Sunday, December 05, 2004

Snapshots of Iraq

The situation in Falloojeh is worse than anyone can possibly describe. It has turned into one of those cities you see in your darkest nightmares- broken streets strewn with corpses, crumbling houses and fallen mosques... The worst part is that for the last couple of weeks we've been hearing about the use of chemical weapons inside Falloojeh by the Americans. Today we heard that the delegation from the Iraqi Ministry of Health isn't being allowed into the city, for some reason.I don't know about the chemical weapons. It's not that I think the American military is above the use of chemical weapons, it's just that I keep wondering if they'd be crazy enough to do it. I keep having flashbacks of that video they showed on tv, the mosque and all the corpses. There was one brief video that showed the same mosque a day before, strewn with many of the same bodies- but some of them were alive. In that video, there's this old man leaning against the wall and there was blood running out of his eyes- almost like he was crying tears of blood. What 'conventional' weaponry makes the eyes bleed? They say that a morgue in Baghdad has received the corpses of citizens in Falloojeh who have died under seemingly mysterious conditions. The wounded in Falloojeh aren't getting treatment and today we heard about a family with six children being bombed in the city. It's difficult to believe that in this day and age, when people are blogging, emailing and communicating at the speed of light, a whole city is being destroyed and genocide is being committed- and the whole world is aware and silent. Darfur, Americans? Take a look at what you've done in Falloojeh.

This past Sunday a small Iraqi Red Crescent aid convoy was allowed into Fallujah at 4:30pm. I interviewed a member of the convoy today. Speaking on condition of anonymity, (so I’ll call her Suthir), the first thing she said to me was, “I need another heart and eyes to bear it because my own are not enough to bear what I saw. Nothing justifies what was done to this city. I didn’t see a house or mosque that wasn’t destroyed.”
Suthir paused often to collect herself, but then as usual with those of us who have witnessed atrocities first hand, when she started to talk, she barely stopped to breath.
“There were families with nothing. I met a family with three daughters and two sons. One of their sons, Mustafa who was 16 years old, was killed by American snipers. Then their house was burned. They had nothing to eat. Just rice and cold water-dirty water…they put the rice in the dirty water, let it sit for one or two hours, then they ate the rice. Fatma, the 17 year-old daughter, said she was praying for God to take her soul because she couldn’t bear the horrors anymore.”
The families’ 12 year old boy told Suthir he used to want to be a doctor or a journalist. She paused then added, “He said that now he has no more dreams. He could no longer even sleep.”
“I’m sure the Americans committed bad things there, but who can discover and say this,” she said, “They didn’t allow us to go to the Julan area or any of the others where there was heavy fighting, and I’m sure that is where the horrible things took place.”

“Doctors in Fallujah are reporting there are patients in the hospital there who were forced out by the Americans,” said Mehdi Abdulla, a 33 year-old ambulance driver at a hospital in Baghdad, “Some doctors there told me they had a major operation going, but the soldiers took the doctors away and left the patient to die.” He looks at the ground, then away to the distance.
Honking cars fill the chaotic street outside the hospital where they’d just received brand new desks. The empty boxes are strewn about outside. Um Mohammed, a doctor at the hospital sat behind her old, wooden desk. “How can I take a new desk when there are patients dying because we don’t have medicine for them,” she asked while holding her hands in the air, “They should build a lift so patients who can’t walk can be taken to surgery, and instead we have these new desks!” Her eyes were piercing with fire, while yet another layer of frustration is folded into her work.
“And there are still a few Iraqis who think the Americans came to liberate them,” she added while looking out the broken window. The glass lay about outside-shattered from a car bomb that had detonated in front of the hospital. “These people will change their minds about the liberators when they, too, have had a family member killed by them.”

The first major operation by US marines and Iraqi soldiers was to storm Falluja general hospital, arresting doctors and placing the facility under military control. The New York Times reported that "the hospital was selected as an early target because the American military believed that it was the source of rumours about heavy casual ties", noting that "this time around, the American military intends to fight its own information war, countering or squelching what has been one of the insurgents' most potent weapons". The Los Angeles Times quoted a doctor as saying that the soldiers "stole the mobile phones" at the hospital - preventing doctors from communicating with the outside world.
But this was not the worst of the attacks on health workers. Two days earlier, a crucial emergency health clinic was bombed to rubble, as well as a medical supplies dispensary next door. Dr Sami al-Jumaili, who was working in the clinic, says the bombs took the lives of 15 medics, four nurses and 35 patients. The Los Angeles Times reported that the manager of Falluja general hospital "had told a US general the location of the downtown makeshift medical centre" before it was hit.
Whether the clinic was targeted or destroyed accidentally, the effect was the same: to eliminate many of Falluja's doctors from the war zone. As Dr Jumaili told the Independent on November 14: "There is not a single surgeon in Falluja." When fighting moved to Mosul, a similar tactic was used: on entering the city, US and Iraqi forces immediately seized control of the al-Zaharawi hospital.,3604,1366278,00.html

As I write, American troops are pursuing an estimated 2,000 insurgents, blasting away at Falluja, a city of approximately 300,000 residents. Some civilians have fled, but certainly not hundreds of thousands. It is interesting: The first thing our soldiers did when they entered the city was to take over the hospital, reportedly because our leaders worry that doctors there are really operating propaganda mills and and milking sympathy for untoward ends. They believe that the number of civilian deaths reported by hospitals, in international mortality reports and by the Red Cross has been inflated. All those pictures of weeping families and bloody sheets are merely the heresy of freedom's nonbelievers, we are left to suppose. And so the Red Cross is no longer in the city. Médecins Sans Frontières was forced to pull out of Iraq weeks ago. A report from the British medical journal The Lancet, putting the Iraqi death toll at 100,000 since the US invasion began, has been denounced as methodologically flawed, flat-out false and no more than a theory.
I waited for the non-propaganda figures to come out of this assault on Falluja, the truthful toll, some data to assure us that numbers of civilian deaths distinguish us from Saddam Hussein. At the end of three days of heavy fighting, the news was "good." Coalition casualties were reported to be light. But nowhere could I find any mention of numbers of residents killed. The silence has been light as a feather, warm as a blanket, gentle as faith. Perhaps they never existed, maybe it was all in our heads. But as American forces level this city in our name, let us stop acting stricken about what Jesus is supposedly whispering in the ears of our nation's home-grown fundamentalists. In the name of sanity, we must demand that this Administration, not God, start talking some talk about our evolution to this dreadful point.

Not too surprising, however, because there are also eyewitness reports now from refugees that some soldiers in Fallujah were tying the dead bodies of resistance fighters to tanks and driving around with their “trophies.”

Did you know that Fallujah was the birthplace of the Talmud.Neither did I. The Shalom Report, a progressive Jewish site notes: "Fred Astren, professor of Jewish studies at San Francisco State University, writes on the Jewish-studies listserve ---
"While recently reviewing lecture notes on early medieval messianism, I realized that Fallujah is Pumbeditha (re: the messiah of Pallughta).
"Pumbeditha, one of the great centers of Jewish learning 1800 years ago in "Babylonia," one of the centers where Talmud Bavli and Rabbinic Judaism were shaped. Where great teachers and great students wove words into a civilization.
"Falluja, the city of 300,000 people just shattered by the US military in a war created and continued by lies. Words woven into bloodshed and destruction.

The Pentagon has admitted that the war on terror and the invasion and occupation of Iraq have increased support for al-Qaeda, made ordinary Muslims hate the US and caused a global backlash against America because of the “self-serving hypocrisy” of George W Bush’s administration over the Middle East.
The mea culpa is contained in a shockingly frank “strategic communications” report, written this autumn by the Defence Science Board for Pentagon supremo Donald Rumsfeld.
On “the war of ideas or the struggle for hearts and minds”, the report says, “American efforts have not only failed, they may also have achieved the opposite of what they intended”.

Well, the slaughter in Iraq continues apace anyway. Our occupation only compounds the horror of it all.
We ferociously destroyed ancient Fallujah to clear it of the Iraqi resistance, as if there were a geographic center for the insurgency that knows no map coordinates.

He said it was difficult to move around the city due to the number of dead bodies.
"Bodies can be seen everywhere and people were crying when receiving the food parcels. It is very sad, it is a human disaster," Mr Nuri reportedly said.

“I feel hatred. I hurt. This is my city and it has been destroyed,” Ibrahim said, sitting on a thin mattress on the floor of a room he shares with his wife, seven children and another family.
“The people of Fallujah are people of revenge. If they don’t get their revenge now, they will next year or even after 50 years. But they will get it.”

JULES LOBEL: Kevin Sites, the NBC cameraman, what he does is he shows that -- he puts up quotes from different Marines. He says the Marines say they were operating under rules of engagement, which said this was a weapons-free zone. And what they meant by weapons-free was that they could shoot at anything. They didn't have to determine whether it was hostile. Anything that they saw was deemed to be hostile in Fallujah. It reminds you of the free-fire zones in Vietnam. Under the Geneva Conventions, commanders have a responsibility to ensure that civilians are not indiscriminately harmed and that prisoners are not executed. The real problem here is coming from the top, not from the individual soldiers. I think the investigation should really be on what the rules of engagement were that these Marines were operating under, and whether they were given instructions not to kill prisoners, not to discriminate between insurgents and civilians, and my hunch is that they weren't.

To those who warn that it would be inhumane and wrong to leave Iraq soon, I ask: What's so humane about sticking around and killing again and again?

Ending this bloodbath is the most honorable task Americans can perform to restore progressive priorities and our respect in the world. We have passed the point for graceful exit strategies. Our policy is to go on mechanically killing people unless they vote in January for us to keep on killing people.
By any moral or economic accounting, we now are worsening the lives of Iraqi since the fall of Saddam. We have turned innocent young Americans into torturers in places like Abu Ghraib. When going into battle, we close hospitals first. We make sure that television and newspapers are not "able to show pictures of bleeding women and children being taken into hospital wards" – this reported on Veterans Day in the Times. Not even our friends like us anymore, whether we are tourists in Europe or diplomats at the United Nations.

Here is a list of sources for the "snapshots" (all have direct links above):

Baghdad Burning. Baghdad Burning: Girl Blog From Iraq.

BBC News. "Aid reaches Falluja's citizens." BBC.

Mariam Fam. "Rebuilding Fallujah a big task for Iraqi leaders." The Telegraph Online.

Amy Goodman interviews Jules Lobel. "U.S. War Crimes in Fallujah." Democracy Now!

Tom Hayden. "How to End the Iraq War." AlterNet.

Dar Jamail. Iraq Dispatches.

Naomi Klein. "You asked for my evidence, Mr Ambassador. Here it is." The Guardian.

Neil Mackay. "US admits the war for ‘hearts and minds’ in Iraq is now lost." The Sunday Herald.

Danny Schechter. "Dec. 3 Who Are Our Prophets Now?." News Dissector.

Helen Thomas. "Declare Victory And Leave: Administration Claims Killing Leads To Peace."
The Boston Channel Com.

Patricia J. Williams. "Taking the Hospital." The Nation.

[This post was edited when Kim caught that the link to Schecter's excerpt was to his web log and not to the actual post "Dec. 3 Who Are Our Prophets Now?" so the permalink to that entry has been added; the original link to his site has been left in. I've also changed "Profits" to "Prophets"
which I got wrong in the original version of this post. Thank you, Kim.]