ross Caputi

On Memorial Day we are called upon to remember those who died fighting America’s wars. But we are also asked to forget. We applaud politely as veterans march in parades. Ribbons and medals, flags and fancy uniforms flood our senses, and everyone is content with the atmosphere of honor, pride, and patriotism.

We remember the men and women who died wearing those uniforms, but we forget the men and women killed for wearing different uniforms. There are other victims of war, too, civilians whose lives were extinguished in the course of military campaigns, but most Americans never see them. A few linger in our collective memory—Mai Lai, Wounded Knee, Hiroshima, and Nagasaki. But on Memorial Day it is impolite to speak of them.

Support for our troops is depoliticized, a national sacrament for all to participate in regardless of political affiliation. Like the victims of our wars, why these veterans died is forgotten. America’s wars are sanitized, abstracted from their historical and political context. We are asked to remember the men and women who died, while forgetting the reality of what they participated in. It is a pleasant fairytale, but one which comes at a price cashed out in human blood.

On this day more than others we are spared the inconvenient memory of hundreds of thousands of civilians killed in Iraq, millions in Vietnam, millions in Korea. Most Americans have never seen their blood or smelled their rotting corpses. They have no personal experience that might give them pause about the nobility or the benevolence of our wars.

How we choose to celebrate Memorial Day is the apex of a broader culture of selective remembering and forgetting. It is a culture that shields us from the unpleasant knowledge of our past violence, from our responsibility for that violence, and, consequently, from the wisdom to avoid similar mistakes in the future. Just as this culture prepares the next generation to follow in the footsteps of those we remember on Memorial Day, it also forsakes our war victims abroad.

Fallujah is a recent example. Few campaigns have been so selectively remembered and forgotten in U.S. military history. Fallujah, a city of 300,000 people roughly 50 miles west of Baghdad, was considered to be the strongest point of resistance against the U.S.-led occupation of Iraq. Coalition Forces launched two major operations in 2004 to sack Fallujah, reminiscent of Rome’s sacking of Carthage. They were the largest and the bloodiest operations of the entire occupation of Iraq, and they have been recorded in a half-dozen books as heroic battles to “liberate” the city of Fallujah from terrorists. What is left out of these histories is that between 4,000 and 6,000 civilians were killed. Much of the city was turned to rubble. Entire neighborhoods were bulldozed to the ground. More than 200,000 people became refugees.

Since those operations, Fallujah has experienced dramatic increases in the rates of birth defects and cancers. Approximately 14% of all children born in Fallujah are born with birth defects. Cancer rates in children are 12 times what is expected in a healthy population. Research suggests that pollution from war is the primary cause. While this is perhaps one of the most severe public health crises ever studied, it has received marginal attention from the U.S. media. The weapon systems that caused this are still in use. Since so few know about this, almost nothing is being done to prevent this from happening to another population, or to help the population we have already devastated.

Fallujah is an extreme example, but the pattern holds for all of Iraq. Since the first U.S.-led invasion in 1991, Iraq was catapulted from a nation emerging as a developed cosmopolitan country, to one of the most dangerous, divided, and desperate places in the world. Prior to the first Gulf War, Iraq was a medical tourism destination. Iraq’s medical facilities were the best in the region, and Iraqis enjoyed universal health care and higher education. After the first Gulf War, the United Nations, under pressure from the U.S., placed sanctions on Iraq that prevented hospitals from obtaining basic medicines and supplies. Food staples became scarce across Iraq. More than half a million children died from starvation or treatable diseases. Iraqi doctors watched helplessly as children suffocated to death from asthma because inhalers were one of many restricted resources.

After the 2nd U.S.-led invasion in 2003, the Coalition Provisional Authority, the main governing body of the occupation, immediately embarked on a policy of “state destruction.” Many of Iraq’s institutions were dismantled, including military and police forces. More than 200 of Iraq’s state-owned industries were privatized. Sweeping changes to Iraq’s political and social institutions were put in place by the occupation.

Iraq’s intellectual class was “purged,” further decimating academic and medical facilities and contributing to the process of “cultural cleansing.” Many who embodied Iraqi culture—public intellectuals, doctors, artists—were assassinated. Museums and historic monuments were looted and destroyed. As a result of this dismantlement, Iraq’s diverse ways of life were either altered or eliminated entirely. Its ancient agricultural system, historic seed bank, marsh Arab culture, and minority religious practices were forced to adjust to a new militarized climate. Entire communities were displaced, robbing people of their historical bond with their landscape. And new social divisions, which previously held little significance, entrenched resentments and fears throughout the country and fueled civilian war.

The estimated number of “excess deaths” resulting from the 2003 invasion and subsequent occupation ranges from 650,000 to 1.5 million. The number of displaced people, both within Iraq and those forced to flee their country, is estimated to be between 3.5 to 5 million. The land and waterways left behind by the dead and displaced are now saturated with contaminations with half-lives of billions of years. This is just a snapshot of the harm brought to Iraq by the U.S.-led invasion and occupation.

On Memorial Day, we remember victorious battles and heroic stories about them; we forget the legacy of death, deformity, and social unraveling those battles leave in their wake. If we remembered, we would have to face questions about responsibility, reparations, and the limited possibilities for repair. But healing from these unspoken atrocities requires total memory, memory that incorporates both the truth of violence and the possibilities for restoration.

Consider the cells of a body, where a cut slowly reintegrates two sides of broken flesh. Cells collaborate, re-gather, and coalesce to heal. They do not forget the injury; they form a scar, a mark to remember the violence. Scars remind us that healing and repair are incomplete in the face of the irreparable, that the texture and continuity of our bodies and societies are forever disrupted by violence. The scar is evidence of truth, the trace of harm. But a scar also marks the healing project itself, the act of repair. Applied to the societal level, repair and restoration require us to remember what life was like or could have been, and to restore continuity to that life.

This kind of repair goes by many names. Islah, in Arabic, means “repair, reconciliation, and restoration.” Islah is a concept of restorative justice that, like a scar, never forgets past violence and never erases it. It means that collective healing requires reconciliation with the truth, and the active work of all people to restore and repair what has been damaged.

The case for repair in Fallujah offers two dilemmas. First, in the wake of irreparable damage, how is repair possible? And second, how do we in the U.S. share in the repair of Iraq without perpetuating the spread of empire? While these questions are impossible to fully answer, they guide us to a cognate repair: reparations.

Reparations are like a scar, in that they accomplish many things at once in the healing process. Reparations, particularly those volunteered through individuals instead of governments, mean active, material giving. Neither aid nor charity, reparations acknowledge our responsibility for harming Iraqi people, whether by direct participation, by passively funding the military enterprise through sales and income tax, or by simply benefiting from the occupation as a member of our country.

Reparations give both Americans and Iraqis the opportunity to reconcile with one another, to interact and heal from the violence of the occupation. Reparations, as with any form of repair, are incomplete and patchy. In the wake of irreparable damage and an irreversible legacy of intergenerational violence (birth defects, contaminated soil, half-lives of billions of years), repair is incomplete. As heiresses and heirs to a global empire, we cannot take back our role in the ongoing violence in Iraq. We can only take responsibility, and act on that responsibility. Islah (reparations) allows us to reframe our good intentions and situate them in the context of our place in the world order.

We need a shift from a culture of triumphalism and impunity to a culture of reparations. Memorial Day is emblematic of a culture that shields our national psyche from responsibility. The culture of veneration for veterans, which is so wholly embraced on Memorial Day, obscures questions about war crimes, imperial domination, or accountability. By defining our veterans as heroes, we render almost unthinkable the possibility that they may have participated in something immoral and harmful. Thus, we find egregious gaps and silences in what we choose to remember. This needs to change.

If we challenge ourselves to be the catalysts of this cultural change, Memorial Day can provide us with an opportunity to rehabilitate our memories. We can choose to remember ways of coexisting that do not require military might or national valor. We can choose to consider alternative paradigms of peace that don’t involve total military pacification. We can choose to acknowledge both our own soldiers and the victims of their work in one colliding sweep.

Through rehabilitating our memories, we will come to celebrate Memorial Day differently. And our national treatment of veterans will change, too. For too long, U.S. veterans have been categorized to suit the needs of partisan politics. To some, veterans are heroes without question. To others, they are helpless victims of government propaganda and manipulation. And to others, they are bloodthirsty murderers. There have been efforts by veterans to define themselves in American society. But veterans have rarely been able to assert themselves not as victims, or as heroes, or as monsters, but as human beings, competent moral agents who made a mistake and participated in something they did not understand.

Finally, reparations are memory put into practices, not simply a national mentality. Reparations are a set of actions, a genuine material embrace of the truths we choose to acknowledge. To remember wholly and acknowledge fully what is lost or destroyed, one cannot simply say, “I remember,” or, “I acknowledge my responsibility.” Active memory is to say, “I remember, therefore I take responsibility,” whether this means giving a percentage of your income to a project that helps restore Iraqi society, or giving your time to raise awareness about the harm our society has wrought abroad.

Acts of reparations are healing, and not just for the victims of violence. With the emphasis in recent years on how moral injury affects veterans, we should embrace reparations as a way for our society, civilians and veterans, to assert their humanity and rebuild our moral self-image. This process must begin with remembering. We must remember other ways of being and other systems of justice. We must remember that war is not the answer everywhere and always, and that echoing war is a call for repair, for restoring that which can be so easily forgotten.

Ten Years Later Fallujah is Still Under Attack

*The following is an abridged chapter from a manuscript I’m contributing to titled The Sacking of Fallujah: The US Attacks and their Legacy. We’re looking for a publisher, so if you got connections, hook us up. 

Ten years ago today, I participated in the 2nd Siege of Fallujah, a major war crime embedded within the larger war crimes of the US-led invasion and occupation of Iraq. The 2nd siege killed somewhere between 4000 to 6000 civilians, displaced 200,000, destroyed two-thirds of a city the size of Boston, and may have polluted the environment to such an extent that 14.7 % of all children born in Fallujah are now born with birth defects. There is nothing subtle about any of this. Yet these facts receive shockingly little attention, and this ten year milestone will motivate nothing more than a handful of sentimental OpEds about the veterans of this operation and how it changed their lives. What should be an opportunity for critical reflection and accountability will instead be used to celebrate the people who sacked Fallujah, and US militarism more generally.

If we, as a society, understood what we did to this city in 2004, we would have a chance of understanding how our current actions in Iraq continue to bring Iraqis nothing but harm and hardship. Fallujah is under attack once again—this time by the Iraqi government, with US military aid and assistance—and it is this 3rd Siege of Fallujah that has been the major vehicle of the Islamic State’s military success in Iraq.

Why is any of this important? Because the Obama administration’s solution to the threat posed by the Islamic State (henceforth IS) mirrors the conditions that allowed IS to grow and thrive in Iraq. But for this to be apparent, we need to understand what has allowed IS to take over a swath of land the size of the UK. The key to understanding this is Fallujah.

Connecting the Past to the Present

This 3rd siege of Fallujah is the logical consequence of the first two sieges and all the structural injustices put in place by the US-led occupation. The continuity is seamless.

Fallujah stood as the major obstacle to the US-led occupation’s political project in 2004. Without the 2nd Siege of Fallujah, the Coalition could never have created the facade of legitimate elections, a democratically drafted constitution, and the process of state building. Thus, Fallujah had to be erased—as a military force and as a symbol of nationalist resistance against the occupation. The sacking of Fallujah is the essential moment in the Coalition’s occupation of Iraq.

In the years following the sieges of 2004, Fallujah was turned into an open air prison, like Gaza, completely sealed off from the world by barbed wire and Coalition checkpoints. Residents were confined within city limits and lived under curfew and constant surveillance. Journalists were not allowed into Fallujah, and no news ever left Fallujah.

Unknown to the world, on the other side of the checkpoints surrounding Fallujah, horrific developments were unfolding among its population: massive increases in the rates of birth defects, cancers and other life-threatening maladies. This snowballing public health crisis went unreported and untreated for years, as Fallujans remained trapped in their toxic city.

During this period, the troop “surge” ordered by President Bush in January 2007 went on to suppress, co-opt, or marginalize all remaining armed resistance groups throughout the country and impose the “new Iraq,” over which Iraqis themselves had no say.

When the last US troops finally withdrew in 2011, all of the injustices imposed upon Iraqis remained in place and became actively enforced by Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki, who many Iraqis accused of ruling Iraq like a “Shia Saddam”. Widespread discontent with the political, economic, public health, and human rights situation in Iraq led to the nonviolent protest movement that began in December 2012 and quickly spread throughout the country. The “Iraqi Spring” protests had widespread support throughout the Sunni provinces and considerable support from the Shia community as well. In many Iraqi cities, but notably in Fallujah and Ramadi, activists set up protest camps and held weekly large scale demonstrations calling for political reform.

The protestors articulated a set of demands that addressed the sectarianism, corruption, and various abuses by the new Iraqi government. These abuses included the detention of women in order to elicit confessions from their husbands and male family members; the labeling all forms of political dissent as terrorism (both tactics inherited from the Americans); the creation of sectarian death squads operating with impunity under the command of the Iraqi Ministry of Interior, and various forms of political discrimination. The protestors’ grievances were articulated by Sheikh Khaled Hamoud Al-Jumaili, a leader of the protest camp in Fallujah, when he told Al Jazeera, “[w]e demand an end to checkpoints surrounding Fallujah, we demand they allow in the press, we demand they end their unlawful home raids and detentions, we demand an end to federalism and gangsters and secret prisons”.

For a year Maliki ignored the protesters’ demands and repeatedly sent in troops to suppress them. Maliki’s government had been receiving considerable support from both the US and Iran. But the US played a special role in enabling the Iraqi government’s internal repression, having provided it with military equipment, including the equipment for a navy and an air force, and the personnel to train the new Iraqi military. Despite this oppression, facilitated with US weapons, the protestors remained nonviolent and steadfast in their goal to undo much of what the occupation had done to Iraq.

However, on December 1st, 2013, the violence began to escalate. On that day Sheikh Khaled Hamoud Al-Jumaili was driving with his son, until they stopped in front of a car that was blocking the road. Two men armed with Kalashnikovs exited the car in front of them and proceeded to fire, killing the sheikh and his son. The men who killed them were from Hamas al-Iraq, a militia group tied to the Muslim Brotherhood and the Maliki government.

Then, through its actions on December 30th, the Iraqi government turn a nonviolent movement violent. Maliki sent Iraqi security forces to clear the protest camps—first in Ramadi and then in Fallujah—under the false pretext that the protests had been infiltrated by IS (then known as ISIS, Islamic State of Iraq and al Shab), who at that time was still affiliated with Al Qaeda. Iraqi security forces even arrested a politician who had been sympathetic to the protestors’ goals and assassinated his brother and sister-in-law. Viewing this attack as the last straw, many tribes in Fallujah took up arms and began to drive Iraqi security forces out of their city. This led to skirmishes between tribal fighters, who just a day prior had been nonviolent protestors, and Iraqi soldiers. The next day a convoy of ISIS fighters arrived in Fallujah, but after consulting with tribal leaders they agreed to position themselves on the outskirts of the city.

On January 2nd the Iraqi Ministry of Interior reported to the press that half of Fallujah had “fallen” to ISIS. This claim was false, but the media quoted and repeated it until it became a conventional wisdom that Fallujah had indeed fallen into the hands of terrorists. The Western media framed the violence as an ethnic dispute between Sunni extremists and the Shiite-led government in Baghdad. The US then increased its level of military support to Iraq, promising to send fresh shipments of Hellfire missiles and Apache attack helicopters to “help” the Iraqi military “in the battle to uproot Islamic fighters from Ramadi and Fallujah”.

What is striking about the Iraqi government’s justification for its assault on Fallujah, and the Western media’s coverage of these events, is how much their responses parallel those of the US-led sieges in 2004. Again it was claimed that Al Qaeda (or an affiliate) had taken over Fallujah and that a heavy handed military response was needed to “take back” the city. Again the media parroted these assertions, focusing on Islam, or conflicts between competing sects of Islam, as the main explanation for the violence. Again, it was a government attack that pushed a nonviolent movement in Fallujah to embrace violence in order to defend themselves, and yet Fallujah was framed as the aggressor. And Again, Fallujans were denied the opportunity to speak for themselves and to articulate their own reasons for resistance to the world.

The 3rd Siege and Rise of the Islamic State

IS has its origins in the group known as Tawhid al Jihad, which was an al Qaeda affiliated group in Iraq in 2004 and 2005. In 2006 Tawhid al Jihad was absorbed by a militant group known as the Islamic State of Iraq. However, the group quickly became ostracized within Iraq due to its sectarianism and its acts of terrorism. For many years the ISI was forced to the margins of Iraqi society. When the Syrian Civil War broke out in 2011, ISI saw this as an opportunity to gain strength and popularity. After two years of fighting in Syria, ISI split from the Syrian branch of al Qaeda, called Jabhat al Nusra, and changed its name to the Islamic State of Iraq and al Shab (“al Shab” means greater Syria) to reflect its new territorial ambitions. The group remained concentrated in Syria until they saw an opportunity to overcome their past unpopularity in Iraq. That opportunity was the 3rd Siege of Fallujah.

It is important to note that from the beginning of the 3rd siege of Fallujah, it was the tribal fighters who took the lead in the fight against the Iraqi government. ISIS arrived in Fallujah a day after the fight began, and attempted to piggy-back on the success of the tribal fighters by raising their flag over a building in Fallujah. This move was reported by the Western media as a sign of ISIS’s power in Fallujah. However, Feurat Alani, a French-Iraqi journalist with family ties in Fallujah, told me through personal correspondence that, “[ISIS] took the flag down five minutes later when ordered to by tribal leaders. This shows that the tribes control Fallujah.”

In fact, a command structure was set up in Fallujah within the first weeks of fighting. It consisted primarily of tribal leaders and former army officers and went by the name of the General Military Council for Iraqi Revolutionaries (henceforth, GMCIR). This council was led by Sheikh Abdullah Janabi, who led the Shura Council of Mujahideen in 2004. After the 2nd US-led assault on Fallujah, Janabi fled to Syria, but returned to Fallujah in 2011. His calls for cooperation between the various militant factions in Fallujah were a signifiant unifying factor. And, indeed, at first ISIS was cooperating with the GMCIR. But over the course of the months of fighting with the government, ISIS grew in size and strength. Divisions and power struggles began to emerge between the various rebel factions fighting against the Maliki government. Yet despite all the glaring differences between these groups in Fallujah, the Iraqi government refused to acknowledge the legitimacy of any Sunni militia. A government official told Reuters reporters that, “if anyone insists on fighting our forces, he will be considered an [ISIS] militant whether he is or not.”

The first two weeks of fighting were fierce and led to many losses on both sides. Several Iraqi military vehicles were destroyed and the Iraqi military made no real advances into Fallujah. The rebellion quickly spread to other cities in Anbar province, and everyone began calling the uprising a “revolution”. For a brief, hopeful moment it looked like the rebel fighters had the ability to win. Then the Iraqi military stopped trying to penetrate into Fallujah and instead sealed off all entry and exit points to and from the city. They began an indiscriminate campaign of bombing and launching artillery from the outskirts of Fallujah, safely outside of the range of the rebels’ weapons. Whereas the rebel fighters had been a match for the Iraqi military in urban combat, they did not have the military capabilities to defend themselves from the indiscriminate aerial and artillery attacks.

Since the start of the assault on December 22nd, civilian structures have been shelled and bombed repeatedly, including hospitals. Civilians have been wounded and killed nearly each and every day since the New Year. So far over 1,000 civilians have been killed and over 2,500 have been wounded. Struan Stevenson, President of European Parliament’s Delegation for Relations with Iraq, wrote an open letter calling the Iraqi government’s operation “genocidal”. The Geneva International Center for Justice has issued appeals and various letters to the UN High Commissioner on Human Rights, UN Special Procedures, and other UN bodies arguing that the current assault on Fallujah, and all of Al Anbar province, meets the legal definition of genocide. The 3rd siege has also created another wave of refugees within Iraq. A UN report has placed the number of displaced at 62,679 families, or roughly 370,000 people, from within Anbar province.

This campaign was initiated by Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki, whose sectarian policies privilege Shia Iraqis and conflated all Sunni Iraqis with terrorists. His party, the Islamic Dawa Party, won more seats than any other political block in the Iraqi parliamentary elections on April 30th, securing their dominance over the political scene in Iraq; despite widespread allegations of voting irregularities and intimidation. After the election results, Maliki took his party’s victory as a green light to intensify his assault on Fallujah. On May 4th, 5 civilians were wounded and 15 were killed by the bombing and shelling. On May 5th, 9 civilians were wounded and 4 were killed. The next day 9 people were wounded and 4 killed. And the day after that, 45 civilians were wounded and 7 were killed. And so on, day after day. Fallujans were at the mercy of military forces who bombed and shelled their city at will, often using new experimental “barrel bombs” dropped from Iraqi Air Force M18 helicopters in residential areas of the city.


Just when it seemed as if the militants in Fallujah and the government were locked in stalemate that could go on forever, slowly killing off and starving the population of Fallujah, ISIS and several other militias launched a blitzkrieg assault that captured the city of Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city. The Western media reported that on June 10th Mosul “fell” to ISIS and 500,000 residents fled their home in fear. Again, ISIS was portrayed as a monolithic actor that was conquering territory through violence and intimidation. Again, the reality was more complicated.

The joint operations launched by ISIS, tribal, and Baathist militias to take Mosul faced little opposition from the Iraqi Army, which threw down its weapons and deserted en mass. Five hundred thousand residents of Mosul did indeed flee their homes, but not out of fear of ISIS’s Sharia courts. Rather, they fled because they feared that Maliki’s reprisal would make their city “another Falluja [sic]”.

This “revolution”, which started in Fallujah and slowly spread to other cities in Anbar province, suddenly become a national phenomenon attracting international headlines and the fearful eye of Washington and Tehran. The loose coalition of rebel militias went on to capture, or liberate, other cities north of Baghdad, including Tikrit, cities to the West, such as Tel Afar, and one of Iraq’s largest oil refineries at Baiji. In response, Muqtada al Sadr recalled his Mahdi Army but has not yet taken sides in this battle. However, other predominantly Shia organizations have announced their support for the revolution, such as the Unified Confederation of Tribes of the South and Middle Euphrates and the Popular Movement for the Salvation of Iraq, and some Shiite religious leaders have announced their support as well.

The rapid growth of this revolution would not have been possible without IS, who brought international funding and a steady supply of weapons to the cause. Their capture of US military equipment gifted to the Iraqi Army helped them quickly become one of the most powerful military forces in the region. In July they changed their name from the Islamic State of Iraq and al Shab to just the Islamic State. They also announced that their military leader, Abu Bakr al Baghdadi was now wearing a second hat as the Caliph of the newly constituted Islamic state.

Furthermore, the gains of the rebels prompted the US and Iranian governments to take more overt forms of intervention. US President, Barrack Obama initially promised to send 300 “advisers” to aid the Iraqi military. Meanwhile, Iran sent troops and mechanized units.

During this period the Iraqi Army’s siege on Fallujah transformed into a more general and protracted military campaign against the uprising that had spread across much of western, central, and northern Iraq. Events escalated further when IS’s territorial gains began to encroach upon Kurdish territory and IS began killing and evicting religious minorities from the areas they captured. When IS trapped tens of thousands of Yazidis (neither Christians nor Muslims and, therefore, apostates in the eyes of IS) on top of a mountain and threatened genocide against them, the Obama administration decided to renew airstrikes in Iraq.

However, in President Obama’s address to the nation, he identified the beginning of IS’s “advance across Iraq” as starting in June, omitting the six months prior when the Islamic State was gaining strength and momentum by defending Fallujah from the Iraqi government’s assault. President Obama also omitted the US role in creating the conditions that allowed the Islamic State to grow and thrive by arming the Maliki government’s genocide against the Sunni population in Anbar. Instead, President Obama claimed that the US was just at that moment choosing to intervene in Iraq against a terrorist threat that appeared out of nowhere in June in order to “prevent a potential act of genocide”.

This ahistorical analysis of the Islamic State’s rise to power and US intervention in Iraq obscures the flaws in the Obama administration’s policies, because the proposed solutions mirror the conditions that strengthened and emboldened the Islamic State. IS’s success in Iraq cannot be explained by its brutal tactics, its religious ideology as a source of recruitment, or its Saudi Arabian Financiers. Many of those who came to tolerate, support, or ally themselves with IS in Iraq were former nonviolent protestors in the Iraqi Spring movement that explicitly opposed federalism and sectarianism. But they were willing to overlook IS’s sectarian rhetoric (when in the beginning it was just rhetoric) and their goal of dividing Iraq out of their desperation to overthrow the Maliki government. IS was only permitted to exist amongst the Sunni community because of the oppression of the Iraqi government. Not only did it survive the airstrikes and shelling of the Iraqi government, but it grew and thrived because of them. Thus, we should not expect that renewed US airstrikes will do anything but increase the Sunni population’s reliance on IS for security and further strengthen IS as an organization.

Viewed in this context, the Obama administration’s actions are deeply sectarian. Despite its calls for an inclusive government in Baghdad, and its initiative to force Nouri al Maliki to step down from his Prime Ministership; the reality of the Obama administration’s actions is that they have chosen sides in a sectarian war. Indeed, Maliki was forced to step down from his position as Prime Minister, and the Iraqi President, Fouad Massoum, appointed Haider al Abadi to take his place. However, a new “presidential structure” was created for three Vice Presidents, and one of those seats was given to Nouri al-Maliki.

Furthermore, the new Prime Minister is a member the same sectarian based political party as Maliki. Shortly after Abadi’s cabinet was formed, the Sunni community’s suspicions that the new government would continue the policies of the old guard were proven true. On September 13, Prime Minister Abadi promised to end all attacks on civilian areas. However, the very next day, Fallujah was bombed and shelled. Six civilians were killed and twenty-two were wounded. Then on September 15th, Fallujah was bombed again. Two people were killed and fourteen were injured. On September 16th, three civilians were killed and nineteen wounded. In short, the bombing and shelling of Fallujah has continued unabated under the new Abadi government.

Far from a humanitarian intervention, and lacking effective diplomatic action to create an inclusive government, the Obama administration has merely increased its support for the sectarian government in Baghdad.

Furthermore, the Obama administration’s initial promise of limited overt intervention in Iraq has gradually been expanded to a planned three-year mission. The number of troops deployed to Iraq continues to grow well beyond the initial 300 figure, with small teams now operating on the ground. Then, in a significant escalation of the conflict, on September 23rd, President Obama announced that the US was conducting airstrikes against IS in Syria as well as Iraq. And the US is now conducting airstrikes around Fallujah.

Endless War

The 3rd Siege of Fallujah saved IS from remaining the marginal military force that it had thus far been. The brutality of this siege created the casus belli for the Islamic State to gain legitimacy in the eyes of many Iraqis, allowing them to secure a foothold in Sunni communities and expand their campaign to establish themselves as a regional military power and as a self proclaimed caliphate, administering the lives of millions of inhabitants.

Their success has elicited shrill panic in the Western world. IS dominates the media’s attention, and what gets lost in this hysteria is that IS is not the only religiously motivated, expansionist state in the region, IS is not the only group beheading people in the region (the Iraqi military and Saudi Arabia both behead people regularly), and IS is not the only group with genocidal ambitions in the region.

IS is not an isolated phenomenon. Their campaign of terror is happening in parallel with a very legitimate uprising against an oppressive government. But to understand how these two movements can be happening simultaneously, one needs to understand how the US-led occupation crushed all opposition to their political project (most notably in Fallujah, how they put a corrupt, sectarian government in power, the US and Iraqi governments repression of the Iraqi Spring protests, and the 3rd siege of Fallujah.

The violence in Iraq could quite easily be resolved by addressing the needs of the Sunni community—thereby reducing their reliance on IS for security—and by holding those who committed crimes against them accountable. IS has alienated themselves from their base of support through their brutal tactics and their sectarianism. There are Sunni groups that are willing and more than capable of ejecting IS from their communities, but they will not do so until the crimes committed against them have been addressed. However, the US has no interest in taking effective diplomatic action, and instead has chosen endless war.

The point is, understanding what we did to Fallujah is important. Not only should the name “Fallujah” be remembered alongside other American made massacres—like Wounded Knee, Hiroshima, Nagasaki, Mai Lai—understanding what we have done to this city is key to understanding how murderous our current policies in Iraq really are, and how we can extract ourselves from this bloodbath.