Operation “Steel Curtain”

There is a huge US military operation once again targeting the Al-Qa’im area of Iraq, this one named “Steel Curtain.”

As tomorrow marks the one year anniversary of the beginning of the massacre in Fallujah, the US military pushes on with house to house fighting in the small down of Husaybah, near Al-Qa’im.

According to Al-Jazeera: “Falih Abd al-Karim, an Iraqi journalist, told Aljazeera that US and Iraqi forces were positioned in al-Sikak neighbourhood and north and south of 12 Rabia al-Awal neighbourhood in central Husaybah.

This came after US warplanes on Sunday evening targeted al-Jamahir, al-Risala and other neighbourhoods in the town, destroying houses, and killing and injuring dozens of people, he said.

The bodies remained under the debris of the houses because US forces do not allow burials or transfer of the injured to hospitals, Abd al-Karim added.

The US shelling has demolished government buildings, including al-Jamahir primary school, al-Qaim preparatory school for boys, the educational supervision building, al-Qaim post office and communication centre, al-Qaim education directorate and two mosques in the city, he said.”

Once again, the effects of this on the civilian population are either under-reported or not reported at all in most mainstream outlets in the US. The following is a first-person account from journalist Sabah Ali who ventured into the besieged area very recently. This is some of the only information available from an independent source regarding the ongoing assault. The following is his piece written on November 6:

It usually takes less than an hour from Al-Qa’im (Husaiba, as locals call it) to Haditha. We left at 8.45 am to be at the first Haditha check point at 5 pm. We had to take an hour detour on the dusty desert road to reach the cement factory check point, normally10 minutes away on the paved road. But that was the easiest part of the story. Before we were there an American convoy stopped us. We had to go out of the pavement for a few meters, turn the cars to face the desert until the convoy passed and was far away. We hardly moved again, when another convoy came from the opposite side. We had to leave the pavement and face the desert again. When they were away, inside the Cement factory, we began to move.

But the Iraqi National Guards prevented us. “Go back” they ordered, at gun point. It was not too hot on that late October day, but the wind and the sun were not helping the fasting people, it was still Ramadan last fasting days. We had to wait for 5 hours. The majority of the people on the road were families, going back with their animals and furniture to Si’da, after the latest attack was over, (or so they believed). Tens of trucks and small cars were waiting hopelessly in the middle of the desert. A deaf old woman in her 80’s was crying bitterly, wondering God’s wisdom of not taking her soul and helping her out of this situation. “The cold killed me,” she muttered, hardly able to talk.

A young mother of six children, Ida Thiyab, was changing her baby’s diapers; she left her home when he was only one day old. Now he is two months. A third was looking for clean water to feed her baby. Soriya, a mother and grandmother of a big family, suffers from asthma, and in the refugee camp the doctor did not know how to help her…etc.
“Is not it dangerous to go back home now, while the situation is still not safe?” (One of the biggest attacks eventually began on Nov 5, 2005 named Steel Curtain, 3,500 American and Iraqi troops participated in it)

“What else can we do?” replied Ida. It is getting too cold especially at night in the wilderness; we were living in a (tent) that we made of flour sacks for two months.”

Realizing that there is no chance of opening the road that day, the drivers decided to move, and try another check point. This one was open, but the queue was so long that you could not see its end. The search was so intrusive that it takes at least 10 minutes for one car from either side to move. Some families tried to talk to the American soldiers to make it easier for the children and old people. He was kind and promised to help, “But I have orders” he said. Breakfasting time was approaching, all the people were fasting.

We drove at 150k/h; we had to go through three more check points to reach the last one at Haditha gate. There, a few Humvees (American armored vehicles) surrounded us from three sides. Some of the soldiers went down, took the firing position and began shouting in broken Arabic: “Get down and leave the doors open”. We did immediately. They told us to move forward. We did.

In one of the cars a woman became very angry, she did not obey, began shouting at the soldiers: “I am a doctor, I am supposed to be at work now, while I spent the day here in these queues, why do not you respect our time, can not you see that we are civilians, how many times do you have to search us…etc.” Another woman was very worried about her, tried to go back and help, but ordered not to move. “What is this? Are we arrested?” she complained, but did not get a reply. There was fuss, wireless calls between the soldiers and officers, in the end two very big built officers came near and asked who the woman who was angry was?

She did not stop shouting at them. “We are fed up” she said. The officer, curiously enough, asked her calmly if she had any question, and why she was angry, “It is for your own sake, and ours too, this delay” he said. Her car was scrupulously searched, and let go.

The Iraq soldiers, whose accent was clearly southern, asked for badges. As we were not from Haditha, he told us that we had to go back. “The road is closed in 15 minutes” he said. We decided to leave the car, cross the check point on feet, and try to get a car on the other side. Haditha was now no more than 15 minutes away.

The situation here was different than it was in Al-qa’im. The American and the Iraqi soldiers were everywhere in the streets. There was no more car searching, only checking the IDs. Traces of the last attack could be seen everywhere on the buildings, the faces, and the suspicious eyes.

We heard the same scenario. Water, electricity, phones, roads were all cut. The city was besieged before the bombing began on October 5, 2005 and went on for 18 days. Many houses were demolished; many families left to the refugee camps, many people were arrested, including the Moslem Scholars Association secretary in Haditha and his son. The general hospital was occupied for 10 days; the hospital director and one of the doctors were brutally beaten and then arrested for a week inside the hospital. Many schools and offices were still occupied. All houses were raided, some twice a day. All weapons were confiscated including the personal. There is no government, no offices, no schools, no work, no markets…nothing. “Haditha is a fallen city” was sarcastically repeated by residents.

Dr. Walid Al-Obeidi, the director of Haditha General Hospital and Dr. Jamil Abdul Jabbar, the only surgeon in the Haditha area were arrested for a week, very badly beaten and threatened to face the same treatment in the future by the American troops.

Dr.Walid said: “They arrested me in my house in front of my family, covered my eyes, and tied my hands to the back on October 5, 2005 in the morning, during the last attack on Haditha (360 kilometers west of Baghdad). They occupied the hospital for 8 days and made it their office. The first day they beat me on my eyes, nose, back, hands, legs… My face was covered with blood. I could not wash my face because bleeding would start again. When they removed the tie I could not see. They interrogated me until the afternoon. I realized later that I was arrested in the hospital store. Then they tied my hands to the front, and left me for two days. I was moved then to the pharmacy department. They accused me of treating terrorists, and asked for their names.
I told them that I treat patients regardless of their identity or their political position, according to my oath as a doctor; if they were national guards (which we actually I did) or American soldiers. And any way, if I do not want to treat the insurgents, I have no choice, because they were armed and masked. I would do anything they tell to do. Few days later, one of the soldiers came in the room, did not say anything, kicked me again on my face and left.”

Dr. Jamil, a surgeon for 20 years, was also arrested and very brutally beaten. When we met him, 22 days later, his face was still bluish. His nose was broken, and a big opening in his head. He said: “They beat me on my eyes and nose, kicked me with boots under my chin. One of them threatened me if I do not talk after he counts to three, he would shoot me. He began counting, after three he turned the gun upside down and hit me on the back of my head by the gun. For days I could not move or see. They threatened us of abusing our families. For some reason they took my picture while I was bleeding, I could hear the camera click.”

Both doctors were threatened if they do not talk, they would receive the same treatment in the future. They were warned of passing any information of the arrest to the media. They were asked who wrote the hostile slogans against the American on the opposite wall of the hospital (there were different slogans on that wall from opposite sides, the American soldiers –the F word- and the insurgents). “What are the names of the insurgents they treated,” they asked, “And what are the pictures of the bodies in the hospital computer?”

Dr.Walid said he does not know who wrote on the wall outside the hospital, what the names of the insurgents are, because they were masked. He explained that the dead bodies’ pictures were of unknown people whose bodies were found after the fighting.

He explained, “We can not keep these bodies forever; we do not have enough cold boxes. So, after two months, we take their pictures and bury them, so that whenever some one from their families comes to ask we show the pictures of the dead bodies.”

The UN, the international HR organizations, WHO, Doctors sans frontiers…and all who it may concern are called upon to do something to help these, and other Iraqi doctors, and to prevent similar treatment in the future. Dr.Walid and Dr. Jamil believe that they may face the arrest and beating in the future. They demand that the American troops stop occupying the hospital and destroying it every time they attack Haditha. They also believe that the Iraqi authorities are incapable of protecting them.

The hospital became a center of almost everything after the attack. Relief distribution, electricity and water pipes repairing, fuel…etc. Dr.Walid had to arrange for these details and send workers in the ambulance. An American officer asked Dr.Walid what he thinks of the Americans, and he replied “You are occupation troops. I wish that you were friends, but this way, things do not work”

“Is not it better that we are here,” the officer asked again.

“No,” Dr. Walid replied, “Look at you, heavily armed in your military clothes, you frighten children. You create tension.” Dr. Walid was offered $30 as an apology compensation for beating and humiliating him. “I did not know what to do, I did not want to reject them and create more problems, and I could not accept them, so I gave them to the cleaning workers.” One of the American soldiers whispered to Dr.Walid, that the compensation they should pay if such an aggression happen in the US, would buy the whole city of Haditha.

The troops are every where (in the hospital, the assistant room became the investigation room.) They occupy any house for 2 or 3 hours. You find them in the house garden or on the roofs at any time. They are occupying 8 schools now, the Education Office, the water project, the municipality, the court…filling the windows with sand sacs, and turned them into headquarters. Many people whose belongings, money, documents…etc. were confiscated during the house raids, were given small sheets of paper saying that they can collect them in this or that school.