'Intelligent discontent is the mainspring of civilization.' -- Eugene V. Debs

Friday, February 25, 2005

Operation River Blitz 

This week American military activity in the town of Ramadi, Fallujah's sister city and capital of Iraq's Anbar province, increased dramatically, and residents there fear they are witnessing the beginning stages of Fallujah-style liberation. Apparently this activity is part of a broader initiative called Operation River Blitz.

On Sunday marines began setting up check points, inspecting vehicles, and imposed a curfew. Ramadi residents report "sporadic clashes in industrial areas in the eastern part of the city and a steady flow of aircraft and helicopters overhead", to quote Reuters, and that the US has essentially locked down the city:

Ramadi residents said the Marine positions around the town had frightened locals and emboldened insurgents, who could be seen running through the streets with AK47s and rocket-propelled-grenade launchers.

"The city is paralyzed. All the shops and offices are closed. We are waiting for the security situation to get worse," said Abdul-Altif Abdullah, a 43-year-old provincial official, in a telephone interview.

According to al-Jazeera, there was an escalation in operations on Thursday -- "warplanes and an AC-130 gunship" reportedly engaged insurgents -- and about 100 suspects have been captured since Sunday.

The US claims that comparisons between the Fallujah campaign and the new operation in Ramadi are misplaced. Here's Brigadier General David Rodriguez on the subject at a DoD briefing:

Q: General, Operation River Blitz, we're told it's, as you say, in Anbar province -- Ramadi and three cities along the Euphrates. How does this operation measure up in scope to the November operation against Fallujah? What are we talking about in numbers of the 1st Marine Division and the number of Iraqi security people involved? And in addition to the dusk-to-dawn curfew, what else can you tell us about the operation?

GEN. RODRIGUEZ: That's basically it. A dust-to-dawn curfew, which was put in there. And there's -- as far as the difference between Fallujah and now, this is one of significantly lesser degree, obviously, with both participants of the 1st Marine Division and the Iraqi security forces. But it's the same -- it's focused on the same thing, which is to get rid of the insurgents who are preventing security in Al Anbar province along those four cities along the river, which is why they named it River Blitz.

and other spokespeople assure us Operation River Blitz is a mundane topic and quite routine; for example, CNN quotes an "Iraqi interior ministry official" who says, "Ramadi has been an ongoing problem ... but there is nothing new or extraordinary about the military operations in the area."

Residents, however, think otherwise and have begun fleeing the city, but the story of refugees from Ramadi has not made the the Western press. In the piece I cited above, al-Jazeera covered the story cribbing quotes from a report from the UN's Integrated Regional Information Networks. Here's an excerpt from IRIN's piece:

Worried that the offensive could proceed as it did in nearby Fallujah, where the majority of the city's population was forced to flee during a near three-month long campaign, many Ramadi families are taking personal effects and food supplies and heading to relatives' houses in the capital, or to the same camps where residents from Fallujah fled. [ ... ]

"Many insurgents have escaped Fallujah to this area but they won't have time to take the city and our early operation will prevent that. People have started to flee the city but it's too early for that," Brathen added.

But citizens, exhausted by ongoing violence, are afraid and are choosing to leave before the situation worsens. "They want to destroy the whole area and build a New York City there, and for that they are tearing down everything. We want to live in peace. We are tired of fighting and bombs. God, please protect us," Muhammad Farhan, a father of five, who was fleeing the city with his family, told IRIN.

Government offices and shops have closed and people are having difficulties getting food supplies as the offensive came quickly and without warning, giving them no time to prepare.

A government official from the city, who wished to remain anonymous, told IRIN that he expected the situation to get much worse, especially in some areas of Ramadi where insurgents were putting up a strong fight. He added that most government officials had already left the city.

Firdous al-Abadi, a spokeswoman for the Iraqi Red Crescent Society (IRCS), told IRIN that many people had been trapped in the university and inside mosques for over 48 hours as fighting raged outside.

"The government should take responsibility and provide those people with everything that is required for their survival," al-Abadi added. "People are tired of running from place to place."

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