David Enders / Mother Jones – 2005-08-02 00:07:27
(July 287, 2005) — Eight months after the second invasion of Falluja, there is hardly a street that does not still feature a building pulverized during the assault. I had not been in the city since last July, when I was escorted out by three cars of mujahedeen — that’s when things were still relatively nice — and though I had expected it, the destruction was still shocking.
The dome of one mosque I had previously used as a landmark was completely missing, large holes had been blown in others. Houses have been pancaked, it is hard to find a facade without the mark of at least small arms fire. As many as 80 percent of the city’s 300,000-plus residents have returned, but the city has by no means returned to normal.
On Sunday, the police were hard at work adding razor wire and new concrete blast barriers to the already sprawling fortifications around their main station in the center of town while US and Iraqi army patrols traversed the main street, the Iraqis firing their rifles in the air to clear traffic.
Small arms chattered in the distance, followed by a response from a larger gun. The tension is palpable. Curfew begins at 10 p.m. but low-level fighting continues.
“They are killing one or two of us everyday,” says an Iraqi soldier at one of the checkpoints into the city, a claim confirmed by local doctors.
I have heard Iraqis make comparisons between their occupation and the Israeli occupation of Palestine, but it wasn’t until I saw families walking through the kilometer-long checkpoint, from a parking lot outside Falluja to one on the other side, that it seemed apt. Once inside, seeing the life continuing amidst the rubble, it was harder still to ignore the physical similarities.
A child jumps into the Euphrates from a one-lane bridge, the same bridge from which angry residents hung the charred and beaten bodies of four American contractors in March 2004, the same bridge that connects the center of town to Falluja General hospital, the first objective taken by the Marines in November’s invasion.
Doctors Ahmed and Salam, who agreed to be interviewed on the condition that their names be changed, lamented the condition of the city and its people. In the last week, they have received three civilian casualties of US fire, and say that this week has been below average — normally, says Ahmed, they see one or two dead civilians every day, and that hundreds have been killed by coalition forces since the city was taken over by the US.
“Just yesterday a middle-aged lady was brought here by coalition forces — she was killed by a single shot to the head,” Ahmed says. “The coalition forces came to the hospital and took her name and all her information.”
“The people of Falluja feel depressed because they can’t move freely from place to place, because the coalition forces and the Iraqi national guard make new checkpoints every day, make new obstacles,” says Salam. “They cannot move freely at night. There are medical cases at night that result in casualties because they cannot reach us.”
At Al-Furqan Mosque, one of the city’s moderate places of worship, some of the men stay after the prayers to discuss the situation. Even more than the US military, they feel the new, government, dominated by conservative Shiite parties, has laid siege to their city.
“They use their weapons to clear traffic,” says Imam Abdul Majid. Some of the men cry during his sermon, when he asks god to save Falluja and Iraq. “We can say the Americans are better than them. Let me speak frankly — the new government has failed.” They complain of continued raids and arrests, missing persons, harassment, he says. “Before we were oppressed by invaders. Now it’s getting worse.”
“Shops are broken into at night,” one of the men says. “Tell me, if there is a curfew and the army and the police control the streets, who is breaking into our shops?”
The men are afraid of the Iranian influence on the new government, the government that has failed to continue sending aid, something which US-appointed prime minister Ayad Allawi’s government, despite supporting November’s invasion, did do.
Back at the hospital, Ahmed says he expects the fighting to continue. “Even civilian people will change to be fighters,” he says. “We regard Falluja as a large prison.” (People in Falluja will not talk directly about fighting, though all indications are that the new attacks are homegrown.)
The Iraqi army in Falluja, who don’t mind telling a journalist that they are all from cities in the south, don’t seem particularly thrilled to be here. (When the US tried recruiting Fallujis to fight in Falluja, they turned their guns on the US or turned them over to the guerillas.)
“Falluja — death,” says one of them, drawing a finger across his throat, a motion that I would like to go one day in Iraq without seeing someone make.
Most of the reconstruction that has taken place since the fighting has been the often partial rebuilding of houses. Iyad Allawi’s government sent 20 percent of the promised compensation.
“It costs in Iraq right now at least 50 million dinars to build a house,” Salam said. “What is someone supposed to do if he only gets three million dinars? And these people, they have had to spend time out of their houses, and there is not a single family in Falluja that does not have someone killed.”
I approach some of the Marines on a base inside the city, to try and find out what life is like for them. They say there is no one at the base who can speak on the record, but I pause for a minute and chat, not terribly excited about walking back outside into the thick dust and, potentially, a line of fire. They ask why I have come, I am the first journalist they have seen in four months.
“No one wants to talk about Falluja,” says one of the Marines.
David Enders is a freelance journalist who has been working in Iraq for most of the last two years. His first book, Baghdad Bulletin, is available from University of Michigan Press.
Copyright © 2005 The Foundation for National Progress
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