A Ghost Town
By Michael Georgy
and Kim Sengupta
15 November 2004
six days of intense combat against the Fallujah insurgents, US warplanes,
tanks and mortars have left a shattered landscape of gutted buildings,
crushed cars and charred bodies.
A drive through
the city revealed a picture of utter destruction, with concrete houses
flattened, mosques in ruins, telegraph poles down, power and phone lines
hanging slack and rubble and human remains littering the empty streets.
The north-west Jolan district, once an insurgent stronghold, looked
like a ghost town, the only sound the rumbling of tank tracks.
US Marines pointed
their assault rifles down abandoned streets, past Fallujah's simple
amusement park, now deserted. Four bloated and burnt bodies lay on the
main street, not far from US tanks and soldiers. The stench of the remains
hung heavy in the air, mixing with the dust.
Another body lay
stretched out on the next block, its head blown off, perhaps in one
of the countless explosions which rent the city day and night for nearly
a week. Some bodies were so mutilated it was impossible to tell if they
were civilians or militants, male or female.
as a place with an independent streak where citizens even defied the
former leader Saddam Hussein at times, seemed lifeless. The minarets
of the city's dozens of mosques stood silent, no longer broadcasting
the call to holy war that so often echoed across the rooftops, inspiring
fighters to join the insurgency.
were covered in soot. Pavements were crushed by 70-ton Abrams tanks,
and rows of crumbling buildings stood on both sides of deserted streets.
Upmarket homes with garages looked as if they had been abandoned for
years. Cars lay crushed in the middle of streets. Two Iraqis in one
street desperately trying to salvage some of their smashed belongings
were the only signs of life.
As US soldiers walked
through neighbourhoods, their allies in the Iraqi forces casually moved
along dusty streets past wires hanging down from gutted buildings. They
carried boxes of bottled water to the rooftops of the upmarket villas
they now occupy. The soldiers sat on the roofs staring at the ruins.
As a small convoy
of Humvees moved back to position on the edge of the Jolan district,
a rocket landed in the sand about 100ft away, a reminder that militants
were still out there somewhere, even if the city that harboured them
has fallen. The few civilians left in Fallujah talked of a city left
in ruins not just by the six days of the ground assault, but the weeks
of bombing that preceded the attack.
Residents have long
been without electricity or water, abandoning their homes and congregating
in the centre of the city as the US forces advanced from all sides.
They had cowered in buildings as the battle unfolded past the windows.
The reaction of
US troops to attacks, say residents, have been out of all proportion;
shots by snipers have been answered by rounds from Abrams tanks, devastating
buildings and, it is claimed, injuring and killing civilians. This is
firmly denied by the American military.
About 200,000 refugees
fled the fighting, and there have been outbreaks of typhoid and other
People leaving the
city described rotting corpses being piled up and thousands still trapped
inside their homes, many of them wounded and without access to food,
water or medical aid. US commanders insist civilian casualties in Fallujah
have been low, but the Pentagon famously claims it does not keep figures.
described incidents in which non-combatants, including women and children,
were killed by shrapnel or hit by bombs. In one case last week, a nine-year-old
boy was hit in the stomach by shrapnel. Unable to reach a hospital,
he died hours later from blood loss. His father had to bury his body
in their garden.
Those trapped inside
the city say they are reaching a point of desperation. "Our situation
is very hard," said Abu Mustafa, contacted by telephone in the
central Hay al-Dubat neighbourhood. "We don't have food or water,"
he told Reuters. "My seven children all have severe diarrhoea.
One of my sons was wounded by shrapnel last night and he's bleeding,
but I can't do anything to help him."
Aamir Haidar Yusouf,
a 39-year-old trader, sent his family out of Fallujah, but stayed behind
to look after his home, not just during the fighting, but the looting
which will follow. "The Americans have been firing at buildings
if they see even small movements," he said.
As the fighting
died down yesterday he said: "They are also destroying cars, because
they think every car has a bomb in it. People have moved from the edges
of the city into the centre, and they are staying on the ground floors
of buildings. There will be nothing left of Fallujah by the time they
finish. They have already destroyed so many homes with their bombings
from the air, and now we are having this from tanks and big guns."
There was no sign
of the guerrillas who scribbled graffiti along the walls of the park,
encouraging Fallujah's 300,000 residents to join a holy war against
US-led troops. "Long live the mujahedin," read the graffiti.
a former policeman, said: "The Americans and [Iyad] Allawi [Iraq's
interim Prime Minister] have been saying that Fallujah is full of foreign
fighters. That is not true; they left a long time ago. You will find
them in other places, in Baghdad. We have been saying to Allawi and
the Americans that they are not here, but they do not believe us."