Razed and Crazed in Fallujah

The city is in ruins, but the worst breakdown is among humans

U.S. Marines photos

Above: Building trust in Fallujah, a U.S. soldier runs a retinal scan on a young resident before the January 30 election. Below: A typical fixer-upper in Fallujah's parade of homes is shown off by a 3-year-old boy.

Life in Fallujah is so deranged and abusive that even the farmers' vegetables are being handled roughly and with contempt.

Yes, Baghdad is a locked-down nightmare of searches, shootings, and suicide bombings, but Fallujah, formerly a city of 300,000 in Anbar province, west of the Iraqi capital, is completely broken down.

It's even American vs. American in the formerly habitable place. Just last week, private contractors and soldiers swapped allegations of shooting, harassing, and terrifying.

Joe Carr, a Kansas City peace activist who spent time in Israel's occupied territories before joining the Mennonite-Quaker Christian Peacemaker Team in Iraq, wrote on June 3, "There is more destruction and rubble than I've ever seen; even more than in Rafah, Gaza." Here's more from his dispatch:

    The U.S. has leveled entire neighborhoods, and about every third building is destroyed or damaged from U.S. in April and November 2004 air ground assaults. The city looks like it's been hit by a series of tornados. Rubble and bullet holes are everywhere.

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A typical situation, according to Carr: Three families, totaling about 25 people (including four babies), returned to find their homes gone and possessions burned, and wound up squatting in a three-room, burnt-out shell of a home.

Daily life, if you can call it that, is nothing but hassles:

    U.S. checkpoints continue to strangle the city. One shopkeeper said that farmers from around Fallujah can no longer deliver their produce unless they have a U.S.-issued Fallujah ID. The shopkeepers have to go out and pick up the produce. He said the trip takes him around four hours because of the checkpoint delays. "They mistreat us," he said, "they point guns at us and insult us, even the women." Both U.S. and Iraqi troops search through the vegetables roughly, sometimes dumping them on the ground and smashing them.

    Iraqis 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 also 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."

Oh, but once you get to hospitals in Iraq's worst places, things are fine, right? Wrong. I wrote about a bombed Fallujah hospital last November 7. And as CNN's Jane Arraf reported June 10 from Tal Afar, a city of 200,000 near the Syrian border, most Iraqis are deathly afraid of even entering the only hospital still functioning there. As Arraf put it:

    Doctors here say most people are now afraid to come here—afraid they'll be caught in the crossfire between insurgents and the Iraqi army guarding the hospital.

    [Dr. Omar] Ahmed says some of the patients who come to the hospital refuse to stay, saying they're safer at home.

The hospital is a "particular target," its having been seized from insurgents only two weeks ago, Arraf reported. Not that it's worth much:

    As in the rest of Tal Afar, most of the time there's no running water in the hospital and in the daytime, no electricity. One of the generators was shot up and the staff hasn't been able to repair it.

    Dr. Adel Abdul Razak said pregnant mothers were risking driving to the city of Singar or to Mosul—a potentially dangerous hour's drive away—a week before their due date to avoid having to go into labor in the Tal Afar hospital.

    "The Iraqis … have been caught between two fires," Razak says. "The fire of the Iraqi army who are protecting them and the fire of the rest who are attacking the army."

    Hickey said one of the problems is that insurgents are moving around the city, where there is no functioning police force and, up until recently, entire neighborhoods were in the grip of the insurgents.

Assuming there's any strategy still being practiced in Iraq, it's a bad one for the long term. Let's go back to Fallujah for those lessons. The Bush regime has bombed it into rubble and invaded it in two major operations, in April and November 2004. The latter assault was timed to take place just after the U.S. presidential election, but regardless of the timing, we were doing God's work: Wipe out Fallujah and its inhabitants. As a Marine sergeant put it at the time: "We're not going into Fallujah to give out fuzzy bears and warm hugs."

In fact, we were hunting Satan, according to Christian soldier Gareth Brandl.

And we weren't so cuddly during the first invasion of the Sunni stronghold. There were plenty of observers, Mark LeVine among them, who predicted dread results from our scorched-earth policy's major assaults.

Here's how Joe Carr now is describing how the U.S. method of dealing with Fallujah has helped to win hearts and minds:

    A Sunni cleric told us that during the first invasion, several families near his mosque took cover in a home. U.S. troops used megaphones to order all them out into the street and told them to carry a white flag. They complied, but when they all got out, the soldiers opened fire and killed five. He said one boy had run to his mother, who'd been shot, and Americans shot him in the head. A U.S. commander cried as this happened, "but what good were his tears?" [the cleric] asked, "He didn't do anything to stop it."

    During our meeting with the cleric, a man told us, "The Americans shot and killed my 15-year-old daughter—was she a terrorist?" The U.S. military denied killing her. "With all respect to you," he said, "I hate Americans; they killed my family. They shot and killed my sister-in-law while she was washing clothes, and my other brother's hands and feet were blown off." He apologized for interrupting, but said that he had to tell us because he's in so much pain.

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