Fallujah: An Unnatural Disaster E-mail this
Joe Carr, Electronic Iraq, 30 May 2005
Today, I did what few internationals have dared to do, I went to Fallujah.
Fallujah is completely surrounded by US Forces, the only way in or out is through one of four very restrictive checkpoints. People normally have to wait hours, but since we had our magic US passports, we made it through in about 45 minutes. We did not observe them searching any cars, soldiers just held-up traffic and slowly checked IDs. Like Palestine, these checkpoints seem to have little to do with security and more to do with harassment and intimidation.
Fallujah is devastating to drive through. There is more destruction and rubble than I've ever seen in my life; even more than in Rafah, Gaza. The US has leveled entire neighborhoods, and about every third building is destroyed or damaged from US artillery. Rubble and bullet holes are everywhere, the city is indescribably ravaged. It looks like it's been hit by a series of tornados; it's hard to believe that humans could actually do this. I have a new understanding of the destructive potential of modern warfare. See more destruction pictures.
US troops, Iraqi military, and Iraqi police have an overwhelming presence in the city. I've never seen such dirty looks directed at the passing forces; I guess in most places people get used to the occupier, but in Fallujah, the hate is still very alive. 16,000 Fallujan police lost their jobs after the US attacks and were replaced by Shiite from the South. The US intentionally sends Shiite to patrol Sunni strongholds to breed resentment and abuse, and it works. Soldiers shoot anyone who drives too close to their convoys, which makes driving anywhere in this small city incredibly dangerous. It is very easy to accidentally turn a corner and find yourself in the midst of a convoy. The hospital said that around 1-2 people a week die from the indiscriminate fire of US and Shiite occupation forces.
There are horror stories everywhere. We visited a family's home in a neighborhood where every structure is damaged or destroyed. Their home was full of holes and completely black inside from fire. They said that they'd left during the fighting with their home in tact, and returned to find all of their possessions had burned. Three families are now living in this 3-room house because their homes were completely destroyed. Over 25 people live in this burn-out shell of a home, including four infants. Some of them tried to get compensation from the US military but were denied.
There is the hopeful site of rebuilding. Around 25% of families who suffered damaged property have gotten a little bit of compensation from the US military, however it usually covers less than half of the cost for building materials for a new home. Particularly because the compensation rates are based on the price of building materials before the attacks, and now supplies cost nearly double because of the restrictive checkpoints.
Food prices have also dramatically increased because of the checkpoints. We talked with one shop-keeper who said that farmers from around Fallujah can no longer deliver their produce unless they have a US-issued Fallujah ID. The shopkeepers now have to go out and pick up the produce each day. He said it takes him around four hours because of the checkpoint delays. "They mistreat us," he said, "they point guns at us and insult us, even the women". He said that both US and Iraqi troops search through the vegetables roughly, even dumping them on the ground and sometimes smashing them. As soon as he's finished with one checkpoint and cleaned up the mess, another will ransack his load all over again. This can happen as many as four times he said. Sometimes, much of the produce rots from sitting in the hot sun. For all these reasons, the prices have gone up and more Fallujans are going hungry.
Fallujah has only one hospital with inpatient care. Other clinics and treatment centers were bombed by US troops, and soldiers prevented many people from getting to the hospital during the attacks. Even after the fighting, the US kept the bridges closed which caused several people to die of heart attacks when they couldn't get to the hospital fast enough. People from the rural areas surrounding Fallujah are also now dying of treatable illnesses because they can't get through the checkpoints to the Fallujah hospital. One hospital employee said that many patients die when they try to transfer them to hospitals outside Fallujah. "It's better to take them in a civilian car than in an ambulance" he said, "because the troops delay and search ambulances more." During the first attack, the hospital became a main source of information for the outside world. So when the US attacked the second time, they took over the hospital area first and controlled what information got out.
Meeting a Sunni cleric was the highlight of the trip. He was a young, passionate man and a quite eloquent speaker. He told us about some horror stories he'd witnessed. During the first invasion, several families near his Mosque took cover in a home. US troops used megaphones to order all them out into the street and told them to carry a white flag. They did this, but when they all got out, the soldiers opened fire into the group, killing five. He said one boy had run to his mother who'd been shot, and Americans shot him in the head. He said he saw a US commander cry as this happened, "but what good were his tears?" he asked, "he didn't do anything to stop it."
While meeting with the cleric, a man told us some of his horror stories. "The Americans shot and killed my 15-year-old daughter" he said, "was she a terrorist?" He said the US military denied killing her and refused to give him even minimal compensation. The US gave him only half the compensation for his house that they destroyed. "With all respect to you," he said, "I hate Americans, they killed my family. My children cannot play in the street, they shot and killed my sister-in-law while she was washing clothes, and my other brother's hands and feet were blown off." He apologized for interrupting, but said that he had to tell us because he's in so much pain.
I felt incredibly safe in Fallujah; the people I spoke with were kind and gentle. They are rightfully angry and indignant at what the US has done to them, but they seemed to understand that it wasn't me or all American's that did it. The cleric said, "We are grateful that you come here and share in our suffering and agony, it shows that there are good and human Americans."
Fallujah is the face of US occupation. It shows how ruthless the US will be toward anyone who dares resist its agenda. But Fallujah has not stopped resisting. It is said that "you can't bomb a resistance out of existence, but you can bomb one into it." The unnatural disaster the US has unleashed on the Middle East is horrifying, and we all must resist it.