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U.S. Slaughter Fills Iraqi Cemeteries
The first Korean reporter into Fallujah tells of the smell of death wafting from every direction
Gang Eun Ji (internews)     Print Article 
Published 2004-05-03 18:43 (KST)   
One year has passed since President Bush announced the end of hostilities in the Iraq war. However, conditions there remain unpredictable and are threatening to deteriorate. Having gained access to Fallujah independently, OhmyNews citizen reporter Gang Eun Ji, of Minjok21, is on the scene to send daily reports. On May 1, Gang was the first Korean reporter to gain access to Fallujah. -The editor.

Conditions in Fallujah, Iraq, are changing rapidly.
©2004 Gang E.J.

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.

In the center of Fallujah, a man stares blankly at the destruction.
©2004 Gang E.J.

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.

In front of a closed checkpoint, displaced people from Fallujah wait.
©2004 Gang E.J.

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.

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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!"

A volunteer team comes to collect the body of a middle-aged Fallujah woman.
©2004 Gang E.J.

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.

The car that the couple died in.
©2004 Gang E.J.

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.

A Mujahadeen examines a book amid the shredded pages of Korans that lay scattered on the floor of Munajin Mosque.
© Gang E.J.

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.

Children stand in front of a damaged mosque.
©2004 Gang E.J.

"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."

"You're not a Fallujah citizen? Then get off this bus!"
Gang Eun Ji's three days of trying to get into Fallujah

It was April 29 when I first tried to make it into Fallujah. It had been three or four days since the U.S. military had started allowing a small number of refugees to return to the city. I'd hoped I might be able to get in, but it wasn't as expected.

Fallujah is around 40 minutes by car from Baghdad. When I arrived at the city's outskirts there were American checkpoints were closed tight, double-layered checkpoints for everyone either coming or going. There were refugees anxious and frustrated, waiting to get in, and I, too, stood around biting my fingernails.

At around 10:20 a.m. on April 29, a few cannon round cut through the sky. Everyone dropped to the ground. I scrambled to see what could have possibly happened, and looked up to find flames and smoke coming from the second of the two checkpoints closest to me.

An Iraqi automobile heading towards Fallujah, unsure of the location of the checkpoint, had proceeded without recognizing the American's order to stop, so were shot at by an American tank. Because of the accident, no one was permitted to pass through the checkpoints for the rest of the day.

I went to a nearby Jordanian hospital to interview refugees and ascertain what I could about the situation.

The next day, on April 30, the U.S. military decided to pull away from the city, entrusting it to the "Fallujah protection forces" headed by an Iraqi general and the troops he had commanded while he served under the Hussein regime. I tried to take advantage of these developments and make another attempt to enter the area.

Perhaps because the same work had been handed over to Iraqi military, by 4 p.m. the Americans were busy cleaning up the area in and around the checkpoints. Contrary to press reports, the U.S. military had tanks positioned in all directions, in a formation that surrounded the city.

"The U.S. military is not withdrawing from Fallujah," said an American spokesman. "We were unable to enter the city. Internal control of Fallujah will handed over to Iraqi forces, and the U.S. will continue to blockaded the outskirts."

Early the next morning, the general of the "Fallujah protection forces" emerged from inspecting the city. He was welcome with loud cheers and enthusiasm as he passed through the checkpoint, and it was only then that we were allowed to pass. When I asked the refugees why they were returning when there was still intense fighting going on, they said they were going to Fallujah because it was their "hometown," "city," and "home." I walked towards city in line with the refugees who had been waiting.

Approximately one kilometer later, near the city's industrial area, I was forced to stop. There were American soldiers waiting who said I had to be a citizen of Fallujah. They wanted to see documentation certifying that I'd been born there and lived there currently. Otherwise, I was not permitted to pass.

I stood there in the middle of the empty street trying to figure out what to do next. Eventually some local Iraqis helped me get sneak on a bus going into town, avoiding the sight of the Americans, dressed like I belonged there.

Surrounded tightly by people from Fallujah, I had succeeded in getting on the bus. But before it departed, I got spotted by an American, and was forced to get off. In the end I had to turn back for a while, having fruitlessly worked to get in, somewhere between the people trying to get in past the checkpoints and those on their way out.

On the third day, however, May 1, I successfully made my way into Fallujah. It would be exactly one year since U.S. President George W. Bush had declared an end to hostilities there.

The Japanese version of this article, by the Antiwar Translation Brigade, can be found at http://blog.livedoor.jp/awtbrigade/archives/2013819.html
©2004 OhmyNews

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