[ Try telling Ayisha Saleem (BBC 12 Nov. 2004) and the masses of other victims about the so-called “precision strikes.” –BL ]
Civilian cost of battle for Falluja emerges
by Rory McCarthy in Baghdad and Peter Beaumont
The full cost of the battle of Falluja emerged last night as large numbers of wounded civilians were evacuated to hospitals in Baghdad, as insurgents stepped up retaliatory attacks in other cities.
As the first Red Crescent aid convoy was allowed into Falluja, Iraq’s Health Minister, Alaa Alwan, said ambulances had begun transferring a ‘significant number’ of injured civilians out of the battle zone, although he did not specify how many.
The evacuation of the wounded from Falluja came as insurgents consolidated their grip on large areas of Iraq’s third largest city, Mosul, setting up checkpoints and conducting their own patrols, and as fresh Iraqi and US troops were rushed north to counter the new threat.
The moves came amid renewed warnings from aid groups that Iraq’s civilian population was facing a ‘humanitarian catastrophe’.
Although many of Falluja’s 200,000 to 300,000 residents fled the city before the assault, between 30,000 and 50,000 are believed to have remained during the fighting.
The horrific conditions for those who remained in the city have begun to emerge in the last 24 hours as it became clear that US military claims of ‘precision’ targeting of insurgent positions were false.
According to one Iraqi journalist who left Falluja on Friday, some of the civilian injuries were caused by the massive firepower directed on to city neighbourhoods during the battle.
‘If the fighters fire a mortar, US forces respond with huge force,’ said the journalist, who asked not to be named.
The city had been without power or water for days. Frozen food had spoiled and people could not charge their cellphones. ‘Some people hadn’t prepared well. They didn’t stock up on tinned food. They didn’t think it would be this bad,’ he said.
At the main hospital, cut off from the rest of the city, doctors have reportedly been treating the injured with nothing but bandages, while the Red Crescent says people have been bleeding to death for lack of medical attention.
The claims came as an Iraqi Red Crescent convoy entered Falluja yesterday with the first aid supplies to reach the city since US-led forces began to blast their way in five days ago.
Prior to that the city had been surrounded by a US military cordon and subjected to heavy daily bombardment.
Red Crescent spokeswoman Firdoos al-Abadi – who had described the situation inside the city as ‘catastrophic’ – said 30 volunteers with five trucks and three ambulances had driven into the city west of Baghdad.
The aid convoy reached Falluja’s main hospital, on the west bank of the Euphrates, but US forces stopped it crossing the river into the city centre, saying bridges were insecure.
The fears of large numbers of civilian injured have raised fresh warnings that the suffering in Falluja will be used to rally insurgents across northern Iraq.
As new attacks took place in Baghdad and Samarra and President Bush used a radio address to warn of increasing violence in the run-up to elections in January, US Marine officers in Falluja itself said they hoped to have the whole of the city under their control within 72 hours.
The predictions came as US troops, tanks and artillery launched a major attack on what they said were the final positions of insurgents still holding outs, leaving a pall of black smoke covering much of the city.
Iraq’s national security adviser, Qassem Dawoud, said about 1,000 insurgents had been killed and another 200 captured during the Fallujah operation. This could not be independently verified.
Meanwhile, the US death toll rose to 24 after two marines were killed by a home-made bomb.