Monday, January 17, 2005

Eyewitness report from Fallujah

Queens Students Against the War

Eyewitness Report From Fallujah
Dr Salam Ismael
Thursday December 9th 2004

“I am a Muslim and have a beard but I am not a terrorist.” These were the words of Dr. Ismael as he began his presentation at Queens University, Belfast. It was recognition of the alarming levels of Islamaphobia in the West, in which every Muslim is viewed as a terrorist, thanks to the War on Terror.

Giving a very emotive account of his experience in Iraq, Dr. Ismael focused on the humanitarian aspect of the US and UK occupation. He highlighted the paradox of the US claiming to bring democracy to Iraq, while arresting people for no reason – effectively internment. He recalled his experience of being arrested, with four hundred other colleagues, for protesting against the occupation. They were forced to remain in the same uncomfortable position for several hours at a time - if they moved they were beaten. He also told of how his father was beaten by the military and humiliated in front of his two daughters when they came to his house looking for him.

During the April assault on Fallujah Dr. Ismael was working in the city’s hospital. He estimates that over 700 people were killed. According to his colleagues still working in Fallujah, this time the figure is much higher. It is estimated that there are over 3500 dead, with thousands more seriously injured. On average half of these casualties are children, while another third are women. There are over 300 children orphaned, including a young girl who lost twenty-five members of her family due to one cluster bomb.

The work of medical staff in the city’s hospital has been hampered by the US refusing to allow Aid Agencies, supplying food and medication, to enter the city. The situation is now so desperate that surgeons are forced to give patients a diluted form of anaesthetic before operating – it is not unusual for patients to waken up during an operation. However, this is not the first time the American’s have disrupted medical care. One of the first targets of the bombing campaign, during this assault, was the hospital “where insurgences were hiding”. Two doctors, who were “like brothers” to Dr. Ismael, were killed.

The Americans are using the tower in the Mosques to position snipers to protect themselves against “insurgences”. Not only have they taken over the Iraqi people’s country, they are taking over their religion. In showing this disrespect towards their religion, it is obvious why the resistance to growing.

Dr. Ismael dismissed claims that Iraq would descend into civil war, if the US forces pulled out, because of tension between Shiah and Sunni Muslims. He gave the example of after the April assault Shiah Muslims from across Iraq sent supplies to Fallujah, a prominently Sunni area, to help rebuilt the city. Dr. Ismael believes this has been an advantage of the occupation – Iraqis are now united in their opposition to occupation.

A recurring theme through out the talk was how Western media doesn’t get at the truth. They don’t show the horrific pictures which show the reality of the occupation, or ask the right questions. Dr. Ismael joked that he emails Jon Snow from Channel 4 everyday to tell him this.

Hearing this talk by Dr. Ismaul must encourage us to renew our efforts in protesting against this illegal, immoral and inhumane occupation. Next semester we must focus on organising the teach-in to raise awareness among other students about the dreadful reality of the occupation and build March 19th, the next international day of action, so Queens has a strong and noticeable presence on the march. There were seventy people at this talk. There clearly is anti-occupation sentiment in this university – we must tap into it so Queens can become a beckon of resistance to the imperialist agenda of our leaders.

Iraqi doctor Salam Ismael who spoke in Belfast attempted to reach Fallujah over Christmas to help thousands of refugees stranded by the US assault on their city.....
He found misery, hunger and growing anger…….

‘How can they talk about elections?

Christmas eve, there is a cold wind, the temperatures in the desert dip below freezing. A group of us, all doctors, decide to try and reach Fallujah. There are stories of disease and hunger.

As we leave Baghdad we are stopped at three checkpoints manned by the US army and their allies in the Iraqi National Guard. They search us then let us get on our way. Three miles north of Baghdad we reach the small town of Taji; we are stopped again, but now by the resistance. Masked men brandishing assault rifles and rocket launchers ask us where we are going and examine our IDs. We tell them we are doctors on a humanitarian mission trying to reach Fallujah.
We would be stopped twice more by the resistance. Outside the cities it is they who control Iraq. We drive along the side roads that crisscross the agricultural lands to avoid US troops. By midday we reach Saqlawia, a village a few miles north of Fallujah. The area is dotted with refugee camps. I notice many children playing—most of them poorly dressed in spite of the cold weather (it was about 8C and it was a windy day). The refugees make up some of the estimated 200,000 people displaced by the US assault on the city last November.
I meet a middle-aged man who introduced himself as Mohammad Al-Esawi, he has two children—an eight year old son and a five year old daughter. He is a construction worker from the poor Golan district of Fallujah.
I ask him how long he has been waiting to return home. “I fled on the first day of the siege,” he says. “I left the day the Americans announced that all men under the age of 45 were not allowed to leave the city. The Americans are wicked. They would only allow women and children to leave, and even then they only gave families one day to pack and leave. Three of my cousins and their families were trapped in the city, and I heard that one of my cousins and his wife were killed, but I cannot be sure. I left because, during the first American siege last March, we learned the meaning of death and terror. We suffered a lot. My son was wounded in the leg by a cluster bomb. So this time I decided to leave the city and not let my family face more horror. But if I was single I would have stayed.”
I ask him what he and his family managed to take with them. His eyes fill with tears. “Only what we could carry, some clothes, some dishes and cooking pans, and a few blankets,” says Mohammad.
“What about your situation here?” I ask. “There are about 300 families in this small camp,” he says. “Some of the families are guests of the families in the nearby village of Saqlawia. But there is not enough room for everyone there, so when the houses filled the rest of us lived in the desert for a while until we got tents from aid organisations. We are suffering a chronic shortage of medication and food. And it is harder because it is winter. You see that we are in the open desert in this winter rain and wind. It is very cold here, especially at night when the temperature drops to below zero. We do not have enough heaters, and those who have heaters find it difficult to get fuel. Many of the children are complaining of respiratory infections. Where is the medicine? There is another big problem. Instead of giving humanitarian aid, the Americans came to the camp and arrested the men. We do not know where they are, or when they will be released.”
I ask Mohammad’s wife if the Iraqi provisional government were helping the refugees. She begins to shake with anger:
“What government? The one that destroyed Fallujah, that drove us from our homes? They did not give us any money to repair our houses destroyed in the first siege. Who will rebuild our houses this time?”
She tells me that every morning she wakes up to the same problems.
“Every day I ask: ‘How will I feed my family today?’ We have a small amount of rice and some flour. And without help from our relatives, the Iraqi people here and humanitarian organisations we would surely have died. My husband is not working now so from where can we get money? When there is food there is not enough water. Sometimes we have to wash the dishes with mud. And I have to think about the heating and fuel—most of the time we have to collect the wood for heating. Usually all we have are blankets. I feel pain whenever I hear my child cough. What did we do to deserve this?” she cries.
“Why are they doing this to us? I lost two sisters and a brother in the siege last March. I want to say that this situation has left us with more hatred for the occupation,” Mohammad interrupts. “Where is the justice? Saddam killed a lot of people and Bush killed more, so both have to be punished.”
I ask him one last question: “What do you think about elections planned for January?” “What elections? Tell me how we can return home, tell me about medication for my children, tell me about food, tell me about heating fuel, tell me about water! Do not ask me about elections. Prime Minister Iyad Allawi destroyed our homes and now he wants elections. I will never participate in these elections.”

Dr Salam Ismael – Chief of Junior Doctors in Iraq – ex resident of Fallujah


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