Fallujah: Victory Rises Above a Mass Grave

A team of local volunteers wearing surgical masks lifts the rotting body of a middle-aged woman from a shallow grave in the front yard of a house. The house owner says the body lay there three weeks.

A U.S. aircraft bombed her car as she fled the city with her husband. The husband was buried in the garden of the house next door. The destroyed remains of the car are scattered a few meters away.

“We couldn’t give her a proper burial,” the house owner told IPS, “because every time we would go outside, American snipers would shoot at us. They even shot at us when we retrieved her body from the car after the Americans bombed it.”

The head of the medical clinic says his clinic’s ambulance was fired upon by U.S. Marine snipers twice during the siege. One of the clinic’s volunteers was killed.

“The Americans are dogs,” he says. “They try to kill anybody who works in humanitarian aid. They attack any humanitarian aid worker, doctor, or ambulance to kill him.” Many more bodies continue to rot under buildings that collapsed under U.S. bombing, he says.

The volunteers wheel the woman’s body on a gurney towards a small pickup truck. In half an hour, she is buried in the municipal football stadium alongside 300 others killed this month by the U.S. military.

At the football stadium a new trench has just been dug by locals working with volunteers from mosques. When new bodies come in they are placed in the trench and covered with dirt. Then a slab of concrete is placed above.

“There was not enough space in the city’s graveyards,” says 30-year-old Fadel Abbas Khlaff who worked five days to bury the dead before picking up a gun to fight the U.S. military. “Sometimes we would bury two people in the same grave to save space.”

With the bombing over, residents have begun to file through the graveyard looking for their loves ones. Among them is 50-year-old Ahmed Saud Muhasin al-Isawi, who returned to Fallujah after living in a camp three weeks as a refugee. He says his two cousins, aged 18 and 13, were found buried in the stadium.

“They stayed in their houses and didn’t go outside,” he says, “but they’re still dead.” The rest of his family tried to leave but were prevented by persistent U.S. sniper fire.

Ahmed Saud says a niece also died in the U.S. military assault, but he has not found her body. Nor has he been able to locate any of her eight children.

“Every day (the Americans) show us that Saddam Hussein made many mass graves,” he says. “Resistance to occupation is normal. How could they do this? Even the little children and the families (are dead).”

But amid the stench of death, there is also a sense of victory in Fallujah. Young Mujahedin fighters carrying Kalashnikovs now drive around the city on top of cars and motorbikes. People on the streets cheer them.

Another small crowd gathers around the remains of a mosque. Two craters caused by U.S. bombs have become filled with raw sewage. Despite the destruction all around, most of the men gathered here feel they have won a hard-fought victory.

“For 25 days they used everything they had – tanks, planes, helicopters, everything and many other kinds of weapons,” says Ayyad Tapid Abbas. “They couldn’t enter this heroic city. God is with us and we are right. If any American appears on the street we will shoot him.”

Sheikh Abdul Kadr al-Isawie from the mosque goes a step further. He says images released this week of U.S. soldiers torturing Iraqi prisoners at Saddam’s old prison Abu Grahib show that suffering and cruelty are the norm under U.S. occupation. “This torture will not pass without punishment,” he tells IPS. “This is against our dignity. That’s what the residents of Fallujah say.”

He is hardly bothered by the fury unleashed by the killing of four U.S. contractors whose bodies were dragged through the town and then hung from a bridge. He says a similar fate will meet the members of the U.S.-appointed Iraqi Governing Council if they fail to act over allegations of brutality against incarcerated Iraqis.

“I swear to God that we will pull out the members of the Governing Council and we will hang them on the old Fallujah bridge,” he tells IPS. “Those are the men who brought America and this destruction and they will hang on the doors of all the houses in Fallujah.”

Al-Isawie denies that such actions amount to terrorism. “Is there any terrorist in Iraq?” he asks. “There is no terrorism and that’s a fact. We only defend our houses and our city.”

But for now, it seems, the people of Fallujah will have only minimal contact with the occupation-appointed Governing Council. Their resistance has brought them another strange victory – the return of a former general from Saddam Hussein’s Republican Guard. General Jasim Mohammed Saleh, a Fallujah native, is the newly appointed commander of the all-Iraqi Fallujah Protection Brigade.

General Saleh was cheered by onlookers when he came to the city. But he will not have a completely free hand. U.S. Marines will remain stationed just outside, and General Saleh will have to report to his U.S. superiors.

“We are certainly not withdrawing from Fallujah,” U.S. spokesman Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt told reporters in Baghdad. “Nothing could be further from the truth.”

Despite relative peace on the streets, there is still no electricity or running water in Fallujah. But the near end to bombings and sniper fire means the city can begin to mourn and give proper burial to its hundreds of dead.