Iraq: The Fallujah massacre

On Monday at least 13 were killed and an unknown number wounded when US soldiers opened fire on a crowd of unarmed demonstrators who were protesting against the occupation of a local school by the US army. The mask of "democracy" and "liberation" is slipping to reveal the crude reality of foreign occupation and violent oppression.

"It has been about 20 years since I was last here and I am just looking forward to looking our boys in the eye and telling them what a great job they have done here." (Donald Rumsfeld, in Baghdad this morning.)

The whole world can now see the real nature of the Anglo-American occupation of Iraq. On Monday at least 13 were killed and an unknown number wounded when US soldiers opened fire on a crowd of unarmed demonstrators who were protesting against the occupation of a local school by the US army. Despite the claims of the Americans that they were fired upon by the demonstrators there is not a shred of evidence to support this.

Last night BBC television carried harrowing pictures of the scene of the massacre in Fallujah, a dust-blown Sunni Muslim trucking town 35 miles west of Baghdad. The BBC's correspondent on the spot was in no doubt that the American soldiers had fired indiscriminately into the crowd, hitting houses in a residential area and killing civilians who were still indoors and had not even participated in the demonstration. By contrast, there was not a single bullet mark on the school and no American soldier had been injured. This was a massacre, pure and simple.

Iraqi doctors and city officials say that 13 people were killed and many more injured. The US military speaks of up to 10 deaths but admits that it is "possible" the figure is 13. The final death toll may be far higher. The report in today's Independent describes the scene of mayhem in the town: "Large patches of congealed blood. Discarded shoes scattered in terror. Angry Iraqi neighbours and wailing relatives, recounting a tale of the random killing of young men whose only crime was to demand that their new, heavily armed masters leave the neighbourhood."

The chain of events that led to the shooting seems to have been approximately as follows: Some time after 9pm on Monday, a crowd of about 200 demonstrators turned up outside a school that had been taken over by about 100 American soldiers four days earlier. The immediate reason for the march was to demand that the troops depart because the people wanted the school to reopen. But it represents the general feeling of Iraqis that the invaders should leave their country.

The Americans say they were fired on and acted in self-defence against a crowd in which 25 people had guns. But there are strong doubts about the US version - and a complete absence of evidence to corroborate it. The Independent report quotes the words of Ahmed al-Essawi, aged 15, who was shot in his arm and leg, who says he did not see any guns:

"All of us were trying to run away. They shot at us directly. The soldiers were very scared. There were no warning shots, and I heard no announcements on the loudspeakers." Ahmed Karim, a 21-year-old blacksmith who was shot in the thigh, did not see any guns either. "We were shouting 'there's no god but Allah'. We arrived at the school building and were hoping to talk to the soldiers when they began shooting at us randomly. I think they knew we were unarmed but wanted a show of force to stop us from demonstrating."

No guns were seen in the crowd by Hussein Ali Awari, a labourer who lives across the road from the protest. He says that when the shooting started, panic-stricken demonstrators, some injured, piled into his courtyard for cover, including a boy of about 17 who died later.

"It was terrible," he said. "I think the Americans were so scared of us Iraqis that they were willing to do anything. There were injured people crying out for help outside the house. When I tried to go out to help them, they told me to get back inside or they'd shoot."

No weapons were seen by Hassan, a student aged 19 who refused to reveal his full name. "We had one picture of Saddam, only one. There were quite a lot of us - about 200. We were not armed and nothing was thrown. There had been some shooting in the air in the vicinity, but that was a long way off. I don't know why the Americans started shooting. When they began to fire, we just ran."

In addition to these eyewitness accounts, the hard evidence at the scene must also be considered. The Americans troops were from the 84th Airborne Division, deployed late last week to stop looting and the trade in arms. They fired at the crowd from Fallujah's al-Kaat primary and secondary school, a pale-yellow utilitarian concrete building of two storeys and about the length of seven terraced houses. They were shooting from the front of the upper floor and from the roof at people across the road - a distance of several dozen yards.

According to the US spokesperson, Lt-Col Eric Nantz, the troops were being shot at and stones had been thrown. They tried to disperse the crowd with loudspeaker warnings but in vain, he said. Under threat, they fired back. The Independent comments:

"Yet there are no bullet holes visible at the front of the school building or tell-tale marks of a firefight. The place is unmarked. By contrast, the houses opposite - numbers 5, 7, 9, and 13 - are punctured with machine-gun fire, which tore away lumps of concrete the size of a hand and punched holes as deep as the length of a ballpoint pen. Asked to explain the absence of bullet holes, Lt-Col Nantz said that the Iraqi fire had gone over the soldiers' heads. We were taken to see two bullet holes in an upper window and some marks on a wall, but they were on another side of the school building.

"There are other troubling questions. Lt-Col Nantz said that the troops had been fired on from a house across the road. Several light machineguns were produced, which the Americans said were found at the scene. If true, this was an Iraqi suicide mission - anyone attacking the post from a fixed position within 40 yards would have had no chance of survival.

"The American claim that there were 25 guns in the crowd would also indicate that the demonstrators had had a death wish or were stupid. Iraqis have learnt in the past few weeks that if they fail to stop their cars quickly enough at an American-manned checkpoint, they may well be shot.

"To walk, at night, up to a US army outpost brandishing guns and chanting anti-American slogans would have been an act of madness."

The conclusion is clear: nobody doubts that that the US troops perpetrated a bloody massacre of Iraqi civilians. The scene here described exposes the disgusting falsehood of the Pentagon's lying propaganda about "liberating" the Iraqi people. The American army acts like an army of foreign occupation - which is exactly what it is.

The American and British propaganda machine never tires of repeating that the mass demonstrations in Iraq are proof of the democratic convictions of the Coalition "liberating" army. Such demonstrations could never have happened under the evil dictatorship of Saddam Hussein - they would have been fired on.

Well the people of Iraq have had an excellent lesson in the "democracy" of the imperialists. They care nothing for democracy or the lives of ordinary Iraqis. All the propaganda about "smart bombs" and avoiding civilian casualties has now been exposed as a cynical lie.

During the war the Americans killed Iraqi civilians from the air, but they could not see the faces of their victims. The killing of civilians could be explained away as "regrettable accidents". But no longer. The invaders have a complete contempt for the people they claim to have liberated. They are trigger-happy thugs who treat the Iraqis as an inferior race only fit to be dominated, oppressed and plundered. If they resist, they can be shot like dogs. This is the ugly face of imperialism so familiar to the peoples of the Middle East, Asia, Africa and Latin America.

This is not an isolated incident. Last week, at least ten Iraqis were shot dead in Mosul by US troops. This morning it was announced that two more Iraqi civilians had been shot by the Americans. But the imperialists cannot hold down a whole people by such means. This atrocity will never be forgotten by the people of Iraq. The mass opposition to the American and British occupation of Iraq will intensify after the massacre at Fallujah.

Napoleon once remarked that you cannot sit on bayonets. The imperialists cannot indefinitely repress a nation of 25 million people. Every incident like Fallujah will encourage the resistance and deepens Iraqi public sympathy for armed struggle against the imperialists. Such resistance is developing and becoming general. In the past week, American forces have been shot at daily. An attack on a US arms dump in Baghdad led to the explosion that killed at least 10 people, and stone-throwing at troops - a highly symbolic form of resistance borrowed from the Palestinians - has become commonplace.

The mask of "democracy" and "liberation" is slipping to reveal the crude reality of foreign occupation and violent oppression. The language of the American forces is beginning to sound increasingly like that of the Israeli occupying forces in the West Bank and Gaza. They complain of having to shoot at stone-throwers because the Iraqi youths might - and did on one occasion in Ramadi three days ago, they allege - throw grenades as well as stones. They talk of people firing at them from within crowds of civilian demonstrators. They live in fear of car bombs and suicide attackers.

These facts completely expose the myth peddled by Bush and Blair that the Coalition forces have been welcomed by the Iraqi people as liberators, that the majority of Iraqis like them but there is a small number of fanatics that is determined to make trouble. We have heard the same song many times before - from the Israelis.

The real attitude of ordinary Iraqis to the occupying forces comes not from any "fanatic" but from the headmaster of the school where this massacre happened. Many of his students were among the protesters. The Independent reports that when he heard of the shootings, he rushed to the hospital to give blood:

"He is a quietly spoken man, but cloudy-eyed with anger and grief. Now, he said calmly, he is willing to die as a 'martyr' to take his revenge against the Americans."