Life Goes On in Fallujah’s Rubble

SAN FRANCISCO, California — A year after the U.S.-led “Operation Phantom Fury” damaged or destroyed 36,000 homes, 60 schools and 65 mosques in Fallujah, Iraq, residents inside the city continue to suffer from lack of compensation, slow reconstruction and high rates of illness.

The Study Centre for Human Rights and Democracy based in Fallujah (SCHRD) estimates the number of people killed in the city during the U.S.-led operation in October and November 2004 at 4,000 to 6,000, most of them civilians. Mass graves were dug on the outskirts of the city for thousands of the bodies.

Last week, the Pentagon confirmed that it had used white phosphorus, a chemical that bursts into flame upon contact with air, inside Fallujah as an “incendiary weapon” against insurgents. Washington denies that it is a chemical weapon, as charged by some critics, and that it was used against civilians.

Compensation payments promised by Iyad Allawi, the U.S.-backed interim prime minister at the time of the operation, have failed to materialise for many residents in the city, who lack potable water and suffer electricity cuts on a daily basis.

“People were paid almost 20 percent of what they were promised by Allawi, which was just 100 million dollars,” said Mohamad Tareq al-Deraji, a resident of Fallujah and spokesperson for the city’s governing council.

According to Deraji, who is also a biologist and co-director of the SCHRD, Iraq’s current prime minister, Ibrahim al-Jaafari, had agreed to continue with the second and third compensation payments to people inside Fallujah who had suffered the loss of a loved one or damaged property during the fighting, after he was pressured by the U.S. embassy.

“But now he [Jaafari] has stopped the payments,” Deraji told IPS. “So now there is no payment to the people and we all continue to suffer.”

This month, U.S. Marine Col. David Berger, who is commander of the 8th Regimental Combat Team and responsible for Fallujah, told reporters, “[Fallujah’s residents] don’t see any progress, they don’t see any action. They hear a lot of words, a lot of promises, but not a lot of product.”

Deraji estimates that up to 150,000 of the 350,000 residents of Fallujah continue to live as internally displaced persons due to the lack of compensation, and therefore, lack of reconstruction.

Reports from inside the city indicate that residents are increasingly angry at the situation.

“When I was recently in Fallujah, I didn’t see any reconstruction,” said Rana Aiouby, a freelance journalist from Baghdad. “Some of the people are rebuilding their own houses, but I’m still finding people outside Fallujah who are refugees from the April attack on the city.”

Aiouby, who has been in Fallujah many times, said that she was finally allowed to visit the Shuhada district this past April, after having been previously barred from the area by U.S. forces.

“This is the poorest district of Falluah and where there was some of the worst destruction,” she added. “It was at least 95 percent destroyed.”

Both Deraji and Aiouby said that the power supply is erratic, and that random bursts of fighting continued on an almost daily basis. As recently as Nov. 16, the U.S. military confirmed that a Marine was killed by a car bomb in Karmah, a small city near Fallujah.

“So many schools are either destroyed or occupied by the Americans even now,” Abu Mohammed, a resident of Fallujah, told IPS in a telephone interview. “Our children are either going to school in tents or staying at home because we are too afraid to have them outside.”

Abu Mohammed, a carpenter and 30-year-old father of five, said that countless residents were sick from drinking dirty tap water. Others were falling ill from the lack of electricity coupled with cold nighttime temperatures that sink as low as 10 degrees Celsius now that winter has arrived in Iraq.

Deraji agreed, saying there were “many new diseases, especially cancers with children and with people who stayed in Falluah during the assault”. He told IPS, “Maybe they took big doses from radiation and pollution inside the city during that time, so we have so many medical problems now.”

This is complicated by the fact that hospitals in the city are not at full operating capacity.

“Some reconstruction is going on with our hospitals,” added Deraji, “But it is very slow and the government is taking some of the money themselves that we’ve had for it.”

Mohammed Khadem, a 55 year-old engineer in Fallujah, expressed frustration at the tight military checkpoints in the city. “With retina scans and fingerprinting still being carried out by the U.S. military at times in order to issue bar-coded identification badges for certain residents, lines waiting to get into the city are quite long,” he said.

During a phone call from inside Fallujah, Khadem told IPS that security remained a large problem and fighting occurred “nearly every day at times”.

Deraji, speaking for the SCHRD, complained that the “Americans are not letting our police reestablish themselves. They’ve only allowed 200 Iraqi police to be established from inside Fallujah and this is not enough.”

According to the SCHRD and other NGOs operating in Fallujah, a sore spot for residents in the city are members of the Iraqi Army who are with U.S. soldiers.

With Fallujah being primarily Sunni and members of the Shia Badr Organisation militia and Kurdish Peshmerga militia comprising most of the Iraqi Army in Fallujah, reports of humiliating and brutal treatment of residents are common. “Now there are many Iraqi Army men with the Americans and this is a big problem because they are always shooting and taking people as detainees,” said Deraji. “They are acting like cowboys in films.”