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The reality of Australia’s collateral damage in Iraq

By Chris Doran - posted Monday, 4 August 2008

Few in this country have heard of Australian General Jim Molan, despite his direct command responsibility for the brutal Coalition assault on Fallujah and other Sunni cities in Iraq in late 2004. Molan was seconded from the ADF to the US command and was the third highest ranking Coalition officer in Iraq in 2004-2005. He not only planned, but also directed, the late 2004 attacks on Najaf, Fallujah, and Samarra.

Fallujah is particularly notorious for the widespread and well documented allegations of serious atrocities, if not outright war crimes, committed by Coalition troops under Molan's command. Noam Chomsky (in Failed States: The Abuse of Power and the Assault on Democracy) has described these allegations as “far more severe than the [Abu Ghraib] torture scandals”.

Molan has just released a book, entitled Running the War in Iraq. An edited extract from the book, "Reality of Collateral Damage" appeared in The Australian on July 19.


General Molan’s excerpt is a highly sanitised version of what actually occurred under his command. Molan’s account suggests that the attack on Fallujah, codenamed Operation Fury, was little more than a few surgical missile strikes which unfortunately and only occasionally resulted in civilian deaths.

He conveniently omits the fact that an estimated 30,000 to 50,000 civilians still remained in Fallujah when the attack began. Citizens had been instructed to evacuate the city, population 250,000, before bombing began in October 2004, but any and all men aged 15 to 45 were prohibited from leaving. Many family members understandably chose to stay with their fathers and brothers. Once the bombing began, all exits out of the city were sealed off.

On October 16, the Washington Post reported that “electricity and water were cut off to the city just as a fresh wave of [bombing] strikes began Thursday night, an action that US forces also took at the start of assaults on Najaf and Samarra”. The Red Cross and other aid agencies were also denied access to deliver the most basic of humanitarian aid - water, food, and emergency medical supplies to the civilian population.

The situation was so severe that the United Nation's Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, Jean Ziegler, stated that the Coalition had used “hunger and deprivation of water as a weapon of war against the civilian population [in] flagrant violation” of the Geneva Conventions. Specifically Article 14, which clearly states that cutting off water, electricity, and denying access to humanitarian aid is considered to be a war crime.

But it gets worse, much worse. On November 7, a New York Times front page story detailed how the Coalition’s ground campaign was launched by seizing Fallujah's only hospital: “Patients and hospital employees were rushed out of the rooms by armed soldiers and ordered to sit or lie on the floor while troops tied their hands behind their backs.” The story also revealed the motive for attacking the hospital: “The offensive also shut down what officers said was a propaganda weapon for the militants: Fallujah General Hospital with its stream of reports of civilian casualties”. The city's two medical clinics were also bombed and destroyed.

In his excerpt, Molan also clearly views any non Coalition approved reporting of civilian deaths as propaganda. His contempt is thinly veiled: “Within an hour of the strike, some Arab network would broadcast pictures of the scene and assessments by so-called spokesmen in the local hospital, listing the number of women and children who had been "slaughtered by the crusaders".


Independent American journalist Dahr Jamail interviewed scores of Fallujah survivors after the assault. He documented eye witness accounts of US troops denying the Red Cross entry to Fallujah to deliver medical aid, and firing on ambulances trying to enter the city.

You don’t need a degree in international law to know that attacking a hospital and denying medical treatment is beyond any reasonable bounds of war. The fourth Geneva Convention strictly forbids attacks on hospitals, medical emergency vehicles and any impeding of medical operations.

Molan’s account also neglects to mention the now irrefutable evidence that chemical weapons, specifically white phosphorous, were used under his command on Fallujah. Irrefutable because US Colonel Barry Venable admitted it to the UK’s Independent newspaper a year later. “Yes, it was used as an incendiary weapon against enemy combatants”. US soldiers had written in a military journal (PDF 1.13MB) that white phosphorous (wp) was such “an effective and versatile munition” that commanders “saved our WP for lethal missions”.

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About the Author

Christopher Doran is a Postdoctoral Research Associate in Political Economy at Macquarie University.

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