Fallujah has become like hell

As 10-15,000 U.S. troops, accompanied by warplanes, tanks, heavy machine guns and cannons, waged a massive assault on Fallujah, a reporter described one residential neighborhood as “a wasteland of shattered glass and rubble, with smoke filling the horizon.”

“Every minute, hundreds of bombs and shells are exploding,” a city resident told Associated Press Monday evening. “The north of the city is in flames. ... Fallujah has become like hell.” Hundreds of houses had been destroyed, he said.

U.S. troops cut off electricity to the city, AP reported. Residents said they were without running water and were worried about food shortages because most stores had been closed for days.

Iraqi casualty figures were unavailable. Estimates for how many of the city’s 300,000 residents fled ahead of the U.S. assault varied widely, from 20 to 90 percent. U.S. commanders estimated that up to half of the civilian population remained.

Marine officers on the ground made little mention of civilian casualties, but claimed they were killing large numbers of insurgents. “A lot of them are dying and this is a good thing,” Marine spokesman Lt. Lyle Gilbert told Agence France Press.

Dr. Muhammad Ismail, a member of the governing board of Fallujah General Hospital, which was seized by U.S. troops, appealed to doctors around Iraq to come to help with the disastrous situation in the city, according to an Islamic newspaper, Mafkarat al-Islam. Ismail said the number of injured was increasing at an alarming rate.

Even if the hospital were working at maximum capacity — which it cannot due to the destruction inflicted by the U.S. assault — Ismail said it would still not be able to provide medical care to the growing numbers of wounded. He noted that U.S. troops had arrested many of the medical staff and had sealed the stores of medical supplies. As a result, a nurse had to perform surgery to remove a piece of American shrapnel from the back of an Iraqi child, he said.

Residents told Reuters an air strike had destroyed a clinic that had been receiving casualties after U.S. forces seized the hospital. A doctor at the hospital said the city was running out of medical supplies and only a few clinics remained open. Nazzal Emergency Hospital, a small hospital funded by a Saudi Arabian Islamic charity, was reduced to rubble, and a nearby building used by the general hospital to store supplies was also destroyed.

“There is not a single surgeon in Fallujah. We had one ambulance hit by U.S. fire and a doctor wounded,” the doctor said. “There are scores of injured civilians in their homes whom we can’t move. A 13-year-old child just died in my hands.”

The United Nations refugee agency and the International Committee of the Red Cross voiced strong concern about tens of thousands of people fleeing the city, many now living in tents, and about the lack of health care for the wounded.

In a memo to U.S. peace activists, Kevin Martin, Peace Action executive director, asked, “Is our strategy to destroy cities in order to save them for democracy?”

Citing findings that 100,000 Iraqi civilians have been killed so far in the U.S. invasion and occupation, Martin asked, “How can a country that claims to be concerned with moral values in our politics possibly justify this death toll?”

United for Peace and Justice, representing over 800 national and local U.S. groups, urged Americans to voice their concerns to members of Congress at home and when they return to Washington Nov. 16, and to flood newspapers and talk shows with their protests. Five hundred people turned out in Chicago Nov. 8 to protest the military action. Other protests were planned around the nation to mark Veterans Day.

In a letter to President Bush before the Fallujah offensive, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan warned that U.S. military action could jeopardize Iraqi elections set for January. “The threat or actual use of force not only risks deepening the sense of alienation of certain communities, but would also reinforce perceptions among the Iraqi population of a continued military occupation,” Annan wrote.

A major Sunni political party, the Iraqi Islamic Party, said it was pulling out of the interim Iraqi government in response to the U.S. attack, although its cabinet minister said he had resigned from the party rather than withdraw from the government. The party, along with some Sunni clerics, threatened to boycott the elections if the assault is not halted.

As some had warned, guerrilla operations spread in other places. On the first day of the Fallujah assault, 11 Americans were killed in a wave of guerrilla attacks across Iraq that also left scores of Iraqis dead. It was the highest one-day U.S. toll in more than six months.

The author can be reached at suewebb@pww.org.click here for Spanish text