Iraq’s government is killing its own people yet again, writes one humanitarian worker
By Jo Wilding | 14 May 2014
Fallujah is still a city under siege. Ten years after the “battle of Fallujah” captured headlines worldwide, the Iraqi city just west of Baghdad faces a continuing bombardment, this time from Iraq’s army rather than American forces.
A friend whose family lived in the city told me: “Fallujah is being bombed every day. Even during the 72-hour ceasefire in February, Fallujah was bombed by the Iraqi forces.”
He denies the claims of Iraq’s government that a jihadist group is in control of Fallujah, which is 42 miles from Baghdad in Anbar province. The group grew out of al-Qaeda’s affiliate in the country.
Another friend in the city – in the so-called Sunni Triangle – said that there was no “humanitarian corridor”. So there is no way out for civilians. He asked that aid organisations be told how bad conditions are for them.
“There was no peace since the battle of Fallujah in 2004. The city was surrounded by the US army, then the Iraqi army and now the war that we see,” he said.
“Hundreds of civilians have been injured and killed.”
Government officials confirm the heavy rate of casualties.
Turkish Press reported that one attack in Fallujah a month ago killed at least 24 people, and dozens more were injured.
The Iraqi army often claims that it is killing militants, but the attacks claim the lives of many civilians.
The continuing bombardment of Fallujah comes on top of a sharp rise in certain illnesses and birth defects, which was first detected in 2006.
Doctors at Fallujah General Hospital give anecdotal evidence of an increase in particularly grisly birth defects and paediatric cancers.
There is evidence of an 18 per cent drop in male births, an indicator of genetic damage. However, the difficulties of accessing information have restricted research.
Italy’s RAI TV uncovered the US forces’ use of white phosphorus as a weapon. America had initially claimed that the chemical, which can burn through flesh, was only used for illumination.
In November 2004, US forces trialled a new weapon, the SMAW-NE, or shoulder-fired multi-purpose assault weapon – novel explosive. Even the marines who used it were not told what they were firing. The effects of these weapons go on inflicting violence to people who were not even born at the time of the battle.
I was one of several foreigners who went into Fallujah during the first siege, in April 2004, to take some humanitarian supplies into the city. We also helped civilians negotiate with US soldiers at checkpoints. Otherwise, the soldiers prevented civilians from leaving the city.
The siege followed the killing of four contractors with the US army. They were shot and burnt in their four-wheel-drive cars. A crowd dismembered the corpses, hanging two of them from a bridge.
This came after numerous killings by the US military in Fallujah, beginning with the shooting of unarmed demonstrators in April 2003. US troops were occupying a school, and the demonstrators were demanding that they leave so that the children could return.
We took in what medical supplies we could, and delivered them to a doctors’ surgery that served as a field hospital for civilian and combatant casualties. It had no electricity, proper equipment or even blankets.
Blood bags, stored in a drinks fridge, were warmed under a tap. Operations were carried out by the light of a cigarette lighter when the generator stopped. The ambulance that we escorted to collect casualties was scarred with bullet holes.
Many of Fallujah’s people had fled, while others were trapped. They lived in dusty Red Crescent camps, or found roofs where they could.
In November 2004, there was a second – and much more intensive – siege, followed by a continuing stranglehold on the city.
The second attack on Fallujah was triggered by what happened in the first, and so on, all the way down to the latest attack on the city – a decade-long war on a devastated city.
Nouri Maliki, Iraq’s prime minister, is asking the people of Fallujah to expel members of al-Qaeda. In the meantime, the Iraqi army keeps up the shelling.
The Iraqi government is killing its own people again – one of the “justifications” for invading them 11 years ago.
Jo Wilding, a barrister, went on a series of humanitarian trips to Iraq between 2001 and 2004, including to Fallujah.