Tue, Apr 13, 2004 - Page 7 News List

Fallujah refugees complain of US military treatment

ARROGANCE Many of those who have escaped the dangerous Iraqi city during a ceasefire say that their support for the US military waned in the face of insensitivity

THE GUARDIAN , BAGHDAD

Umm Samir sits in a Baghdad garden in the shade of two palm trees, worrying about the sons and grandchildren she left behind in Fallujah.

On a balmy spring evening, with the smell of freshly mown grass around her, her present refuge with relatives seems a world away from the nightmare city she left.

"It was the bombing, the constant bombing, and the children being so afraid, and the journey across the open desert to escape," she said when asked what was the worst thing about the week under siege.

Hundreds of families have driven out of Fallujah over the last two days, taking advantage of the ceasefire the Americans offered.

Families in Baghdad have provided food and money at mosques to help them, and many have taken refugees in.

The stories they tell have a theme: how the Americans used to be good when they first arrived in Fallujah, how arrogance and insensitivity gradually alienated people, and how now, under the pressure of so many deaths, almost everyone supports the resistance, the mujahidin.

Brigadier-General Mark Kimmitt, the US army spokesman, talked Sunday about getting Fallujah "back under Iraqi control," as though it was in foreign hands.

He accused the insurgents of using the population as "human shields." But, as the refugees tell it, the resistance is home-grown and mushrooming all the time.

"The mujahidin are our sons. I would become a mujahid myself. I can't bear to see Fallujah being bombed and do nothing about it. Even my older sister wants to join them," said Umm Samir, who is 62.

She is proud that her four sons all have college degrees -- a doctor, a road engineer, an agronomist and a psychologist.

"After the war we were very happy they had removed Saddam Hussein from power.

"Then they started to behave disrespectfully. Armored cars drove on the pavement. They began treating Iraqis as though we were beneath their feet. My doctor son was studying in the Czech republic and came back via Syria two months ago. There were about 20 US checkpoints on the road. They flung his papers around and when he said he was a doctor and should not be shouted at, they just swore," she said.

Ali, 28, the psychologist, explains how part of the family escaped Fallujah, crammed into two cars with his parents, his two sisters-in-law, their young children and a niece. They planned to join a convoy crossing a bridge on a back road controlled by the US Marines on Friday. Neither Ali nor his married brothers came because the troops were not allowing men of military age to leave.

"There was a terrible incident. One man in an Opel drove his wife and children to the bridge so they could walk over. As he drove back to town, an American sniper killed him," he said.

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