The first time I was in Fallujah, in mid-May 2003, the war to oust Saddam Hussein was over. President Bush had made his “mission accomplished” speech and regime change had been accomplished and Saddam was gone, still in hiding.
Fallujah – the city of mosques, the billboard on the edge of town called it – was a Sunni town and a Saddam town. It was said that Saddam had granted local Falluja mafias control of lucrative smuggling routes from Syria and Jordan, which helped the town get richer after Gulf War One, when U.S. sanctions made most of the rest of the country get a lot poorer.
For whatever reason, Falluja was a city that fought for Saddam and wasn’t happy to have regime-changing American forces in town post war. Twice in two weeks, in the days before my arrival, there had been “incidents” in which American troops had opened fire on civilians, killing 19 local people.
U.S. troops weren’t supposed to do that, so out to Fallujah we went, my crew, including our fixer-translator, our security team and I.
Driving into town, we could see a stretch along the main highway had clearly been fought over, a few blackened buildings next to spaces where there had been buildings, and a few bullet holes, some in Mosques and minarets. But to that point, the city of Fallujah was largely intact.
After two failed attempts to subdue the Sunni insurgency in Falluja with U.S. military force in 2004, the city was much more considerably damaged, but it was broken in the manner of the Age Before Trump. You could still see how it could be repaired.
Patrick Cockburn is currently Middle East correspondent for the Independent, writes regularly for the London Review of Books and worked previously for the Financial Times. His books on war and peace in the Middle East include The Age of Jihad, The Rise of Islamic State, Muqtada al-Sadr and the Struggle for Iraq, The Occupation, as well as a memoir, The Broken Boy and, with his son Henry, a book on schizophrenia, Henry’s Demons, which was a finalist for the Costa Award. He won the Martha Gellhorn Prize in 2005, the James Cameron Prize in 2006, the Orwell Prize for Journalism in 2009, the Foreign Commentator of the Year in 2013, and the Foreign Affairs Journalist of the Year Award 2014.