The Iraqi journalist Abbas Ahmed Ibrahim tells of the horror and hardship in a first-hand account from the devastated city of Fallujah
November 20, 2004
By Abbas Ahmed Ibrahim
This is a strange time in Fallujah. They say the war is over, but there is no peace. Every day there is shooting, and there are still killings going on. There is very little left of the town now, everywhere there are buildings which have been destroyed.
There is also a terrible smell. We know what it is - it is the smell of dead bodies. Many have now been cleared away, but the smell does not go away, it will stay with us for a long time. The Americans say they are just finishing off the insurgents, but then they have been saying that for a few days now, so people here ask "who have they got left to finish off?" We hear of things like American soldiers killing wounded prisoners in a mosque, but that news is recycled to us from people outside. It is not possible to go out and find out what is going on.
I am not staying in Fallujah out of choice. But I am afraid to try to leave. I am 36 years old, The American troops have been arresting any males between the ages of 15 and 45 who have attempted to leave. They say civilians were told to get out of Fallujah, so any man who stayed behind must be in the mujahedin.
There are Iraqi men, with their faces hidden by scarves, with the American troops. These are the informers. If they point you out as an insurgent then there is no chance of proving that you are innocent. There are people who are settling personal or tribal grudges like this. You do not know who will denounce you.
The reason I stayed behind is the same as many of the other remaining men here, to protect my house. My wife and parents begged me to go with them when I sent them away to Amiriyah, but I would not listen. I now realise what a mistake that was. I am staying with relations, and my house has probably been destroyed. The Americans were shooting everywhere, from the air and the ground, when they came into the town. The house I am staying in was hit by machine-gun fire. Those days and nights were very frightening. Their shells and bombs would make everything shake, and it seemed to go on day and night. That has stopped now. But there is also a lot of damage being caused when they carry out searches of houses. There are very few of us - civilians - left inside Fallujah now, I do not know how many because people do not go out. We are staying in little groups, not really going out much beyond our streets, because it is still very dangerous. I do not know if my cousin's family are all right, although, in a normal time, their home would only be 10 minutes' drive away. Most of the families here have someone who has been injured, arrested, and, sometimes, killed.
Things are very bad here, but then they have been bad for such a long time now that one forgets what normal life was like. There is no power or water, and very little food left, and there is simply no medicine left. People I know are very ill, mainly from bad water, but they are not getting treatment.
We were told that the Red Crescent and other aid organisations wanted to send food and medicine into the town, but it was stopped on the orders of Allawi (Iyad Allawi, Iraq's interim Prime Minister). This has made people even more angry. It makes them think he is taking the side of the Americans against his own people.
The Americans say that they have set up centres for distributing food and medicine. They also say that Fallujah hospital has now been open again for more than a week.
This is true in both cases. But the problem is that getting to them is very risky. You can get arrested by the Americans or you might get killed. Two women were shot trying to get food for their families. The Americans say the mujahedin shot them. Most people think it was the Americans themselves who did this. But I do not think that is the case. It probably was the mujahedin. But why is this happening if the Americans are in control of Fallujah?
I do not know what is going to happen to us over the next few days. I have news that my family is all right, so a big worry has been lifted. Maybe things will be safer when other civilians start coming back into Fallujah.
© 2004 Independent Digital (UK) Ltd