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Issue Date:  June 17, 2005

A drive through devastated Fallujah


Saturday, May 28

Today, I did what few internationals have dared to do. I went to Fallujah.

Fallujah is completely surrounded by U.S. forces. The only way in or out is through one of four restrictive checkpoints. People normally have to wait hours, but since we had our magic U.S. passports, we made it through in about 45 minutes. We did not observe them searching any cars; soldiers just held up traffic and slowly checked IDs. As in Palestine, these checkpoints seem to have little to do with security and more to do with harassment and intimidation.

Fallujah is devastating to drive through. There is more destruction and rubble than I’ve ever seen in my life, even more than in Rafah, Gaza.

The United States has leveled entire neighborhoods, and about every third building is destroyed or damaged from U.S. artillery. Rubble and bullet holes are everywhere. The city is indescribably ravaged. It looks like it’s been hit by a series of tornados. It’s hard to believe that humans could actually do this. I have a new understanding of the destructive potential of modern warfare.

U.S. troops, Iraqi military and Iraqi police have an overwhelming presence in the city. I’ve never seen such dirty looks directed at the passing forces. I guess in most places people get used to the occupier, but in Fallujah the hate is still very alive. Sixteen thousand Fallujan police lost their jobs after the U.S. attacks and were replaced by Shiite from the South.

Soldiers reportedly shoot anyone who drives too close to their convoys, which makes driving anywhere in this small city incredibly dangerous. It is easy to accidentally turn a corner and find yourself in the midst of a convoy. The hospital said that about one or two people a week die from the indiscriminate fire of U.S. and Shiite occupation forces.

There are horror stories everywhere. We visited a family’s home in a neighborhood where every structure is damaged or destroyed. Their home was full of holes and completely black inside from fire. They said they’d left during the fighting with their home intact and returned to find all their possessions had burned. Three families are now living in this three-room house because their homes were completely destroyed. Over 25 people live in this burned-out shell of a home, including four infants. Some of them tried to get compensation from the U.S. military but were denied.

There is the hopeful sight of rebuilding. Around 25 percent of families who suffered damaged property have gotten a little bit of compensation from the U.S. military. However, it usually covers less than half of the cost for building materials for a new home because the compensation rates are based on the price of building materials before the attacks and now supplies cost nearly double due to the restrictive checkpoints.

Food prices have dramatically increased because of the checkpoints. We talked with one shopkeeper who said that farmers from around Fallujah can no longer deliver their produce unless they have a U.S.-issued Fallujah ID. The shopkeepers now have to go out and pick up the produce each day.

He said it takes him around four hours because of checkpoint delays. “They mistreat us,” he said. “They point guns at us and insult us, even the women.” He said that both U.S. and Iraqi troops search through the vegetables roughly, even dumping them on the ground and sometimes smashing them. As soon as he’s finished with one checkpoint and cleaned up the mess, another will ransack his load all over again. This can happen as many as four times he said. Sometimes, much of the produce rots from sitting in the hot sun. For all these reasons, the prices have gone up and more Fallujans are going hungry.

Fallujah has only one hospital with inpatient care. Other clinics and treatment centers were bombed by U.S. troops, and soldiers prevented many people from getting to the hospital during the attacks. Even after the fighting, the United States kept the bridges closed, which caused several people to die of heart attacks when they couldn’t get to the hospital fast enough. People from the rural areas surrounding Fallujah are now dying of treatable illnesses because they can’t get through the checkpoints to the Fallujah hospital.

One hospital employee said that many patients die when they try to transfer them to hospitals outside Fallujah. “It’s better to take them in a civilian car than in an ambulance” he said, “because the troops delay and search ambulances more.”

I felt safe in Fallujah. The people I spoke with were kind and gentle. They are angry and indignant at what the United States has done to them, but they seemed to understand that it wasn’t me or all Americans who did it.

Joe Carr is with the Christian Peacemakers Team in Baghdad. This is the second of several entries from his blog that NCR will publish this summer.

National Catholic Reporter, June 17, 2005

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