An older Iraqi man is wailing near the grave of a loved one in the dusty heat of a football stadium converted into a cemetery. Between wails he raises his fist and yells, "Allahu akbar!" (God is great).
We wait outside until he slowly exits the new cemetery with his brothers holding him.
The Martyrs’ cemetery. in Falluja filled with nearly 500 bodies from recent U.S. aggression in the city.
Rows and rows of fresh graves fill the football stadium in Falluja. Many of them are smaller than others. My translator Nermim reads the gravestones to me: "This one is a little girl." We take another step. "And this one is her sister. Next to them is their mother."
We walk slowly under the scorching sun along dusty rows of humble headstones. She continues reading them aloud to me: "Old man wearing jacket with black dishdasha, near industrial center. He has a key in his hand." Many of the bodies were buried before they could be identified. Tears are welling up in my eyes as she quietly reads: "Man wearing red track suit." She points to another row, "Three women killed in car leaving city by American missile."
One of the football stadiums in Falluja has become a Martyr Cemetery due to the hundreds of deaths caused by the fighting throughout April. U.S. marines eventually surrounded the main cemetery, so the residents of Falluja had to bury their dead here. Iraqi doctors estimate that over half of the dead Iraqis are women, children and elderly, and the graves I view seem to confirm this. There are nearly 500 graves here today, and counting…
As we walk back to the car the loudspeaker of a nearby mosque is blaring the words of an Imam: "We have two reasons to be happy this month. One is the birthday of our prophet. The second is our victory over the Americans!"
I weep at the cost.
Over at another mosque a little earlier, under the constant buzzing of unmanned military surveillance drones, the mood was more defiant. The rumor is going around that the Marines will resume patrolling the streets of Falluja this coming Monday, along with Iraqi Police (IP) and the Iraqi Civil Defense Corps (ICDC). Yet this rumor is being widely circulated by both the IP and ICDC.
Abdul Muhammed tells me, "When the Americans start patrolling on Monday, even more people will fight them this time because so many people need revenge now."
Another man angrily states, "They try to cover their failure by these patrols. We will fight them again!" He continues sternly, "We don’t want them in our city! Nobody in Falluja wants to see them in our streets! Everyone who lost family to them will avenge them!"
This discussion takes place standing in the rubble beneath a minaret that has been blasted by either a missile or tank a gaping hole just below the top. After climbing up the spiral stairs as high as possible, two men join me to look out over the city that resembles more of a ghost town. There is so much more destruction than the last time I was here a few weeks ago.
One of the men, who speaks English, says, "I saw American snipers shoot a woman on her roof while she was hanging her clothes. This was during their cease fire."
I hear more horrible stories of snipers killing civilians today than I can keep track of. After carefully making my way back down the rubble covered steps, we drive to the Julan area of Falluja, which was very heavily bombed during the fighting in April.
The tight streets and numerous alleys of Julan are mostly empty after we pass through two mujahedeen checkpoints. So many homes are bombed, others riddled with bullets. Date palms are torn down and the stench of rotting bodies hangs in the air.
There is a huge crater, at least 8 feet deep and three times that at its diameter, just in front of a small mosque. The hole is partially filled with water from a leaking pipe below. People sit inside the mosque listening to their Imam. As I take photos several men gather around.
Mosque in Falluja bombed by U.S. pilots in April.
One of them states, "I hope the Americans come back on Monday. They killed my cousin and burned my house. God gave us the victory, and He will give us another when they come back!"
Another man points to the mosque and says, "Marines entered this mosque before they bombed it and slit the throats of refugees. This is their democracy? This is their freedom?"
One of the other stories going around Falluja is that of Marines using mosque minarets to shoot at people. Every group of people I speak with at each location is stating this. True or not, it is what people here believe. The damage is done. These beliefs, cemented by the recent photos coming out of Abu Ghraib, have melded distrust and hatred into a long sword which is now held against the occupiers.
Driving a little further into Julan we pass a scorched ambulance on the side of the road.
Destroyed ambulance in the Julan area of Falluja.
At yet another mosque I am shown a copy of the Holy Koran which has two bullet holes through it. Another man, walking from a minaret that has been completely demolished, shows me casings from a tank shell.
Aziz Hussein, who was in Falluja for much of the fighting, tells me of the horrible bombings by U.S. war planes, but that all of Falluja was together in supporting the mujahedeen. He says, "When someone lost one of their family or their home, they didn’t blame the mujahedeen. Most of the people killed by bombings were civilians. Americans said the civilians were killed by mujahedeen, but this is just not true."
He too tells the story of Marines shooting people from minarets, "When we tried to go to our mosque, the snipers shot at us."
I hear more horrendous stories: Marines occupying people’s homes and looting them of money and gold, leaving feces in their foodstuffs, butchering their cows, chickens and dogs.
Later as we prepare to leave, a man tells me, "The mujahedeen will shoot the Americans as soon as they start their patrols here. Falluja is our city, not the Americans’!"