Two Weeks In Falluja
They see absolutely no justification for this war and were constantly asking me to explain how the American people can support these acts against a civilian population. For the first time in my life, I was ashamed to be an American.
By Mark Manning
- - I got back from Iraq a few weeks ago where I stayed inside the city of Falluja and lived with the refugees of that city for over two weeks. I decided to go there because it seems to be the heart of the trouble in Iraq and the place to see if any sense or peace can be found. I had also heard that the city had 250,000 citizens in it who were told to leave when my government attacked, yet there had been no stories of their situation in our media. As an American, I felt responsible for this and decided to take a look myself.
On February 10th 2005 I flew into Iraq and drove to the city of Falluja. For over two weeks I was a resident and a refugee of Falluja and I am honored and privileged for that experience. They hosted me in their homes, and cared for me because they believed that I was there to listen to them and to honestly bring home their stories to the American people. I came to Falluja without military escort or armed protection in any way. I think because of this they thought I was crazy, but they honored what they thought was courage and they trusted me. Trust means everything there and they look deep into your eyes as they decide who you are. I lived with them and listened to their stories. They told me they do not trust American journalists to accurately tell the story of Iraq. They believe that the American public does not know what is really happening there, and that if they did they would feel differently about the war. They feel that the American people are their brothers and sisters and they are asking them for help. They wanted me to tell you their story.
The horrors of war have been brought to the people of Falluja. The people there say the city had 500,000 people in it, not the 250,000 quoted by our media. The refugees told me that they were given one week notice to leave the city. After three days, they were told they could no longer drive out, they had to walk. No camps were established for them and no refugee location was given. There was no planning by the American government for the people, no food, no shelter and no water. They were just told to leave or be killed. Anyone who stayed in the city after one week would be considered a terrorist and would be killed.
For five months these people have been living in any location they could find, nothing was established for them in the surrounding areas of the Falluja countryside. They are living in tents in the mud, schools, abandoned chicken coups, burned out buildings, cars and other buildings that people were not using or where others have made room for them. The weather is bad, with much rain and it is very cold. When they were told to leave the city, it was summer and they were not dressed for this cold and many could not carry out their clothes. Some lucky children are going to school in tents and all the classes have been shortened to 2 hours per day. Food is short and they are eating what the farmers grow and the surrounding community can spare. Again, even after five months they have received no outside aid from either the American government or the new Iraqi government.
The city itself has been devastated. Most houses have been seriously damaged, with about 65% of them totally destroyed. Evidence of depleted uranium (DU) shells is everywhere. This leaves radioactive contamination behind which has a half-life of 4.5 billion years. (See note1). Unexploded ordinance is a common sight. Many residents who were there speak of chemical weapons, napalm, cluster bombs and phosphorous used by the Americans. These are all illegal weapons and considered war crimes by the international community. Many of the houses were fired, meaning that the troops burned them down after searching them. Many houses with white flags and markings stating "Family Here" were destroyed.
Some families who had nowhere to go stayed in the city during the fighting and have paid dearly. I interviewed many people who were there and their stories will live forever in my mind. Here are some
· A mother whose son was killed by DU shells. He was in his bed sleeping when the shells came through the walls.
· A father who at 65 years of age was shot during a raid of his house, whose son was arrested during that raid and has not been seen since (he states that his son was not a fighter.)
· A 17 year old girl who hid under her bed with her 13 year old brother during a raid of her house and witnessed her father, her cousin, and her two sisters 18 and 19 years old, all shot to death. She hid for three more days with the dead bodies of her family and then they returned and shot her and her brother after finding them under the bed. Her brother died. She survived and told me her story.
· A Family of ten who lived through all the fighting. The kids were 3, 4, 5, 7, 8, 10 and 12. They were a mess. These kids will never be ok. Their faces were marked with open and oozing sores and they were exhibiting serious signs of emotional damage.
There is presently very little medical aid available to the residents and refugees, and again, no aid has been provided to the refugees in the surrounding area. The medical centers in the city have been destroyed and have not been rebuilt. The main hospital has been reopened, but to get there you have to walk, as the ambulances are still being shot by the Americans and the Iraqi National Guard. The doctors have been beaten and their lives have been threatened by the Iraqi National Guard. These are the security forces that the Americans are training. The new government has warned them not to talk to any journalists about the conditions in Falluja. They understand this threat to be very real and a direct threat on their lives and the lives of their families.
To walk to the hospital you must go through checkpoints, sometimes through fighting, and only at certain daylight hours. The checkpoints are manned by the Iraqi National Guards and they are very hostile to the residents of Falluja. When we were at the hospital, an old man died of a heart attack because he was not allowed through the checkpoint. A woman gave birth in the ambulance because they would not let the ambulance back to the hospital after 5 pm and instead turned it away with her in labor.
We delivered by hand the medical aid provided by some of you to the hospital in Falluja. Me and one Iraqi woman, WE were the international medical aid to Falluja. We carried these boxes one at a time through the checkpoints, across the bridge and into the hospital. They would not let us drive in, we had to walk these boxes in. We did it every day for a week, one box at a time.
All of the people I talked to had messages to the American people. They said: "We did not attack you! We have done nothing to the Americans. Why have you done this to us?"
These are the people who hosted me, fed me, and worried about my safety. They took care of me and I will never forget their generosity, compassion and grace. They want peace with America and they want the fighting to stop. They feel they are the ones being attacked and that the Americans are the terrorists. They see absolutely no justification for this war and were constantly asking me to explain how the American people can support these acts against a civilian population. For the first time in my life, I was ashamed to be an American.
There are so many more stories to tell you and I will be making a film about it all. But for now, what I want you to know is that I spent two weeks in the heart of the beast. The place where our government and media said is the heart of the resistance, terrorists and Saddam Loyalists, and guess what; the place is full of people. People like you and me. Kids are everywhere. The average Fallujan family has 10 people in it. That means about 8 kids. 500,000 people in the city, you do the math. That is a lot of kids.
There are fighters in Falluja. That is a fact. But they are surrounded by some 490,000 innocent people. As a country, we have decided the damage to the innocents is worth the end result, whatever that may be. These people are being shattered by this very serious situation that they have no control over. They are the innocent victims of this war.
I cannot tell you what to do. This is a story of just one area in Iraq. These stories are all over the area we call the Sunni Triangle. But I was there and lived with these people and they taught me about love, forgiveness, truth and compassion. They, after all that has happened to them, still have the ability to differentiate between the acts of an enemy and the people of a nation. They cry out to us to save them from the ignorance that has brought this destruction on them. They have suffered 33 times 9/11. Over 100, 000 Iraqis have died at the hands of the American invasion (note 2) and still they say that they have nothing against the American people. This is grace. I learned from these people how to find peace. By deeply listening to my "enemy" I have found that the real enemy is ignorance and fear and acting from that place of weakness.
I will never forget the people of Falluja. Thank you for listening to them.
1. http://www.fas.org/man/dod-101/sys/land/du.htm ,
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