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2004-11-15

Fallujah Devastated: Witnesses Describe Humanitarian Crisis and Civilian Death Toll

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The Iraqi city of Fallujah is devastated after a week of intense fighting that has left at least 1200 Iraqis dead. Witnesses describe bloated and decomposing bodies in the streets, smashed homes, ruined mosques and severed power and telephone lines. We go to Baghdad to speak with Dahr Jamail, one of the few independent reporters in Iraq. [includes rush transcript]

The battle for Fallujah continued today with US warplanes, artillery and mortars attacking the Sunni city as bloody urban warfare on the ground entered a second week.

American military commanders claim they occupy the city, but expect several more days of fighting and stiff resistance. One U.S. Major General told the BBC "We’re more determined and we’re going to wipe them out."

Thirty-eight US soldiers have been killed and 275 wounded in the assault. Six Iraqi government troops have also died. The US military says it has killed about 1,200 Iraqis, all of them fighters with the resistance. While there are no figures on civilian deaths and the US-backed Iraqi interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi claims no civilians were killed, witness accounts paint a very different and bloody picture.

A Reuters correspondent said he saw bloated and decomposing bodies in the streets, smashed homes, ruined mosques and severed power and telephone lines. Several accounts say bodies found were being eaten by dogs and cats.

A member of an Iraqi relief committee told Al Jazeera television he saw 22 bodies buried under rubble in the city’s northern district. He said the bodies included "two children whose ages did not exceed 15 and a man with an artificial leg...it was a very painful sight."

The Iraqi Red Crescent–one of the few aid agencies operating in Iraq–is still negotiating with U.S. forces after being denied access to Fallujah. It says it knows of at least 150 families trapped inside the city in desperate need of food, clean water and medical supplies. One Iraqi father in Fallujah told Reuters that his children were sick from diarrhea and had not eaten for days. The U.S. military says it can take care of Fallujah’s humanitarian needs by itself.

  • Dahr Jamail, an independent journalist currently based in Baghdad. He is one of the only independent, unembedded journalists in Iraq right now. He publishes his reports on a blog called DahrJamailIraq.com.

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re joined right now by Dahr Jamail, who is reporting to us, unembedded, from Baghdad. Welcome to Democracy Now!

DAHR JAMAIL: Thanks again for having me, Amy.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you tell us what you have learned about what’s gone on this weekend in Fallujah and other parts of Iraq?

DAHR JAMAIL: The main crisis does, of course, continue to be Fallujah, where reports coming out from inside the city now from both civilians and Iraqi doctors basically underscore much of the highlights you just touched upon. They continue to not be allowed into [inaudible] the U.S. military is announcing over loudspeakers in the city that civilians who need medical care can come to them for assistance, yet at the same time they have been sending out messages for all the civilians to stay in their homes. So, the humanitarian crisis continues. And the people are basically staying in their homes for fear of being shot if they venture outside. They have no assistance coming into the city. Doctors from inside the city, one in particular actually, spoke of the initial raid on Fallujah General Hospital at the beginning of the siege. He said that he was instructed by U.S. and Iraqi forces as they entered the hospital, that they told him that the Iraqi health minister said that if anyone disclosed information about this raid, they would be arrested or fired from their jobs. He went on to describe the scene where the soldiers and the Iraqi forces as well came in, pulled wounded people out of their beds, interrupted operations that were in progress, tied doctors’ hands behind their backs and then basically said, okay, you will not be in control of this hospital, and then detained several of the patients from the hospital, neglecting their medical care. So, it is a crisis situation. The horror stories are beginning now to slowly emerge from Fallujah, but it remains very difficult because the information controlled by the military remains tighter there than just about anything that I have seen in my time in Iraq thus far, and at the same time the crisis continues with no resolution in sight right now. Meanwhile, throughout the rest of Iraq, fighting continues to spread and escalate. In Baquba today, yet another police station was attacked, five different Iraqi police vehicles were destroyed, and at least one U.S. military vehicle was destroyed. No reports from the military yet on casualties there. Fighting continues in earnest in Ramadi where actually resistance controls the vast majority of that city and the same as in Mosul. Other smaller cities in Iraq like Hadifa and Al-Baghdadi are facing rising resistance fighting as well against the occupiers, and in Baghdad today there continues to be mortars falling in the green zone, sporadic gun battles throughout the streets.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking with Dahr Jamail, independent journalist based in Baghdad, one of the only unembedded journalists in Iraq right now, publishes his reports on a blog called dahrjamailiraq.com. We have reports that the highest level yet U.S.-backed official, the deputy prime minister is saying that the elections could be delayed in January. Can you talk about the significance of this?

DAHR JAMAIL: Well, it’s no surprise that he said that, seeing that almost every day now we have yet another party in the interim government that is either withdrawing completely from the interim government or coming out and saying, yes, we are indeed going to boycott the elections, as well as urge all of our followers to. So, they are already suffering severe political fallout. All of this is related, of course, to what’s happening in Fallujah. Right now, it looks like it is an impossibility to have anything resembling any type of true, honest, fair, democratic election here on January 27.

AMY GOODMAN: The whole question of whether the U.S. can win the battle in Fallujah and lose the war, which would be the whole issue of getting to those elections, whether it’s a strategic victory with — last week, it was pointed out on our show by Larry Diamond, the former senior adviser to the Coalition Provisional Authority, who works over at the Hoover Institution, hand-picked by Condoleezza Rice to go to Iraq — that Sunni leaders had put forward a diplomatic resolution for the U.S. not to attack Fallujah and that they would not boycott the election. But we have heard almost nothing about that, or the U.S. response. The media has hardly touched that. Has it gotten more attention in Iraq?

DAHR JAMAIL: It has. Everyone here is very well aware that that occurred. In fact, I interviewed a senior political scientist at Baghdad University just a few days ago, Dr. Wamid Omar Nathmi. And he is part of that council that put forth those recommendations to the U.S.-backed interim government as far as what they felt were needed in order to have an election, and he suggested things like the withdrawal of American forces from the major cities one month before the election, immediate cease-fire, and international committee of oversight and other things like this, and instead, what occurred was martial law and the siege of Fallujah, basically throwing these suggestions which were very, very good suggestions, I might add, throwing them back in the face of this committee. So, once again, it appears as though the U.S. military here is just throwing caution to the wind, preferring not to use diplomatic channels, even though there have been several open to them, and instead just trying to use brute force to try to bring things under control in Iraq, and as a result what we have is now we have about ten other Fallujahs.

AMY GOODMAN: Dahr Jamail, I want to thank you very much for being with us, speaking to us from Baghdad, independent, unembedded journalist. His blog is called, dahrjamailIraq.com. Thank you.

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