What is going on in Fallujah, Iraq?
Reporters from around world wait in Baghdad for the road to open at the end of extensive military operations by U.S. military in Fallujah.
Fallujah is about 40 minutes from Baghdad. Though a short distance, we are unable to get to Fallujah to report on conditions there.
As is often the case, we spent days at a U.S. blockade, waiting to gain access to the town as volleys of artillery shells thundered around them.
From April 29 I made numerous attempts to gain access to Fallujah, but all failed.
Gaining access to Fallujah
May 1st was the one-year anniversary of President Bush's announcement of the end of hostilities in Iraq. On that day, I was finally given access to Fallujah. I was the first Korean reporter to set foot in the town. I didn't see the U.S. military fighting Iraqi resistance or terrorists, all that was clear was that a massacre by the U.S. military had taken place.
At 9:30 a.m., I passed the first checkpoint under the protection of U.S. forces. I took a taxi into the town accompanied by a Korean-speaking U.S. soldier.
What I saw was just the skeletal remains of the town. Almost every building had been razed by the army.
From between burnt-out vehicles and stones some ghost-like Fallujah citizens walked in pairs amid heaps of wreckage, talking among themselves. "Foreigners are all murderous terrorists," they said. A couple of them then approached me, the only Asian reporter there.
"In the name of Allah, where is democracy? Where in the name of Allah is the freedom the U.S. military was supposed to bring us? Be sure to tell people what is happening here."
Keeping my thoughts to myself, I made my way to the Julan district, where ongoing small-scale battles were underway.
Deserted streets, scattered animal carcasses, a ghost town
The Julan district was like a ghost town. Deserted streets, collapsed buildings, heaps of rubble and spent rifle and artillery casings were everywhere. Animal carcasses made of just skin and bones littered the streets.
On the first day of the U.S. military assault on Julan, electricity and water were cut. These places were where the Mujahadeen were living. It was there that I met them.
With only their eyes standing out from faces wrapped in coiled scarves, the Mujahadeen shouldered Kalashnikov rifles and rocket propelled grenades (RPGs). These resistance "terrorists" were of many different ages, from their mid-teens to over 60. From their demeanor it was possible to intuit that peace was not coming to Fallujah.
One of these anonymous Mujahadeen pointed out a house with a completely collapsed roof. "That's my home," he said.
"My home and the next were destroyed by an American bomb. My younger brother and nephew were both badly injured. They were sent to hospitals in Baghdad and Yamuk, but who knows, maybe the Americans sent them to Abu Gurab prison," he said.
As we walked around Julan, he told me about Abu Ayyub Al-Ansari Mosque.
There was no trace of its entrance. All the windows, columns and walls were riddled and scarred by bullets. While barefoot Muslims prayed on the floor of the mosque, the blood stains of what were described as "Islamic martyrs" were pointed out to me.
They were enraged by what they called an attack on "the House of Allah" by American military personnel. Inside were scattered and torn up copies of the Koran. They described what happened with fury in their voices.
"They came on Friday, when we were praying, and raided the House of Allah. They killed our brothers as they prayed. Why in the name of Allah would the American army do such a terrible thing to people as they prayed? Why did they kill them? What in the name of Allah is democracy? Do we look like terrorists to you? We're only trying to protect our city and our mosque."
To the last man and last drop of blood, these Mujahadeen would defend their city and mosque. I asked, "When you see the faced of dead family and friends, don't you wish for a suspension of hostilities and to reach a compromise with the U.S. military?"
They answered firmly.
"We did not obey Saddam Hussein. The United States does not love peace. It breaks all its truces. We cannot forgive the U.S. military for coming to our holy place on Friday and killing us as we prayed. You won't find one person in Fallujah who likes the U.S. soldiers. I want to stress that we aren't fighting for Saddam, we're fighting to protect our city and religion."
Soccer field becomes public cemetery
As they spoke, the sound of small arms and artillery fire could be heard. For the 40 minutes I was in Julan district, we heard six or seven shots from U.S. snipers.
Last April 30, the U.S. military said it would be withdrawing from Fallujah, but from what I could see at their base in the central hospital, they are staying put. U.S. snipers are positioned all around Julan district.
On that day, I heard that one Mujahadeen was severely injured by a sniper's bullet. That is why every time we heard the shot of a sniper's rifle, the Mujahadeen's faces hardened and they clasped their old Kalashnikovs.
As the sound of the shots got nearer, they indicated that it was getting dangerous. They used hand signals to say they could no longer stay and quickly made off.
For the past 25 days, U.S. snipers have killed so many people that it is difficult to tally the number. Both of Fallujah's public cemeteries are completely full, so citizens have begun burying their dead in a nearby soccer field.
The soccer field is a huge public cemetery. As I headed to the field, I saw an old pickup truck parked in front of a house. A person wearing a surgical mask got out of the vehicle and went inside.
An ambulance pulled up and some men went into the front garden. They said they were going to move a buried body from there to the public cemetery. Then one of the men grabbed my arm.
"OK, look at this carefully. And take pictures. Make a video recording and tell President Bush and the world about what is happening here!"
When I went inside the house, I was hit by the smell of death from all directions. I could barely see or breathe. Over in the corner of the garden was the body of the woman, covered by a blanket. The body was already so bloated that her relatives would have difficulty identifying her.
The smell of death from all directions
It was so horrible that I wanted to avert my eyes. But like the volunteer said, I must witness what is going on in Fallujah and tell the world about it.
"It was three weeks ago. This woman, together with her husband, tried to flee from Fallujah. Then an American fighter jet bombed their car. They both were killed."
"We didn't know what to do with their bodies, so we buried her here and the husband in the garden of the next house. We couldn't give them an appropriate funeral because we weren't sure if the jets would come back and kill us too."
For three weeks, this woman without a name or face was lying in the front garden. The couple's burnt out car was still in the road.
They would not give me the volunteer team leader's name. When I asked why, they replied, "Since the start of the blockade, our ambulance has been fired upon twice by U.S. troops... One volunteer has already been killed."
"The U.S. soldiers are dogs. They kill humanitarian workers. Even if they see a humanitarian team, or a doctor, they attack. It's like they're trying to get rid of us. Why do they do this?"
At Hadrah clinic, I found one doctor who complained of the same treatment. He made an appeal to the U.S. forces to let up on the shooting long enough for his clinic to receive the approximately 170 killed.
"I'll need about a week to get a grasp of the exact number," he said. "We are unable to bury the dead through all the shooting, so there are temporary graves all around."
At the soccer field turned cemetery, already 300 bodies are buried there.
The stadium walls are collapsing and there are burial mounds everywhere. The names of the dead are written in red paint on pieces of concrete stuck in the soil.
Beside the graves, volunteers dig long ditches, which separate the graves along with pieces of stone. They mark the minimum distance between the bodies, as there is a lack of space for all the corpses.
"Should we forgive the U.S. troops for killing our children?"
Fadel Abbas Khlaff, 30, has been volunteering as a gravedigger since the U.S. attack began five days ago. He said there was no doubt the ordnance is American.
He explained that since there was no more room left in the cemetery, they resorted to burying the fragmentary remains of numerous victims of the attacks in a single grave.
I saw so many Fallujah citizens at the soccer field turned cemetery. They were intently scanning the names painted on the pieces of concrete, looking for family members and friends.
When they did find a grave of a loved-one, they would begin to cry.
Ahmed Saud Muhasin Al-Isawi, 50, is one of them. "I just returned today after three weeks of being displaced from Fallujah. I'm looking for the graves of my two nephews, who are aged 10 and 18," he said.
"They just stayed at home. They never went outside. Even so, they're now just cold dead bodies," he lamented.
But his anguish doesn't end there. He's learned that a woman relative has been killed and they cannot find her body. Worse still, her eight children have disappeared and he has no idea where they could be. Nor does anyone else.
All he can do is suffer and cry at the thought of the children's fate.
"In the name of Allah, how can this happen? What's worse, they were so young and yet the whole family is dead. How can I forgive the U.S. military? How can I not resist their occupation?"
No peace in Fallujah
American fighter jets have attacked yet another mosque. They dropped two large bombs right out front, leaving massive craters. Already the holes are filling with contaminated water.
"For the last 25 days, the Americans have used tanks, fighter planes and attack helicopters. Even so, they have been unable to penetrate our heroic city," said Ayyad Tapid Abbas. "God is on our side. If U.S. troops appear on our streets, we will get rid of them."
Abdul Kadr al-Isawie took this thought one step further. "During Saddam Hussein's regime, prisoners weren't treated as badly as this," he said.
"We can take any punishment. They won't violate our dignity. This is what all the citizens of Fallujah say."
Mujahadeen traveling in cars parade through the streets firing their rifles into the air shouting this sentiment at the top of their voices.
The Mujahadeen I met in the streets of Fallujah have been fighting U.S. troops for close to a month. Every citizen has a Kalashnikov at the ready, in the hopes of expelling the Americans.
The time I spent in Fallujah was at most a few hours. But out of the last three months and 10 days I have been in Iraq, only here have I been left feeling pain in every bone of my body. From what I saw it is not a war, it is a massacre.
As I returned to Baghdad, I felt completely drained. The U.S. troops at the checkpoint had lost all dignity in my eyes. The words of an Iraqi friend came to me as I thought about the powerless citizens of Fallujah.
"It's because our families are here. If they weren't, we wouldn't be able to stand a minute here. But because of them, we endure. It's our fate."
2004/05/03 오후 6:46
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