Saturday, April 17, 2004
"In a testy news conference [Easter] Sunday, [Brig General] Kimmitt said that the widespread Iraqi perception that civilians were being killed indiscriminately in Fallujah by U.S. forces was based on irresponsible and inaccurate reporting by the two most popular Arab-language channels, Al Jazeera and Al Arabiya."
"To Iraqis who were angered by the American actions, he said: "Change the channel,...The stations that are showing Americans killing women and children are not legitimate news sources"."
--Nicholas Riccardi and Tony Perry, The LA Times (registration required)
Riccardi in Baghdad and Perry in Fallujah reported eyewitness accounts from survivors fleeing besieged Fallujah; and these confirmed earlier reports of civilian deaths at the hands of American soldiers. Marine snipers had been shooting anyone who ventured out into the open. Ambulances were targeted, people waving white flags, burial parties, and people trying to flee the scene. Even after the first lulls in heavy bombardment and strafing, which were characterized as cease-fires, it was clear that American sharpshooters carried on with their work. They continued to shoot civilians, as well as armed men. The latest estimate of Iraqi losses in Fallujah is put at 600 dead and well over a thousand wounded. Iraqi doctors, working at clinics in the city, provided these statistics.
At the scene, Reuters reported, "There were too many dead and wounded for hospital workers in the besieged city to deal with. Outside a hastily erected field hospital, Reuter's television footage shows corpses lying in the street, wrapped in bloodstained white sheets."
"The dead include small children, women and old men, and a new born baby. Beside the corpses there is a pile of body parts which no one has had time to deal with."
As the US military continued to discount the reports from Arabic media, concerning the targeted civilians, there were still a few western sources which could validate the stories, during the week that ended on Easter Sunday. On April 11th, a report from Jo Wilding, a British activist, supplied some pertinent information. Ms. Wilding tells the story of how a journalist alerted her, late at night, about the desperate situation in Fallujah. The journalist convinced her to help bring medical supplies into the embattled city, telling her that it was crucial to have westerners along who spoke English, in order to get the medical supplies through American checkpoints. With courage, Jo Wilding committed herself to this, and began a harrowing journey toward Fallujah, where she also helped bring wounded into the clinics. She writes compellingly about her experience serving with an ambulance crew, which came under sniper fire:
"We stop, turn off the siren, keep the blue light flashing, wait, eyes on the silhouettes of men in US Marine uniforms on the corners of the buildings. Several shots come. We duck, get as low as possible and I can see tiny red lights whipping past the window, past my head. Some, it's hard to tell, are hitting the ambulance. I start singing. What else do you do when someone's shooting at you? A tire bursts with an enormous noise and a jerking of the vehicle."
"I'm outraged. We're trying to get a woman who's giving birth without any medical attention, without electricity, in a city under siege, in a clearly marked ambulance, and you're shooting at us. How dare you?"
But Wilding and the ambulance crew are unable to reach the house where the woman is giving birth. Azzam, the driver, has to wheel around and lurch over the median. They flee for their lives back to the hospital. The next morning they find the ambulance out of commission, and they head for the streets in a pick-up.
"We go again, Dave, Rana and me"...We shout again to the soldiers, hold up the flag with a red crescent sprayed onto it. Two come down from the building, cover this side and Rana mutters, "Allahu akbar. Please nobody take a shot at them.."
"First we go down the street we were sent to. There's a man, face down, in a white dishdasha, a small round red stain on his back. We run to him. Again the flies have got there first. Dave is at his shoulders, I'm by his knees and as we reach to roll him onto the stretcher Dave's hand goes through his chest, through the cavity left by the bullet that entered so neatly through his back and blew his heart out."
"There's no weapon in his hand. Only when we arrive, his sons come out, crying, shouting. He was unarmed, they scream. He just went out to the gate and they shot him. He was ...55 years old."
Jo Wilding got onboard the same bus that brought her to Fallujah, a bus filled with badly wounded who needed to reach Baghdad.
"We stop in Abu Ghraib and swap seats, foreigners in the front, Iraqis less visible, headscarves off so we look more western. The American soldiers are so happy to see westerners they don't mind too much about the Iraqis with us, search the men and the bus, leave the women unsearched because there are no women soldiers to search us. Mohammed keeps asking me if things are going to be OK."
"Al-melaach wiyana, I tell him. The angels are with us. He laughs."
"And then we're in Baghdad, delivering them to the hospitals, Nuha in tears as they take the burnt man off groaning and whimpering."
"And the satellite news says the cease fire is holding and George Bush says to the troops on Easter Sunday that, "I know what we're doing in Iraq is right"."
"Well George, I know too now. I know what it looks like when you brutalize people so much that they've nothing left to lose. I know what it looks like when an operation is being done without anesthetic because the hospitals are destroyed or under sniper fire and the city's under siege and aid isn't getting in properly. I know what it sounds like too. I know what it looks like when tracer bullets are passing your head, even though you're in an ambulance. I know what it looks like when a man's chest is no longer inside him and what it smells like and I know what it looks like when his wife and children pour out of his house."
"It's a crime and it's a disgrace to us all."
Sources via Jeanne d'Arc and Brooke Biggs