Iraq: The Falluja Trap

April 20th, 2004 - by admin

Sara Daniel / Le Nouvel Observateur Hebdomadaire – 2004-04-20 09:54:11

(Week of 15 April 2004) — The guerilla craze feeds everywhere on the images of the dead and wounded of the day before. In spite of the relentless battles, the Marines have not finished off a guerilla action in which Islamists, Saddam partisans, and foreign fighters rub shoulders with one another.

Exhausted and haggard, Dr. Ibrahim crosses the antechamber of the Abou Hanifa mosque in Baghdad, where he has come to get blood and medicine. At twenty-eight, this young doctor is one of the most brilliant surgeons of his generation. In the big over-crowded room where the faithful hurry to bring their gifts, one sees him alone; his smoldering gaze and his drawn features. He comes from Falluja. He will go back there tonight. For a week, he will call us every three hours to give an account of what is happening in his native city. His voice is monotonous; his English, perfect. A story without adjectives. The minutes of a massacre.

In Falluja, a phantom city where American snipers are posted on the rooftops of every block of houses, the inhabitants are prisoners in their own homes. It’s impossible to go out. Those who have tried it are still lying on the sidewalks.

Last Sunday, during the “cease-fire”, the doctor tells us that he tried to collect more than ten corpses struck with a bullet in the head or the heart; new dead who just added themselves to the ones already rotting on the sidewalks and house porches. “There was this old man struck down in his garden and this woman at the door who begged me to take care of her husband’s body. It had been lying there for two days in front of her.”

The Stadium becomes a Cemetary
The dead are buried in the city stadium, which had been requisitioned for that purpose, one on top of the other, given the absence of any room. “The day before yesterday, I saw a car that had been hit by an Apache helicopter missile. On the inside were four carbonized bodies, on the hood, the body of a little 5-year-old girl. I couldn’t even take them with me. When we got close to the car, our ambulance driver was hit in the shoulder.”

Far from the neighborhoods where the guerillas are raging, a family of twelve was pulverized by a bomb. “It took me the whole morning to get the bodies together,” the doctor sighs, as his voice breaks.

He took photos of every pile of viscera “so that people know what happened here.” “Here’s what the ground in Falluja is strewn with,” he resumes, holding up a piece of shrapnel recovered from the body of one of his ambulance drivers, “shells that explode in all directions at a person’s height before they hit their target. Illegal weapons that kill civilians.”

Illegal Weapons Used against Civilian Population
According to the young surgeon, who has done the rounds of the city’s hospitals, Falluja counts more than 600 dead, 1224 wounded, including 153 women, 58 children under five years old and 83 young people five to fifteen years old, without counting the dead buried in their own gardens or being kept at home.

Dr. Ibrahim was not set on becoming a doctor. “I would have preferred design or architecture.” His academic results and the insistence of his father, a professor of literature, brought him to become a surgeon.

During the last war, he spent 55 days shut up in the Medical City Hospital. “The scenes I have just seen in Falluja bring back the worst moments I experienced then. And then, conditions were better. We never had to operate assembly line fashion as we do now without disinfectants or analgesics in dirty operating rooms where bits of corpses pile up.”

Right after the war, he and a few colleagues administered the Health Ministry, distributed salaries to Baghdad’s thousands of doctors, were diligent in their inquiries over uranium-contaminated areas, tried to relocate the Arabs hounded out by the Kurds in the north. Then exiles returned to the country to take over the ministerial positions: “They sent me home with a medal!”

A Doctor Questions the Need to Stay and Fight the ‘Invader’
The brilliant doctor has just obtained a scholarship to study for a doctorate in London. However, he hesitates. Must he, like all his young colleagues with any ambition, leave the country and abandon his own? Or should he rejoin his tribe in Falluja in the struggle against the “invader”?

His parents push him to leave, but the Falluja cadavers haunt him. There was the death of his cousin, killed by American soldiers. And the injustices of an occupation army that became more and more brutal as the “resistance” intensified: “The armed struggle in Iraq needs a political party, a little like Sinn Fein in Ireland. I’d like to contribute to its creation.’

In several Baghdad neighborhoods, such as Al-Adhamia or Al-Khazalia, street battles have been raging for a week. It’s impossible to go to the doctor’s home today. Five American tanks have cut off the road that leads there. Close to the army roadblock, gunfire breaks out; mortar fire. And young mudjahadeen armed with grenade launchers escape in their cars. Meanwhile, resigned drivers quietly turn around…

The Resistance in Khazalia
In Khazalia, an Abrams tank burns. The “resistance” blew up a bridge that fell on top of it in order to destroy this impregnable war machine that deflects shell fire. The soldiers had to wait until morning to help out their wounded comrades inside the wreck. Last night, the Americans machine-gunned the doctor’s neighborhood after an armored vehicle was hit by the “resistance.” His old neighbor was killed.

Everywhere, guerilla rage feeds off tales from the refugees and the wounded who stream into Baghdad. Mohammed Numuvavy, 12 years old, who lost a leg when his house in Falluja’s Al-Jawlan neighborhood was hit by a fragmentation bomb, lies in Al-Adhamia Hospital.

Tomorrow, his other, gangrenous, leg will have to be amputated. Mohammed does not yet know whether the other 24 members of his family who lived with him in Falluja have all been killed.

Asla, 54 years old, had to flee with her daughter, Intesar, and her one-and-a-half-year-old grandson, Houda, when her house in the Askari neighborhood was bombarded by a tank. She was hit by a sniper as she ran through the alley along her house. In the garden of the Abou Hanifa, two children are being buried. They were killed as their families attempted to flee the city.

In Falluja, Dr. Ibrahim was present for part of the negotiations that led to the cease-fire. He’s not very optimistic: “There was lots of shouting, disputes. Many of the fighters were not in favor of the truce. They thought that the Americans would use it to build up strength and that it would weaken the “resistors'” determination.

The Iraqi Islamic Party, represented in the Government Council, took the initiative for the negotiation. A member of this party’s political office, Dr. Ala, who drew up his will before he went to Falluja to parley with the insurgents, acknowledges that his convoy was attacked by the guerilla. He asserts that he also saw a great many destroyed American tanks and American dead. “I clearly realized that the Americans are minimizing their losses.”

‘Take Care Lest All of Iraq become Fallujah’
However, the important Falluja Sheiks could not guarantee that the truce would be respected. According to Dr. Ala, they only control 60 to 80% of the resistance. “When we reported that to Paul Bremer, he told us that his forces would retaliate massively if they were attacked. We warned him. Of course they have the means to crush Falluja and its 300,000 inhabitants. But if they make a mistake here, then all of Iraq will become like Falluja.”

According to Dr. Ibrahim, the city’s siege has unified the resistance movement: “All the tiny little groups who were doing their own thing in a corner have combined. Today, I can assure you, the resistance has a head, a structure; like a real army…” And, to hear him tell it, former Fedayeen from Saddam’s army, who represent less than 10% of the fighters, have been working hand in hand with the fundamentalists.

Recently, the young surgeon, in spite of the disapproval of his rather liberal leaning family, has joined this rigorous religious group, which, according to him, represents 60% of Falluja’s population.

An enlightened Wahabism more focused on struggle than on strict obedience to a too-restrictive code. “We’re educated people; lawyers, doctors, and intellectuals; we shake hands with women and aren’t obsessed by the length of our dishdashas,” explains the young man, who wears only the suspicion of a beard, “but we must, all the same, defend Islam, which they want to obliterate…”

There are also numerous “foreign fighters” in the city. “We’ve had them come from just about everywhere because they’re specialists in urban guerilla warfare,” explains the doctor, who shrugs his shoulders and laughs when Al-Qaeda – which no one had ever heard of here before the Americans invaded the country — is mentioned.

Understanding the Desecration of the Blackwater Mercenaries
How does he explain the savagery of the murders of four American security agents that preceded the siege of the city? “It was a barbarous act. But you have to understand. Every resident of Falluja has had someone close executed or arrested by the Americans. We’re at war and these armed men were not civilians.

“Our fedayeen killed them and nobody came for their bodies. So then some simple-minded kids with nothing better to do butchered the bodies. It’s horrible. But it’s also horrible to see that as far as the Americans are concerned the deaths of four security agents demand that the blood of hundreds of women and children be spilled. As though their lives were worth more than ours. You will acknowledge that the equation is obscene.”

Dr. Ibrahim hates Saddam, whom he considers responsible for the chaos that now engulfs his country. He’s exasperated to see that Falluja’s residents are presented as the dictator’s standard bearers. According to him, if Falluja has become the epicenter of the resistance, it’s because of the inhabitants’ character: “We are proud and tough; it’s true — a little like the Spartans in Greece.”

In spite of the images of these jagged corpses that unceasingly proceed before his eyes, in spite of the tears of his mother, who says a final goodbye every time he leaves again for the cursed city, the young surgeon is happy to finally see a united Iraq: “Today, my country from south to north is determined to fight those who have come to ‘liberate’ us by killing our women and our children. The Americans will win the battle, but by besieging Falluja, they have lost the war.”

Translation: Truthout French language correspondent Leslie Thatcher.