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Issue Date:  August 11, 2006

The battle for Falluja

On Nov. 8, 2004, the city of Falluja, Iraq, was attacked in a U.S.-led operation called Phantom Fury. An 18-minute documentary, “Caught in the Crossfire,” aims to tell the story of the thousands of civilians whose lives were devastated by the fighting and who continue to suffer today.

There are no accurate reports of the survival of the thousands who stayed in the city, the narrator says, while hundreds of thousands were evacuated but given no place to go. Many are still living in makeshift refugee camps, where disease runs rampant from lack of clean water.

Others returned to the city. The documentary shows residents being required to pass through arduous military checkpoints where lines could last for days and deadly force was authorized. In the city, the camera films street after street of the burnt-out rubble of Falluja and scenes of the dead being buried in mass graves. “There is nothing left of their former lives or the city they once knew,” the narrator says.

The documentary ends with very brief interviews with Iraqis in which their rage at their situation and at their treatment at the hands of the Americans is apparent: “They would never accept this in their lives,” one woman declares.

Aside from those few interviews, the documentary is mostly a recitation of the stark facts. More personal storytelling, a closer look at some of the individuals caught in the situation, would have made for a more affecting documentary but probably would have been impossible to do under the dangerous circumstances in Iraq.

The film is a joint project of Iraqi and American filmmakers, but a postscript in place of end credits tells us the Iraqi filmmakers cannot be named, “due to the very real possibility of retaliation for bringing you this truth.” The American filmmakers and other contributing artists -- including the narrator and the creators of the film’s haunting music -- are unnamed as well, “in solidarity, until the day we are all free to speak the truth.”

Proceeds from the sale of the DVD, which is available at the Web site, will go to relief efforts for Iraqi civilians.

-- Teresa Malcolm

National Catholic Reporter, August 11, 2006

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