AC-130s at Fallujah and Najaf (64 Sadrists Killed)
I made the mistake of turning on the television in the middle of the day and was treated to horrific images of part of the Julan quarter of Fallujah in flames. It appears that the Marines took fire from there and called in AC-130 strikes against the points from which the fire originated.
AC-130s were also employed to kill Army of the Mahdi militiamen near Najaf. AP says, ‘ The first fight came in the afternoon, when Shiite militiamen fired on a U.S. patrol. In the ensuing firefight, seven insurgents were killed. Hours later, an M1 tank was attacked with rocket-propelled grenades. A heavy battle erupted, during which warplanes destroyed an anti-aircraft gun belonging to the militia and 57 gunmen were killed, Kimmitt said. Najaf hospitals listed 37 dead, all young men of fighting age, suggesting they may have been militiamen. Al-Sadr aides said civilians also died, but could not say how many. ‘
Although some civilians may have been killed at Najaf, as alleged, it seems likely that most of the dead were Mahdi Army fighters loyal to Muqtada al-Sadr. The US has not invaded Najaf or bombed it, because of its sacred character, because of which any frontal assault would risk arousing Shiite religious passions against the US.
And here is the contrast between the two events in Fallujah and Najaf today. AC-130 warplanes are effective against troops deployed on a battlefield, but should not be used against urban targets. They were used effectively against the Taliban and al-Qaeda in the field Afghanistan, and against the Republican Guards on the battlefield in the recent Iraq war. They and other such aerial weapons are what make a civil war of any conventional sort in Iraq unlikely, since the first time someone fields 150 men on a battlefield, they can just be taken out by the AC-130s. (Urban riots and alleyway fighting are a different proposition). I’m no expert on military hardware and do not pretend to be, but this makes scary reading even for a layman.
The immense firepower of these warplanes, however, simply should not be being unleashed against the Julan quarter. You cannot do that so precisely that you ensure that innocent civilians are not massacred along with the guerrillas. It is a violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention. Although about 1/3 of Fallujans have reportedly left the city, that would leave 200,000 or so inside.
Given that most of the people living in the poverty-stricken Julan quarter of Fallujah are not guerrillas and are not combatants, calling down AC-130 fire on a neighborhood with civilians in it, in which the civilians are inevitably in harm’s way, seems to me to contradict Article 3.
Art. 3. In the case of armed conflict not of an international character occurring in the territory of one of the High Contracting Parties, each Party to the conflict shall be bound to apply, as a minimum, the following
(1) Persons taking no active part in the hostilities, including members of armed forces who have laid down their arms and those placed hors de combat by sickness, wounds, detention, or any other cause, shall in all circumstances be treated humanely, without any adverse distinction founded on race, colour, religion or faith, sex, birth or wealth, or any other similar criteria.
To this end the following acts are and shall remain prohibited at any time and in any place whatsoever with respect to the above-mentioned persons:
(a) violence to life and person, in particular murder of all kinds, mutilation, cruel treatment and torture;
(b) taking of hostages;
(c) outrages upon personal dignity, in particular humiliating and degrading treatment;
(d) the passing of sentences and the carrying out of executions without previous judgment pronounced by a regularly constituted court, affording all the judicial guarantees which are recognized as indispensable by civilized peoples.
That is, as the Occupying Power in Iraq, the US has a duty to avoid inflicting on innocent civilians in urban areas violence to life and person where that can be avoided. In this case, it could be avoided by using counter-insurgency techniques and clearing Fallujah neighborhood by neighborhood rather than by aerial bombardment.
[Someone challenged me on this, saying that Article 3 refers only to civil wars. Since the Fourth Convention is concerned with Occupied Territories, however, it seems to me that this common article must have been included in part because the framers wanted to cover these issues in regard to Occupied Territories. And, given that Iraq was conquered by the US, and there is no Iraqi government or Iraqi army, the current conflict in Fallujah resembles a civil war much more than it does an international conflict. That is, Fallujah is in rebellion against the Occupying authority within Iraqi territory, which is not inter-national, but intranational. The article clearly governs the treatment of all civilians and other noncombatants in the zone of conflict and not only prisoners, since “detention” is mentioned as only one of a number of causes for persons being hors de combat or outside combat. Some interpretations of Article 3 do exclude guerrilla wars from consideration, while others are more expansive, and the tendency is increasingly toward the expansive approach.
One authority notes, “ For example, in a recent decision by the trial chamber of ICTY [International Tribunal Court for Yugoslavia] in Prosecutor vs. Tadic, it was observed that the common article 3 of the Geneva Convention was declaratory of customary international law. The decision further states: the rules contained in paragraph 1 of common article 3 proscribe a number of acts which: (i) are committed within the context of armed conflict; (ii) have a close connection to the armed conflict, and (iii) are committed against persons taking no active part in hostilities. On the question of existence of armed conflict, the appeal chamber stated that “an armed conflict exists whenever there is a resort to armed force between states or protracted armed violence between governmental authorities and organized armed groups or between such groups within a state. ‘
The precise applicability of Article 3 in any case is less important than that, in general, the international law of occupation requires the Occupying Power to guarantee as far as possible the safety, security and well-being of civilians under its rule. While the guerrillas in Fallujah are also endangering civilians by fighting from a city, for an Occupying Power to call down AC-130 strikes on civilian apartment buildings seems to me to an unnecessarily cavalier approach to civilian life, and the British officers in Basra agree with me].
It does not matter that some Fallujans are trying to kill Marines. You cannot punish the entire city for that.
Art. 33. No protected person may be punished for an offence he or she has not personally committed. Collective penalties and likewise all measures of intimidation or of terrorism are prohibited.
Pillage is prohibited.
Reprisals against protected persons and their property are prohibited.
One of the things the city elders now negotiating with the Marines should do is invoke Article 15 of the Fourth Geneva convention:
Art. 15. Any Party to the conflict may, either direct or through a neutral State or some humanitarian organization, propose to the adverse Party to establish, in the regions where fighting is taking place, neutralized zones intended to shelter from the effects of war the following persons, without
(a) wounded and sick combatants or non-combatants;
(b) civilian persons who take no part in hostilities, and who, while they reside in the zones, perform no work of a military character.
When the Parties concerned have agreed upon the geographical position, administration, food supply and supervision of the proposed neutralized zone, a written agreement shall be concluded and signed by the representatives of the Parties to the conflict. The agreement shall fix the beginning and the duration of the neutralization of the zone.
If the US can pay Halliburton $3 billion for various tasks in Iraq, it surely can afford to build temporary shelters to which Fallujan civilians could be evacuated during the current operations. It is outrageous for the US to conduct attacks on a city in a country it occupies while there are tens of thousands of women and children in harm’s way. Fred Kaplan at Slate argues that to go forward could well derail the transfer of sovereignty on June 30.
It is precisely the kind of unethical and illegal action taken by the US military in Fallujah today against which the British diplomats were protesting (see below), and which they fear will drag the UK down along with the Americans. Nor is there any reason whatsoever to believe that the US can win by bombing Fallujah into ashes. That is attrition, which is poor counter-insurgency.
‘ None of the attritional “solutions” is appropriate in a liberal democracy; furthermore it is considered that a “gloves off” approach to any insurgency has a strictly limited role to play in any modern counterinsurgency campaign. It should also be noted that the record of success for the attrition theory in counterinsurgency operations is generally a poor one. Undue emphasis on military action clouds the key political realities, which can result in a military-dominated campaign plan that misses the real focus of an insurgency. An inability to match the insurgent’s concept with an appropriate government one–likened by Thompson to trying to play chess while the enemy is actually playing poker–is conceptually flawed and will not achieve success . . .
In an insurgency, the strategic center of gravity will be the support of the mass of the people. Clearly, this is not open to “attack” in the conventional sense, although insurgent strategies often incorporate the use of coercive force. An insurgency is an attempt to force political change, and thus it follows logically that the center of gravity can be reached only by political action. The government response to an insurgency should take as its fundamental assumption that the true nature of the threat lies in the insurgent’s political potential rather than his military power, although the latter may appear the more worrying in the short term. Again, in Malaya, the center of gravity was targeted not by jungle patrolling, but by the political decision to grant independence; the military contribution was invaluable, but not of itself decisive. The military campaign should focus upon the insurgents, but it is only one part of a wider solution. ‘