'BUSH USES WHITE PHOSPHORUS - CHEMICAL WEAPONS OF MASS DESTRUCTION AGAINST LIVE TARGETS IN FALLUJA - 4 APR 2004'
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UNEASY TRUCE IN THE CITY OF GHOSTS
Rory McCarthy talks to survivors of the US forces' assault on Falluja, the bloodiest battle of the uprising, which doctors say killed up to 600 Iraqis
April 24, 2004
By the time Menem Latif Hussain returned to his house early in the afternoon on the third day of the battle for Falluja there was little he could do. In the driveway by the front gate lay the body of his son Wisam, 16.
The boy had suffered one injury, caused by a blow so powerful that the back of his skull had been torn away. It killed him instantly.
"He had been standing by the gate looking out. There had been bombing nearby. I don't know whether it was a shell or a sniper that hit him," said Mr Hussain.
"I gave my thanks to God, for he was a martyr. And then we buried him in the cemetery."
When they returned to the house later that afternoon they found Wisam's cousin Thair Ahmed, 18, was also missing. He had left that morning to cross town to check on his fiancee's family. Hours later the family retrieved the young man's body from where it lay in the street. He had been hit once, by a sniper's bullet through the heart, and he too died where he fell. By then it was too dangerous to reach the cemetery.
"We buried him in a patch of dirt ground. There was no choice. Later we will take out his body and bury him properly," said Mr Hussain, 41.
They were not the only deaths he saw that week. From his driveway he saw a girl aged 18 standing at the gate of a house opposite shot dead by a sniper's bullet. Her brother-in-law rushed to help her, and he too was shot dead, Mr Hussain said.
At another time a house at the end of his street suffered a direct hit from a powerful bomb. "We ran to the house because they were my friends. In the garden I saw three men had been sitting on a bench. They were all dead, they had been cut in half by the bomb. My wife went crazy," he said.
A few days later, Mr Hussain fled Falluja with his wife and four surviving children and dozens of other families. They now live under canvas in an Iraqi Red Crescent camp in al-Khadra, western Baghdad.
"We are peaceful people and they came and bombed us," Mr Hussain said yesterday. "From the start of the war it was just like hell. Why did they come and kill our sons?"
For the past three weeks, around 2,000 troops from the US 1st Marine Expeditionary Force, supported by jet fighters and attack helicopters, have carried out the most ferocious urban street fighting in Iraq since the start of the war last year.
The battle has taken a horrific toll. Doctors in Falluja say up to 600 people have died. The US military says more than 100 of its troops have been killed in combat in Iraq since April 1, many in the battle for Falluja. More American soldiers have died in Iraq this month than in the war against Saddam Hussein a year ago.
Inside Falluja, a city of 300,000, the marines prevented access to the city's only hospital for more than two weeks. Dozens of houses were destroyed, mosques were bombed and clerics turned a football ground beside the Euphrates into a crude cemetery.
Three weeks on, it is still almost impossible to get an independent account of the fighting. Access to the city is severely restricted: the marines still hold a cordon around Falluja, and much of the city and many surrounding villages are crawling with Iraqi resistance fighters.
But in interviews with the Guardian in Baghdad, more than a dozen civilians, doctors, clerics and politicians have begun to piece together the US military's bloodiest battle in Iraq.
On the day that Wisam and Thair died, a US general in Baghdad said the aim of the new combat in Falluja, codenamed Operation Vigilant Resolve, was to "take the fight to the enemy".
The previous week four American contractors working for the Blackwater security firm were killed and mutilated in the high street, the gruesome culmination of a year-long guerrilla war against the US military in the Sunni areas west and north of Baghdad. Commanders promised an "overwhelming" response.
It began in secret on the night of Sunday April 4 when the marines surrounded Falluja and moved into the industrial area on the eastern edge of the city. Troops set up command centres in factories and sent out snipers. On the Monday morning, before he left for his brick factory in the industrial area, Tariq Zaidan, 48, had a call from the office. US troops had raided the building, arrested three of his security guards and seized his office.
"On the Sunday night we had heard the sounds of helicopters and tanks and we knew something big was happening but we didn't expect them to seize the city," he said.
He spent the day at home waiting. "It was quiet and then at 9pm the Americans tried to get inside the city. Every neighbourhood started fighting against the Americans to defeat them." Helicopters and fighter jets could be heard overhead across the city.
"Four houses in my block were destroyed. The house behind mine was hit with two rockets," said Mr Zaidan, who later fled with his family to Baghdad. "We didn't go out, but from my gate I could see fighters carrying their weapons in the street and fighting the Americans. I saw them being killed and I saw their bodies in the street."
On the Thursday marines called in an F-16 air strike on a community centre next to the Abdul Aziz al-Samarrai mosque, in the centre of city. Residents said up to 40 people were killed and the troops then spent another six hours fighting a gun battle at the site. Doctors said the Iraqi death toll in the first three or four days had climbed above 300.
Doctors in the city said most of the dead were civilians, among them women and children. US commanders have refused to accept this, continuing to insist their targeting is precise.
"What I think you will find is 95% of those were military age males that were killed in the fighting," Lieutenant Colonel Brennan Byrne, of the US marines, said during the fighting. "The marines are trained to be precise in their firepower."
As the fighting intensified, so aid convoys carrying medical supplies and food from Baghdad began to arrive. On the Thursday several doctors from the capital were also brought in along with four ambulances. Among them was a surgeon, aged 30, who spent five days treating the injured.
CITY OF GHOSTS
"I wanted to cry. It looked like a city of ghosts," said the doctor, who was too frightened of the resistance fighters to give his name. "You didn't see any cars, you didn't see anything except the mojahedin.
"We had a clinic with two operating rooms. It was the worst place in Iraq to deal with a patient," he said in his hospital in Baghdad. "There were many civilians, there were women. I saw one woman who was pregnant and there was shrapnel in her abdomen from a shell. Her baby died."
The city's main hospital, on the western bank of the Euphrates, was closed by the marines. Ibrahim Younis, the Iraq emergency coordinator for Médecins sans Frontières, said that meant many wounded had died because of inadequate healthcare.
"The Americans put a sniper position on top of the hospital's water tower and had troops in the single-storey building," said Mr Younis, who visited Falluja during the fighting two weeks ago. "The hospital had four operating theatres, which could no longer be used. If they had been working, it would have saved many lives."
He said MSF wanted an independent inquiry to determine why the US military used the hospital as a military position - a violation of the Geneva convention.
Most of those in Falluja during the fighting described the mojahedin in heroic terms. Some of the gunmen are led by clerics and are fighting as Islamists not, as the US military continues to insist, because they are former Ba'athists or foreign terrorists. Others are fighting on the basis of a tribal code or a desire to avenge the deaths of other Iraqis at the hands of US troops.
a handful, the young doctor included, were prepared to criticise the guerrilla
fighters. "The mojahedin are brave and fear nothing," he said.
"But is it wise to do all these things? Who is responsible for those
who died: the Americans for sure, but the mojahedin too."
"There are a lot of people who don't want the mojahedin to fight because they have been forced out of their houses and their jobs," said Sabah Noori al-Jumaili, 49, a retired architect, who fled Falluja after the first week. "But it is the fault of the Americans: it is people's right to fight against occupation."
Mr al-Jumaili was jailed under Saddam as a political prisoner for supporting an Arab nationalist party. He welcomed the fall of Saddam, but like many educated professionals in the Sunni community he has seen little reward from the occupation that followed.
"We fought for this country. Is this what we are fighting for?" he said. His family is now living in a former air raid shelter in Amariya, in western Baghdad, waiting for the chance to return to Falluja.
Five days after the fighting began, US troops called a "unilateral suspension of offensive operations". A delegation of politicians from the Iraqi Islamic party (IIP), a Sunni group on the governing council, entered Falluja for talks and carloads of families began to pour out of the city along little used country back roads.
A much-violated ceasefire has held for two weeks as negotiations continue. Not all the negotiators are confident that the battle has forestalled more guerrilla resistance.
"Using force in the way they used it in Falluja made people fight," said Hajim al-Hassani, a senior member of the IIP. "It isn't like these people were terrorists. They were normal people and they had children who were dying and so everybody started to fight."
Yesterday 20 Iraqi civilians began to dig through the rubble of houses looking for bodies buried by the bombing. But US commanders are still warning that resistance fighters have "days not weeks" to give up their heavy weapons or face a renewed onslaught from the marines still encircling Falluja.
KEY DATES IN THE FIGHT FOR FALLUJA
· March 31 Four American contractors working for Blackwater security company killed and mutilated in the centre of Falluja
· April 1 Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt, deputy director of operations for the US military in Iraq, promises an "overwhelming" response. "We will pacify that city," he said
· April 4 Operation Vigilant Resolve begins as around 2,000 troops from the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force begin encircling Falluja at night
· April 8 US army F-16 fighter jet drops a bomb on the Abdul Aziz al-Samarrai mosque, killing up to 40 Iraqis
· April 9 US military announces a "unilateral suspension of offensive operations"
· April 19 US military officials and Fallujan leaders agree to work for a ceasefire in which guerrilla fighters will give up their heavy weapons. US agrees to allow access to Falluja's hospital for the first time
April 22 US marine Lieutenant General James Conway says guerrillas have
"days not weeks" to give up their weapons
'The war is over, but there is no peace ... and the killings go on'
The Iraqi journalist Abbas Ahmed Ibrahim tells of the horror and hardship in a first-hand account from the devastated city of Fallujah
20 November 2004
This is a strange time in Fallujah. They say the war is over, but there is no peace. Every day there is shooting, and there are still killings going on. There is very little left of the town now, everywhere there are buildings which have been destroyed.
There is also a terrible smell. We know what it is - it is the smell of dead bodies. Many have now been cleared away, but the smell does not go away, it will stay with us for a long time. The Americans say they are just finishing off the insurgents, but then they have been saying that for a few days now, so people here ask "who have they got left to finish off?" We hear of things like American soldiers killing wounded prisoners in a mosque, but that news is recycled to us from people outside. It is not possible to go out and find out what is going on.
I am not staying in Fallujah out of choice. But I am afraid to try to leave. I am 36 years old, The American troops have been arresting any males between the ages of 15 and 45 who have attempted to leave. They say civilians were told to get out of Fall- ujah, so any man who stayed behind must be in the mujahedin.
There are Iraqi men, with their faces hidden by scarves, with the American troops. These are the informers. If they point you out as an insurgent then there is no chance of proving that you are innocent. There are people who are settling personal or tribal grudges like this. You do not know who will denounce you.
The reason I stayed behind is the same as many of the other remaining men here, to protect my house. My wife and parents begged me to go with them when I sent them away to Amiriyah, but I would not listen. I now realise what a mistake that was. I am staying with relations, and my house has probably been destroyed. The Americans were shooting everywhere, from the air and the ground, when they came into the town. The house I am staying in was hit by machine-gun fire. Those days and nights were very frightening. Their shells and bombs would make everything shake, and it seemed to go on day and night. That has stopped now. But there is also a lot of damage being caused when they carry out searches of houses. There are very few of us - civilians - left inside Fallujah now, I do not know how many because people do not go out. We are staying in little groups, not really going out much beyond our streets, because it is still very dangerous. I do not know if my cousin's family are all right, although, in a normal time, their home would only be 10 minutes' drive away. Most of the families here have someone who has been injured, arrested, and, sometimes, killed.
Things are very bad here, but then they have been bad for such a long time now that one forgets what normal life was like. There is no power or water, and very little food left, and there is simply no medicine left. People I know are very ill, mainly from bad water, but they are not getting treatment.
We were told that the Red Crescent and other aid organisations wanted to send food and medicine into the town, but it was stopped on the orders of Allawi (Iyad Allawi, Iraq's interim Prime Minister). This has made people even more angry. It makes them think he is taking the side of the Americans against his own people.
The Americans say that they have set up centres for distributing food and medicine. They also say that Fallujah hospital has now been open again for more than a week.
This is true in both cases. But the problem is that getting to them is very risky. You can get arrested by the Americans or you might get killed. Two women were shot trying to get food for their families. The Americans say the mujahedin shot them. Most people think it was the Americans themselves who did this. But I do not think that is the case. It probably was the mujahedin. But why is this happening if the Americans are in control of Fallujah?
I do not know what is going to happen to us over the next few days. I have news that my family is all right, so a big worry has been lifted. Maybe things will be safer when other civilians start coming back into Fallujah.
ON 18 NOV 2004 - ITALIAN TELEVISION BROADCAST FOOTAGE OF VICTIMS OF WHITE PHOSPHORUS - THE TESTING BY BUSH OF A CHEMICAL WEAPON OF MASS DESTRUCTION AGAINST CIVILIANS IN FALLUJA
NOTE - THIS FOOTAGE IS GRAPHIC AND DISTURBING
THE 4TH PIECE OF FOOTAGE IS AN INTERVIEW WITH A U.S. SOLDIER - JEFF ENGLEHART
THIS YOU-TUBE VIDEO WILL FURTHER HELP US TO INDICT BUSH
GLOBAL FUND FOR PEACE, JUSTICE AND DEVELOPMENT
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