AMMAN – These days, Ramadi is nearly impossible to enter. Against the backdrop of the Haditha massacre, IPS has received reports of civilians killed by snipers, and homes occupied with American snipers on the roof while families were detained downstairs.
One man, who wishes to be known simply as "an Iraqi friend," met with IPS in Amman to describe the situation in Ramadi and detail recent events there as he saw them.
"To enter Ramadi [about 100 km west of Baghdad] you have to pass the bridge on the Euphrates and the electrical station for Ramadi. This is occupied by the U.S. troops. The checkpoint is there, the glass factory nearby is occupied by American snipers. Here they inspect cars and you will need more than four hours just to pass the bridge."
Reports from Ramadi have been few and far between in recent months, and always filed by reporters embedded with U.S. troops working in the area.
Witnesses interviewed by IPS in Amman provided a nuanced picture of the situation, one that is very different from the military focus of embedded journalists.
Their stories describe death happening any moment, without signals or warning:
"On the side of the main street you will find destroyed buildings, and military tents on the buildings for snipers. Be careful, if you hear any sound of fighting, hide in the side roads, park your car there, and get in any house and hide, because snipers will kill anyone who moves, even if the fighting is in another area."
Sheik Majeed al-Ga’oud is from Wahaj al-Iraq village just outside Ramadi, and visits the city regularly. He also described snipers killing without discretion:
"The American snipers don’t make any distinction between civilians or fighters, anything that moves, he shoots immediately. This is a very dirty thing, they are killing lots of civilians who are not fighters."
According to the Iraqi friend, many people have been killed in Ramadi because they simply do not know which parts of the city are now no-go zones.
One such area is the main street through Ramadi. After the first traffic light you are not allowed to proceed forward, only to the right or left.
"The way is blocked, not by concrete, but by snipers. Anyone who goes ahead in the street will be killed. There’s no sign that it’s not allowed, but it’s known to the local people. Many people came to visit us from Baghdad. They didn’t know this and they went ahead a few meters and were killed."
Sheik Majeed was in Ramadi just a few days before speaking to IPS in Amman. He described a city where the fighters are very much in control:
"They are controlling the ground, and they are very self-confident. They don’t cover their faces with masks, and the Americans are running away from them. The Americans cannot win an infantry war with them, so they began using massive air power to bomb them."
While in Ramadi, he saw many damaged homes, and said there were no civil services functioning:
"You will see that they bombed the power stations, water-treatment facilities, and water pipes. This house is destroyed, that house is destroyed. You will see poverty everywhere. The things that the simplest human in the world must have, you won’t have it there."
The Iraqi friend described a similar situation:
"I saw four houses until now, but I didn’t see all of Ramadi, it’s a big town. There are also houses destroyed in the farms, I saw some, but most of them I couldn’t see it because they are huge farms."
Ramadi is at present cut off from the rest of Iraq. Within, sometimes the electricity works, and some homes have generators, but the local phone service has been completely destroyed.
"The phone station was attacked by U.S. troops, and now even the building is completely destroyed. And the train station also, 100 percent destroyed, day after day F-16s bomb it."
Life in Ramadi has not always been this difficult. When Baghdad fell, Ramadi had not yet been entered. When Baghdad was wracked by lawlessness and theft, Ramadi remained relatively calm.
"It was a very quiet city, there was order," Sheik Majeed said. "Though there are many different tribes there, and there is tension between the tribes, there was order. They respected each other, they respected the law."
The Iraqi friend suggested why Ramadi remained calm and, unlike Baghdad, was not entered in the first days of the occupation:
"They made a deal with the tribes to not enter the city. But the political parties spoiled this agreement. They wanted to control Ramadi, so they gave wrong information to Americans. There was a small demonstration, but not by Saddam loyalists; it was a peaceful demonstration against the occupation."
After this demonstration of just 30 people, the agreement was broken and the military invaded Ramadi. Iraqis were killed, and following tribal policies of revenge, a cycle of violence began.
Qasem Dulaimi, who lives in Ramadi, told IPS his home was occupied by American and Iraqi troops in May:
"They crushed the main doors and entered the house. I got out of my room and said some words in English, ‘we are a peaceful family, OK, it’s OK.’ But the family members were locked up in a small room downstairs.
"From time to time we heard shooting from our roof. They used our house as a killing tool, they used the roof as a killing tool."
Eventually his family was released, and the American troops moved on.
The Iraqi friend witnessed the killing of a young boy.
"He was going to his school at about eight in the morning, carrying his books and crossing the street. Suddenly he fell down. I thought he just had a problem in his leg and fell, but he stayed for a long time like this. I knew or I felt there was a sniper who shot him."
Stories such as this one are common amongst Ramadi’s residents.
"Haithem, one of the brothers of this kid, tried to find a way and took two steps to take the boy away. Snipers shot and missed him. So he didn’t try again. The boy remained there four hours, bleeding. He had been shot in the head."