The Third Siege of Fallujah

FALLUJAH, Jul 21 (IPS) -- U.S. and Iraqi forces are preparing another siege of Fallujah under the pretext of combating "terror," residents and officials say.

Located 69 km west of Baghdad, the city that suffered two devastating U.S. attacks in 2004 has watched security degrade over recent months.

"Ruling powers in the city fighting to gain full control seem willing to use the security collapse to accuse each other of either conspiracy (in lawlessness) or incapability of control," Sufian Ahmed, a lawyer and human rights activist in Fallujah told IPS.

"They suddenly changed their tone from saying that the city was the safest in Iraq to claiming that al-Qaeda is a serious threat. Fallujah residents know their so-called leaders are using security threats to terrify them for their own political interests."

In the face of U.S. military claims of improved security, violence has been rising by the day this month. The city has now been placed under tight curfew while U.S. and Iraqi military forces prepare for a new offensive, according to the local Azzaman daily.

Iraqi security forces have established new checkpoints around the city and are forbidding movement of people and traffic. Pick-up trucks are roaming the city warning residents that al-Qaeda has once again infiltrated Fallujah.

Iraqi police officers insist that the situation is under control despite the "occasional incidents that take place all over Iraq."

The indications on the ground belie these claims. "The Americans and their allies transferred our leader, Colonel Fayssal al-Zoba'i from his post because they have bad plans for the city," a major in the Fallujah police force told IPS. "He has all the right to keep his post because he was the one who led us to defeat the insurgency while the Americans failed. They (the U.S. military) seem to have a plan to destroy the city again."

Iraqi police and troops from other areas are being deployed in the city in what police officials say is a build-up for a huge offensive. U.S. occupation forces are on the ready in nearby bases.

The government in Baghdad has made it clear that direct U.S. military involvement is critical for an "imminent offensive" in Fallujah, sources in the Iraqi military have been quoted as saying in Iraqi media.

The two U.S. sieges of the city during 2004 led to the destruction of approximately 75 percent of the city, thousands of civilian deaths, and the displacement of hundreds of thousands of people, according to the Fallujah-based Iraqi NGO Monitoring Net for Human Rights.

Some officers in the Fallujah police believe Iraqi politicians are using the threat of "terror" for election purposes, ahead of provincial elections scheduled for October.

"The resignation of Colonel Fayssal is not yet definite," another police officer, speaking on terms of anonymity, told IPS. "But I agree that the Americans and the Islamic Party are planning something bad for the city before the provincial elections."

The officer added, "We learned that such plans could not be conducted in a quiet atmosphere, so politicians are adding gas to the fire just to make sure they win the elections. We, policemen and citizens, will be the victims as usual." Residents fear parties will use the violence to accuse one another, and perhaps sabotage the election itself.

A police spokesman told IPS that "the media is exaggerating things once more" in speaking of another military operation in the city. The spokesman declined to give his name.

Everyone IPS spoke with in the city expressed fear of an impending attack.

There are meanwhile no signs of improvement of any other kind in Fallujah. Walls now divide the city into sectarian sections, with poverty, unemployment and suffering on all sides.

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