By Robert Fisk
02 April, 2004
bodies were hanging upside down on each side of the bridge. They had
no hands, no feet, one had no head." My old Iraqi friend had been
driving into Fallujah just after the massacre, the stoning, the burning.
He was shaking as he told me what he saw. "They were hanging upside
down above the highway, on the old railway bridge which bridge, now
a road bridge. The people of Fallujah were just driving over the bridge
as if nothing was happening, right past the bodies." The bridge
is on the west side of the Sunni Muslim city, across the Euphrates river,
and the corpses had been tied to the girders about six feet above the
road. "When we left, there were no helicopters, no police, no soldiers,
it all seemed quite normal; except for the bodies. They were burnt brown.
I couldn't tell if they were men or women."
In fact, there were
four Western men slaughtered in Fallujah yesterday - all contractors
for the Americans, some apparently armed - and they had been dragged
from their cars, mutilated, stoned, burnt, beaten with iron pipes. One
of them was decapitated, then dragged through the streets behind a car.
What the Anglo-American occupation power later called a "particularly
brutal" crime - a somewhat restrained comment in the face of such
barbarity - was all too real on the videotapes filmed by Iraqi camera
crews in Fallujah but which were not shown on Western television stations
Another man gave
a chilling description of how the men were dragged from their car, begging
for their lives. "They had gasoline splashed on them and were set
alight," he said.
It was an especially
terrible day in Iraq. Five US Marines were killed only 20 miles from
Fallujah by a roadside bomb and 15 Iraqis were wounded by a car bomb
in the city of Baquba which had been intended for an Iraqi police convoy.
As usual, Iraqi
dead were not counted by the occupation powers. But it will be the tapes
that will be remembered by all who saw them - and by Arabs who were
able to watch most of them, uncensored, on their own broadcasting channels.
They show the two
burning vehicles and two men lying beside them. One, clearly a Westerner,
is lying on his back, in brown trousers but with his shirt pulled up
to his chest, staring at the sky. A tide of burning petrol embraces
the corpse and his hands are standing claw-like above his chest. A crowd
of screaming civilians - many shouting Allahu Akhbar (God is Great),
and "Fallujah will be free" - then use a metal hook to drag
another smouldering body from beneath the second vehicle. The youths
are making V-signs at the camera as a man picks up an iron pipe and
smashes it repeatedly on the charred remains. A second man steps forward
to kick the head until it is completely severed from the body.
These were the horrors
of Iraq yesterday, pictures which would have reminded the world of the
American debacle in Somalia had they been shown outside the Middle East.
For the crowd truss up one of the bodies with yellow tape, tie it to
a car and then drag it down the main street towards the Euphrates bridge,
all the while jumping up and down and laughing.
Cars and trucks
can be seen hooting in impatience to overtake this obscene cortège
as if such horrors were an everyday occurrence. There were many Westerners
in Iraq last night who were praying that they would not be. One of the
dead men - who were, in the words of one Iraqi in Fallujah, "slaughtered
like sheep" - appeared to be carrying military identification tags.
An US passport lay next to another. One local civilian said the mujahedin,
"holy warriors", had thrown two grenades at each car before
dragging the occupants onto the road.
In the past few
weeks, attacks on foreigners have happened almost daily. Two Finns have
been killed, along with a British and Canadian contractor, two American
aid workers - one a woman - and two US missionaries, including another
woman. The Americans have not suffered their current scale of casualties
for more than two months.
Only a day earlier,
Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt, the American deputy director of military
operations in Iraq, was boasting that the US Marines in Fallujah were
encountering fewer security problems and were "quite pleased with
how they are moving progressively forward." Even more ironic was
General Kimmitt's extraordinary distinction at a press conference between
"terrorists" and "insurgents." He characterised
the violence in Fallujah - the scene of yesterday's little massacre
- as the work of "insurgents"; there was a difference, he
said, between "former regime elements, perhaps trained in the Iraqi
army" and who attacked soldiers and the Fallujah police station
and "terrorists" who went in for "suicidal, spectacular
attacks" which attack Iraqi army barracks, hotels, mosques and
religious festivals in Karbala and Baghdad. These, he insisted, involved
al-Qa'ida, Abu Mussab al-Zarkawi - the latest bogeyman whom the Americans
publicised last month - and other groups.
The truth is that
most US units have reported no "foreign fighters" in their
areas of occupation and, despite General Kimmitt's claims, the US military
largely believes the growing number of attacks in Iraq are being carried
out by home-grown guerrilla organisations. It's the same problem the
Americans have faced from the start: explaining how Iraqis whom they
allegedly came to "liberate" should want to kill them.
of the US administrator, Paul Bremer, is now surrounded by massive walls
of concrete and steel, checkpoints of sandbags and iron gates and squads
of heavily armed US troops. Yet the palace grounds are hit by mortar
fire almost nightly. So what foreigner - or Iraqi for that matter -
is now safe here?
I was outside one
Western television office in Baghdad yesterday, observing yet another
concrete wall being erected around it. Armed Iraqi militiamen stood
at every corner of the compound and British security men were on guard
inside. If Mr Bremer's old presidential palace with its triumphal gateway
now resembles the seat of the old British Raj, the office I visited
was beginning to look like those fading photos of the British residency
at Lucknow during the Indian Mutiny. For this is what we have now come
to in Baghdad: foreigners on the run.
Copyright: The Independent.