Fallujah Cannot Even Bury Its Dead

The story of Yusuf Fakri Amash is the story of so much of Fallujah. The 11-year-old boy just managed to escape from the town with his family. But not before the U.S. military killed his best friend.

"Ahmed was in my class," he says. "He was younger than me. He was standing next to the wall of the secondary school and was trying to cross the street. He was hit by a bullet. The American troops fired the bullet."

So many Fallujans have been killed by U.S. Marines that residents have had to dig mass graves. The city’s football stadium now holds more than 200 bodies.

"When you see a child five years old with no head, what can you say?" says a doctor in Fallujah whose name is being withheld for his safety. "When you see a child with no brain, just an open cavity, what can you say?"

The doctor says many were buried in the football until it became full. "When you are burying you cannot stay long because they (the U.S. marines) will just shoot you," he says. "So we use the shovel. Just dig a big hole and put a whole family in the hole and leave as soon as possible so we are not shot."

Filmmaker Julia Guest who traveled to Fallujah in a convoy delivering relief supplies told IPS that the clinic’s ambulance was fired upon twice by U.S. snipers – during the ceasefire. The second time it was fired on, it was carrying U.S. and British citizens who had negotiated an agreement with the marines to rescue the injured from an area under heavy U.S. sniper fire.

"It has blue sirens," Guest recalls, describing the ambulance. "It’s donated by the Kingdom of Spain. It was carrying oxygen bottles, and the damage to the ambulance was such that two of the wheels were blown off, so they were left without an ambulance. And there are bullet holes all over the sides and back from the second shooting."

The U.S. military does not deny shooting at ambulances. But it blames the resistance fighters. U.S. marines spokesperson Lt. Eric Knapp says his forces have seen fighters loading weapons into ambulances from mosques in the area.

"By using ambulances, they are putting Iraqis in harm’s way by denying them a critical component of urgent medical care," he says. "Mosques, ambulances and hospitals are protected under Geneva Convention agreements and are not targeted by U.S. marines. However, once they are used for the purpose of hostile intent toward coalition forces, they lose their protected status and may be targeted."

Humanitarian aid workers in Fallujah say the marines have been firing indiscriminately. Australian aid volunteer Donna Malbun says U.S. forces fired warning shots over her head Tuesday when she attempted to enter an ambulance to deliver relief supplies.

"We were accompanying an ambulance from one part of Fallujah to another area that was controlled by the Americans," she says. "And we went along with the ambulance, and at one stage got out to indicate to the Americans that we were coming through with an ambulance with aid for a clinic that had been cut off."

They then used a loudspeaker to identify themselves, she says. "We were dressed in bright blue medical outfits, and we had our passports in our hands with our hands in the air. Then we stepped forward into the street with our hands in the air. We were walking down away from where the soldiers were stationed. We didn’t realize that. And they ended up shooting toward our backs."

But it was not just the U.S. Army that caused problems for Donna Malbun and her colleagues. She says that on their way out of Fallujah her group was stopped by Iraqi Mujahideen fighters who held them for 24 hours.

"They wanted to know who we were at the beginning," Malbun says. "They investigated and they asked questions and looked at our belongings, and once they realized what we were doing, they treated us with great respect." Donna Malbun says that the delegation was held in a large room and fed well during their detention. British aid worker Beth Ann Jones, who was also taken captive, says the topic of conversation quickly turned to the U.S. assault on Fallujah where the two groups found common ground.

"They would be talking and saying my brother’s been killed, my father’s been killed," she said. "They were telling us details so that we could understand the way that they were feeling, and the obvious resentment they were feeling towards the occupation. That they were now suffering, and a year ago they were promised freedom and liberation from the Saddam regime, and now they’re living in a situation where they do not have any freedom."

Back in the relative safety of Baghdad, Donna Malbun reflects on her temporary captivity. She does not hold any anger towards her captors.

"Fallujah was under siege," she says "and even the women and children who wanted to leave today, and the men, couldn’t leave. And the bombardment from the air was constant, and the sniper activity was constant to the point where they were so terrified to leave their houses. These people were being kept captive in their own town and country."