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Context of 'November 8, 2004: US Military Begins Massive Offensive to Retake Fallujah; Observers Cite Systematic Brutality Towards Civilians'

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In Geneva, Protocol III (Protocol on Prohibitions or Restrictions on the Use of Incendiary Weapons) of the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons is adopted on October 10, 1980, making it illegal to use incendiary weapons on civilian populations and restricting the use of these weapons against military targets that are located within a concentration of civilians. Such weapons are considered “to be excessively injurious or to have indiscriminate effects.” 51 countries initially sign the document and on December 2, 1983, its provisions are entered into force. By the end of 2004, 104 countries sign and 97 ratify the protocol. [Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons Protocol III, 10/10/1980; United Nations, 11/19/2004] The US is not a party to this protocol and continues to use incendiary weapons in all its major conflicts. It is the only country to do so. [Independent, 8/10/2003]

Timeline Tags: US Military

In the opening hours of the US assault on the Sunni stronghold of Fallujah (see November 8, 2004), Lieutenant Colonel Gary Brandl tells his troops: “The enemy has got a face. He’s called Satan. He’s in Fallujah and we’re going to destroy him.” [Guardian, 11/10/2005; Unger, 2007, pp. 325]

Entity Tags: Gary Brandl

Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation

A Marine walks past several corpses strewn in a Fallujah street.A Marine walks past several corpses strewn in a Fallujah street. [Source: Al Jazeera]The US military undertakes Operation Phantom Fury in an effort to retake the city of Fallujah from Sunni insurgents. During the more than two-week long offensive, Iraqi NGOs are prohibited from delivering humanitarian aid to residents of the besieged city. A representative for the Iraq Red Crescent Society (IRCS), Muhammad al-Nuri, will estimate that at least 6,000 Iraqis are killed in the offensive. The Iraqi government’s own studies will suggest that 70 percent of Fallujah’s buildings are destroyed by the fighting. [IRIN, 4/4/2004; Washington Post, 11/9/2004; IRIN, 11/26/2004] In the ensuing battle, the city’s water, power, and food supplies are completely cut, actions later condemned as violations of the Geneva Conventions by a UN special rapporteur, who accuses the US of “using hunger and deprivation of water as a weapon of war against the civilian population.” At least 200,000 civilians flee Fallujah, many ending up in squatters’ camps with no basic facilities. “My kids are hysterical with fear,” says one Iraqi father. “They are traumatized by the sound [of fighting] but there is nowhere to take them.” The US military bars the Red Cross, Red Crescent, and journalists from the area. All males between the ages of 15 and 55 are forced to stay in the city (see November 10, 2004). Over 100,000 civilians are trapped in the city during the US siege, forced to endure a pitched battle between US forces and between 600 and 6,000 insurgents.
US Targets Civilians - The city’s main hospital is the first target (see November 9, 2004), picked because, as the New York Times reports, “the US military believed it was the source of rumours about heavy casualties.” An AP photographer documents US helicopters killing a family of five trying to ford a river to safety. A Lebanese photographer will say, “There were American snipers on top of the hospital shooting everyone.” The photographer, Burhan Fasa’am, adds: “With no medical supplies, people died from their wounds. Everyone in the street was a target for the Americans.” Another Fallujah citizen will later recall: “I watched them roll over wounded people in the streets with tanks. This happened so many times.” A third citizen will later recall: “They shot women and old men in the streets. Then they shot anyone who tried to get their bodies.” US forces use incendiary weapons, including white phosphorus (see Mid-November 2004). When asked about the use of such controversial weaponry, Captain Erik Krivda explains, “Usually we keep the gloves on, [but] for this operation, we took the gloves off.” Just before the operation commences, a Marine commander tells his troops: “You will be held accountable for the facts not as they are in hindsight but as they appeared to you at the time. If, in your mind, you fire to protect yourself or your men, you are doing the right thing. It doesn’t matter if later on we find out you wiped out a family of unarmed civilians.” [Weinberger, 2005, pp. 63-64; Guardian, 11/10/2005]
Marine Casualties - The suffering and death are not one-sided. Lieutenant Commander Richard Jadick, a Navy doctor who volunteered to go to Iraq to help ease the shortage of doctors there, finds himself in the middle of pitched battles, doing his best to save Marines wounded in battle, many with horrific injuries. Lieutenant Colonel Mark Winn will estimate that without Jadick, his unit would have lost at least 30 more troops. Jadick will receive the Bronze Star with a Combat V for valor for his efforts. “I have never seen a doctor display the kind of courage and bravery that [Jadick] did during Fallujah,” Winn later recalls. [Newsweek, 3/20/2006]
Widespread Destruction - By the end of operations, around 36,000 of the city’s 50,000 homes are destroyed, along with 60 schools and 65 mosques and shrines. US casualty figures claim that about 2,000 Iraqis die in the fighting (Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi will claim that no civilians died in Fallujah), but Iraqi human rights organizations and medical workers claim the number is somewhere between 4,000 and 6,000. A Fallujah housewife will finally return to her home to find a message written in lipstick on her living room mirror: “F_ck Iraq and every Iraqi in it.” Mike Marquesee of the human rights organization Iraq Occupation Focus, will later write that the US and British media offers a “sanitized” version of events. “[C]ivilian suffering was minimized and the ethics and strategic logic of the attack largely unscrutinized,” Marquesee will observe. The siege is inconclusive at best: for the next year, Fallujah will remain essentially under lockdown, and heavy resistance and violence will spread to other cities, including Tal-Afar, Haditha, and Husaybah. [Weinberger, 2005, pp. 63-64; Guardian, 11/10/2005] Reporter Hala Jaber, the last reporter to leave Fallujah before the military assault begins and the first to return to that devastated city months later, will write over a year after Operation Phantom Fury: “The bitter truth is that the actions of US and Iraqi forces have reignited the insurgency. Anger, hate, and mistrust of America are deeper than ever.” [London Times, 12/18/2005]

Entity Tags: Operation Phantom Fury, Richard Jadick, US Department of Defense, Muhammad al-Nuri, Hala Jaber, Mark Winn, Burhan Fasa’am, Mike Marquesee, Erik Krivda, Iyad Allawi, Geneva Conventions, United Nations

Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation

Multiple sources claim that at 5:30 am on this day US warplanes drop three bombs on the Central Health Center in Fallujah, killing 35 patients and 15 health workers. The attack further incapacitates Fallujah’s medical infrastructure which is already degraded because of the US military’s takeover of the city’s main hospital and because the city’s water supply was cut off before the siege. [Nation, 11/24/2004]

Entity Tags: US Department of Defense

Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation

A group of 225 Iraqis attempting to flee the US siege of Fallujah are stopped at the southern edge of the city by the US Marines’ 2nd Reconnaissance Battalion. The Marines permit 25 women and children to pass through, but send the remaining 200 men of military age back into the city. Fallujah has been under aerial and artillery bombardment since November 8. An officer explains to an Associated Press reporter, “There is nothing that distinguishes an insurgent from a civilian.” The US military wants to kill or capture as many insurgents as possible, and therefore does not want any escaping the city. “We assume they’ll go home and just wait out the storm or find a place that’s safe,” the officer says. The battalion has been ordered to tell Iraqi men, “Stay in your houses, stay away from windows and stay off the roof and you’ll live through Fallujah.” The US military also sinks boats that were being used to ferry people across the Euphrates River to safety. According to the US military, the boats were also used to transport weapons into the city. [Associated Press, 9/13/2004]

Entity Tags: US Department of the Marines

Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation

US forces use white phosphorus (WP) gas munitions as incendiary weapons against human targets during their seige of Fallujah, Iraq (see November 8, 2004). [Inter Press Service, 11/26/2003; Daily Telegraph, 11/9/2004; San Francisco Chronicle, 11/10/2004; Rainews24 (Italy), 11/2005] White phosphorus—also known as Willy Pete or Whiskey Pete—is used by the military for signaling, screening, and incendiary purposes. White phosphorus munitions, upon explosion, distribute particles over a wide swath of area. They burn spontaneously in the air and will continue to burn until all white phosphorus particles have disappeared. The smoke easily penetrates clothing and protective gear and can burn a person’s flesh to the bone. [Democracy Now!, 11/8/2005; GlobalSecurity (.org), 11/9/2005] According to Jeff Englehart, a US soldier involved in the seige of Fallujah, “Phosphorus burns bodies, in fact it melts the flesh all the way down to the bone.… Phosphorus explodes and forms a cloud. Anyone within a radius of 150 meters is done for.” [Independent, 11/8/2004]
Iraqi Witnesses Allege Use of Incendiary Weapons - “Poisonous gases have been used in Fallujah,” 35-year-old trader from Fallujah Abu Hammad tells reporter Dahr Jamail. “They used everything—tanks, artillery, infantry, poison gas. Fallujah has been bombed to the ground.” Another resident, Abu Sabah, from the Julan area, explains: “They used these weird bombs that put up smoke like a mushroom cloud. Then small pieces fall from the air with long tails of smoke behind them.” He says the pieces then explode into large fires that burn the skin even when water is applied. “People suffered so much from these,” he adds. [Inter Press Service, 11/26/2003] Corroborating their accounts, the San Francisco Chronicle reports that some “Insurgents reported being attacked with a substance that melted their skin, a reaction consistent with white phosphorous burns.” Kamal Hadeethi, a physician at a regional hospital, tells the newspaper, “The corpses of the mujahedeen which we received were burned, and some corpses were melted.” [San Francisco Chronicle, 11/10/2004]
Alternate Explanation - Lieutenant Colonel Steve Boylan, in November 2005, will deny that US troops used white phosphorus gas against people in Fallujah. “I know of no cases where people were deliberately targeted by the use of white phosphorus,” he tells Democracy Now. “White phosphorus is used for obscuration, which white phosphorus produces a heavy thick smoke to shield us or them from view so that they cannot see what we are doing. It is used to destroy equipment, to destroy buildings. That is what white phosphorus shells are used for.” He insists that the pictures showing melted corpses with clothing still intact is not proof of white phosphorus attacks. “That can happen from numerous ways and not just from white phosphorus attacks. That can happen from massive explosions. If you look at the car bombs that the terrorists use today, you have the same effects from car bombs from suicide vests. I have personally witnessed these things here in Baghdad.” [Democracy Now!, 11/8/2005]
Pentagon Confirms Use of White Phosphorus against 'Enemy Combatants' - The Pentagon, however, does not deny that the weapon was used against human targets. On November 14, 2005, spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Barry Venables says that white phosphorus was used to “fire at the enemy.” He adds: “It burns.… It’s an incendiary weapon. That is what it does.” [Independent, 11/15/2005] “It was used as an incendiary weapon against enemy combatants.” [BBC, 11/16/2005]
Against US Army Policy - In 1980, the Convention on Conventional Weapons banned the use of incendiary devices, like white phosphorous, in heavily populated areas. The United States was one of the few countries that refused to sign the agreement (see October 10, 1980-December 2, 1983). Even so, an instruction manual used by the US Army Command and General Staff School (CGSC) at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas states that “it is against the law of land warfare to employ WP against personnel targets.” [Independent, 11/19/2005]
First-Hand Accounts - There are a number of first-hand accounts of the battle, as well as video footage and photographs, suggesting the use of white phosphorus against human targets.
bullet Jeff Englehart, who is in a tactical attack center about 200 meters from where a lot of the explosions that are happening [Democracy Now!, 11/8/2005] , later recalls: “I heard the order to pay attention because they were going to use white phosphorus on Fallujah. In military jargon it’s known as Willy Pete.… I saw the burned bodies of women and children.” [Rainews24 (Italy), 11/2005]
bullet Photographs provided by the Studies Centre of Human Rights in Fallujah [Rainews24 (Italy), 11/2005] include numerous high-quality, color close-ups of bodies of Fallujah residents, some still in their beds, whose clothes remain largely intact but whose skin has been dissolved or caramelized by the shells. [Independent, 11/8/2004]
bullet A documentary, titled Fallujah: The Hidden Massacre, broadcast on Italian news channel RAI a year after the assault shows helicopters launching white phosphorus munitions directly into the city. [Rainews24 (Italy), 11/2005] According to the RAI film, the US has attempted to destroy filmed evidence of the alleged use of white phosphorus on civilians in Falluja. [Rainews24 (Italy), 11/2005; BBC, 11/8/2005]
bullet A March 2005 US Army report written by three US artillery men who participated in the siege will confirm that white phosphorus was used against human targets during the siege. “WP proved to be an effective and versatile munition. We used it for screening missions at two breeches and, later in the fight, as a potent psychological weapon against the insurgents in trench lines and spider holes when we could not get effects on them with HE [High Explosive weapons]. We fired ‘shake and bake’ missions at the insurgents, using WP to flush them out and HE to take them out.” [Field Artillery, 3/2005 pdf file; Independent, 11/15/2005]

Entity Tags: Steve Boylan, Abu Sabah, Abu Hammad, United States

Timeline Tags: US Military, Iraq under US Occupation

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