Fallujah Refugees Tell of Life and Death in the Kill Zone

Baghdad — Men now seeking refuge in the Baghdad area are telling horrific stories of indiscriminate killings by US forces during the peak of fighting last month in the largely annihilated city of Fallujah.

In an interview with The NewStandard, Burhan Fasa’a, an Iraqi journalist who works for the popular Lebanese satellite TV station, LBC, said he witnessed US crimes up close. Burhan Fasa’a, who was in Fallujah for nine days during the most intense combat, said Americans grew easily frustrated with Iraqis who could not speak English.

“Americans did not have interpreters with them,” Fasa’a said, “so they entered houses and killed people because they didn’t speak English. They entered the house where I was with 26 people, and [they] shot people because [the people] didn’t obey [the soldiers’] orders, even just because the people couldn’t understand a word of English.”

A man named Khalil, who asked The NewStandard not to use his last name for fear of reprisals, said he had witnessed the shooting of civilians who were waving white flags while they tried to escape the city.
Fasa’a further speculated, “Soldiers thought the people were rejecting their orders, so they shot them. But the people just couldn’t understand them.”

Fasa’a says American troops detained him. They interrogated him specifically about working for the Arab media, he said, and held him for three days. Fasa’a and other prisoners slept on the ground with no blankets. He said prisoners were made to go to the bathroom in handcuffs, using one toilet in the middle of the camp.

“During the nine days I was in Fallujah, all of the wounded women, kids and old people, none of them were evacuated,” Fasa’a said. “They either suffered to death, or somehow survived.”

Many refugees tell stories of having witnessed US troops killing already injured people, including former fighters and noncombatants alike.

“I watched them roll over wounded people in the street with tanks,” said Kassem Mohammed Ahmed, a resident of Fallujah. “This happened so many times.”

Other refugees recount similar stories. “I saw so many civilians killed there, and I

saw several tanks roll over the wounded in the streets,” said Aziz Abdulla, 27 years old, who fled the fighting last month. Another resident, Abu Aziz, said he also witnessed American armored vehicles crushing people he believes were alive.

Abdul Razaq Ismail, another resident who fled Fallujah, said: “I saw dead bodies on the ground and nobody could bury them because of the American snipers. The Americans were dropping some of the bodies into the Euphrates near Fallujah.”

A man called Abu Hammad said he witnessed US troops throwing Iraqi bodies into the Euphrates River. Others nodded in agreement. Abu Hammed and others also said they saw Americans shooting unarmed Iraqis who waved white flags.

Believing that American and Iraqi forces were bent on killing anyone who stayed in Fallujah, Hammad said he watched people attempt to swim across the Euphrates to escape the siege. “Even then the Americans shot them with rifles from the shore,” he said. “Even if some of them were holding a white flag or white clothes over their heads to show they are not fighters, they were all shot.”

Associated Press photographer Bilal Hussein reported witnessing similar events. After running out of basic necessities and deciding to flee the city at the height of the US-led assault, Hussein ran to the Euphrates.

“I decided to swim,” Hussein told colleagues at the AP, who wrote up the photographer’s harrowing story, “but I changed my mind after seeing US helicopters firing on and killing people who tried to cross the river.”

Hussein said he saw soldiers kill a family of five as they tried to traverse the Euphrates, before he buried a man by the riverbank with his bare hands.

“I kept walking along the river for two hours and I could still see some US snipers ready to shoot anyone who might swim,” Hussein recounted. “I quit the idea of crossing the river and walked for about five hours through orchards.”

A man named Khalil, who asked The NewStandard not to use his last name for fear of reprisals, said he had witnessed the shooting of civilians who were waving white flags while they tried to escape the city. “They shot women and old men in the streets,” he said. “Then they shot anyone who tried to get their bodies.”

“There are bodies the Americans threw in the river,” Khalil continued, noting that he personally witnessed US troops using the Euphrates to dispose of Iraqi dead. “And anyone who stayed thought they would be killed by the Americans, so they tried to swim across the river. Even people who couldn’t swim tried to cross the river. They drowned rather than staying to be killed by the Americans,” said Khalil.

US military commanders reported at least two incidents during which they say Iraqi resistance fighters used white flags to lure Marines into dangerous situations, including a well-orchestrated ambush.

Proponents of relaxed rules of engagement for US troops engaged in “counter-insurgency” warfare have cited such incidents from last month’s experience in Fallujah as arguments for more permissive combat regulations. Some have said US forces should establish what used to be called “free-fire zones,” wherein any human being encountered is assumed to be hostile, and thus a legitimate target, relieving American infantrymen of their obligation to distinguish and protect civilians. But if the stories Fallujan witnesses have shared with TNS are accurate, it appears the policy might have preceded the argument in this case.

US and Iraqi officials have called the “pacification” of Fallujah a success and said that the action was necessary to stabilize Iraq in preparation for the country’s planned “transition to democracy.” The military continues to deny US-led forces killed significant numbers of civilians during November’s nearly constant fighting and bombardment.

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