Tue, Nov 16, 2004 - Page 9 News List

Insurrection will not end in Fallujah

It now appears the besieged Iraqi city may be a turning point - but of a kind that London and Washington had not anticipated

By Peter Deaumont  /  THE OBSERVER , LONDON

ILLUSTRATION: MOUNTAIN PEOPLE

Their story is the hardest to tell: that of the Iraqi civilians who have remained in the besieged city of Fallujah. They have no embedded Western journalists to speak for them, only a few Iraqi correspondents. They cannot leave their homes because of the risk of constant sniper fire. They have no water to drink, no electricity. If they are injured, they have nowhere to go.

Suddenly, the bitter urban war that many feared would greet the advancing coalition troops during their invasion in March last year and which failed to materialize has become a reality in Fallujah and is threatening elsewhere.

With it has come the awful realities for civilians.

"Anyone who gets injured is likely to die, because there's no medicine and they can't get to doctors," said Abdul-Hameed Salim, a volunteer with the Iraqi Red Crescent. "There are snipers everywhere. Go outside and you're going to get shot."

Rasoul Ibrahim, who fled Fallujah on foot with his wife and three children last Thursday morning, said families left in the city were in desperate need. Doctors at Fallujah's hospital said there had been an increase in typhoid cases.

"There's no water. People are drinking dirty water. Children are dying," Ibrahim told aid workers in Habbaniya, a makeshift refugee camp 20km to the west of Fallujah where about 2,000 families are sheltering.

"People are eating flour because there's no proper food," he said.

The picture is at best patchy. In the battle for Fallujah the fate of those who have remained, perhaps between 30,000 and 50,000 in a city whose population is normally 250,000, remains largely unknown.

And for a reason. One of the first actions of US troops in the hours before the full-scale assault on the city from the north was to seize its general hospital to prevent what one US officer described as "insurgent propaganda" over casualty figures.

So the condition of those who have stayed has come out in dribs and drabs: a nine-year old boy who died of a wound caused by shrapnel to the stomach because he could not reach medical aid; the claim by Mohammed Amer, a doctor at a Fallujah clinic, that 12 people had died in the opening assault; and the statements of the aid agencies.

On Friday, an Iraqi journalist leaving the city gave one of the few insights into civilian conditions. Those who have not fled, he said, had stayed indoors for fear of constant explosions.

"If the fighters fire a mortar, US forces respond with huge force," said the journalist, who asked not to be named.

There was heavy damage to houses. US forces were destroying every car they saw for fear of car bombs, he said.

The city had been without power or water for days. Frozen food had spoiled and people could not charge their cellphones. The journalist said US forces controlled the northern half of the city, but insurgents were still fighting in the central Wahda and southerly Shuhada and Sinai districts.

"Some people hadn't prepared well. They didn't stock up on tinned food. They didn't think it would be this bad," he said.

On Saturday a four-truck Red Crescent convoy of relief supplies was finally given permission to enter the city. The trucks were carrying food, blankets, first-aid kits, medicine and a water purification unit.

There is another group whose names and histories remain obscured amid the statements by senior US officers and the Pentagon that they have killed hundreds of insurgents. They are the US soldiers who have been arriving in their plane-loads to the US military hospital at Landstuhl in Germany, the biggest in Europe. They are the wounded who cannot be treated in the Iraq theater -- suffering from spinal and neurological injuries

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