Inside Fallujah: one family’s diary of terror

She weeps while telling the story. The abaya (tunic) she wears cannot hide the shaking of her body as waves of grief roll through her. “I cannot get the image out of my mind of her foetus being blown out of her body.”

Muna Salim’s sister, Artica, was seven months’ pregnant when two rockets from US warplanes struck her home in Fallujah on November 1. “My sister Selma and I only survived because we were staying at our neighbours’ house that night,” Muna continued, unable to reconcile her survival while eight members of her family perished during the pre-assault bombing of Fallujah that had dragged on for weeks.

Khalid, one of their brothers who was also killed in the attack, has left behind a wife and five young children.

“There were no fighters in our area, so I don’t know why they bombed our home,” said Muna. “When it began there were full assaults from the air and tanks attacking the city, so we left from the eastern side of Fallujah and came to Baghdad.”

Selma, Muna’s 41-year-old sister, told of horrific scenes in the city which has become the centre of resistance in Iraq over the last few months. She described houses that had been razed by countless US air strikes, where the stench of decaying bodies swirled around the city on the dry, dusty winds.

“The bombed houses had collapsed and covered the bodies, and nobody could get to them because people were too afraid to drive a bulldozer,” she explained, throwing her hands into the air in despair.

“Even for people to walk out of their houses is impossible in Fallujah because of the snipers.”

Both sisters described a nightmarish existence inside the city where fighters controlled many areas, food and medicine were often in short supply, and the thumping concussions of US bombs had become a daily reality.

Water also was often in short supply, and electricity a rarity. Like many families cowered down inside Fallujah they ran a small generator when they could afford the fuel.

“Even when the bombs were far away, glasses would fall off our shelves and break,” said Muna. “None of us could sleep as during the night it was worse.”

While going to the market in the middle of the day to find food, the sisters said they felt terrorised by US warplanes, which often roared over the sprawling city. “The jets flew over so much,” said Selma, “but we never knew when they would strike the city.”

The women described a scene of closed shops, mostly empty streets, and terrorised residents wandering around the city not knowing what to do.

“Fallujah was like a ghost town most of the time,” described Muna. “Most families stayed inside their houses all the time, only going out for food when they had to.”

Tanks often attacked the outskirts of the city in skirmishes with resistance fighters, adding to the chaos and unrest. Attack helicopters rattling low over the desert were especially terrifying, criss-crossing over the city and firing rockets into the centre.

While recounting their family’s traumatic experiences over the last few weeks, from their uncle’s home in Baghdad, each of the sisters often paused, staring at the ground as if lost in the images before adding more detail. Their 65-year-old mother, Hadima, was killed in the bombing, as was their brother Khalid, who was an Iraqi police captain. Their sister Ka’ahla and her 22-year-old son also died.

“Our situation was like so many in Fallujah,” said Selma, continuing, her voice now almost emotionless and matter of fact. The months of living in terror are etched on her face.

“So many people could not leave because they had nowhere to go, and no money.”

Adhra’a, another of their sisters, and Samr, Artica’s husband, were also among the victims. Samr had a PhD in religious studies. Artica and Samr had a four-year-old son, Amorad, who died with his parents and his unborn brother or sister.

The two sisters managed to flee the city from the eastern side, carefully making their way through the US military cordon which, for the most part, encircled the area. As they left, they witnessed a scene that was full assaults on their city from US warplanes and tanks .

“Why was our family bombed?” pleaded Muna, tears streaming down her cheeks, “There were never any fighters in our area.”