Volume 6 number 12, December 2004
An Eyewitness Account of Fallujah
Dec. 4, 2004, Baghdad
Horror stories—including the use of napalm and chemical weapons by the US military during the siege of Fallujah—continue to trickle out from the rubble of the demolished city, carried by weary refugees lucky enough to have escaped their city.
A cameraman with the Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation (LBC) who witnessed the first eight days of the fighting told of what he considered atrocities. Burhan Fasa’a has worked for LBC throughout the occupation of Iraq.
“I entered Fallujah near the Julan Quarter, which is near the General Hospital,” he said during an interview in Baghdad, “There were American snipers on top of the hospital shooting everyone.”
He nervously smoked cigarettes throughout the interview, still visibly shaken by what he saw.
On November 8, the military was allowing women and children to leave the city, but none of the men. He was not allowed to enter the city through one of the main checkpoints, so he circumnavigated Fallujah and managed to enter, precariously, by walking through a rural area near the main hospital, then taking a small boat across the river in order to film from inside the city.
“Before I found the boat, I was 50 meters from the hospital where the American snipers were shooting everyone in sight,” he said, “But I managed to get in.”
He told of bombing so heavy and constant by US warplanes that rarely a minute passed without the ground’s shaking from the bombing campaign.
“The Americans used very heavy bombs to break the spirit of the fighters in Fallujah,” he explained, then holding out his arms added, “They bombed everything! I mean everything!”
This went on for the first two days, he said, then on the third day, columns of tanks and other armored vehicles made their move. “Huge numbers of tanks and armored vehicles and troops attempted to enter the north side of Fallujah,” he said, “But I filmed at least twelve US vehicles that were destroyed.”
The military wasn’t yet able to push into Fallujah, and the bombing resumed.
“I saw at least 200 families who had their homes collapsed on their heads by American bombs,” Burhan said while looking at the ground, a long ash dangling from his cigarette, “Fallujans already needed everything…I mean they already had no food or medicine. I saw a huge number of people killed in the northern part of the city, and most of them were civilians.”
At this point he started to tell story after story of what he saw during the first week of the siege.
“The dead were buried in gardens because people couldn’t leave their homes. There were so many people wounded, and with no medical supplies, people died from their wounds. Everyone in the street was a target for the Americans; even I saw so many civilians shot by them.”
He looked out the window, taking several deep breaths. By then, he said, most families had already run out of food. Families were sneaking through nearby houses to scavenge for food. Water and electricity had long since been cut.
The military called over loudspeakers for families to surrender and come out of their houses, but Burhan said everyone was too afraid to leave their homes, so soldiers began blasting open the gates to houses and conducting searches.
“Americans did not have interpreters with them, so they entered houses and killed people because they didn’t speak English! They entered the house where I was with 26 people, and shot people because they didn’t obey their orders, even just because the people couldn’t understand a word of English. Ninety-five percent of the people killed in the houses that I saw were killed because they couldn’t speak English.”
His eyes were tearing up, so he lit another cigarette and continued talking.
“Soldiers thought the people were rejecting their orders, so they shot them. But the people just couldn’t understand them!”
He managed to keep filming battles and scenes from inside the city, some of which he later managed to sell to Reuters, who showed a few clips of his footage. LBC, he explained, would not show any of the tapes he submitted to them. He had managed to smuggle most of his tapes out of the city before his gear was taken from him.
“The Americans took all of my camera equipment when they found it. At that time I watched one soldier take money from a small child in front of everyone in our house.”
Burhan said that when the troops learned he was a journalist, he was treated worse than the other people in the home where they were seeking refuge. He was detained, along with several other men, women, and children.
“They beat me and cursed me because I work for LBC, then they interrogated me. They were so angry at al-Jazeera and al-Arabia networks.”
He was held for three days, sleeping on the ground with no blankets, as did all of the prisoners in a detention camp inside a military camp outside Fallujah.
“They arrested over 100 from my area, including women and kids. We had one toilet, which was in front of where we all were kept, and everyone was shamed by having to use this in public. There was no privacy, and the Americans made us use it with handcuffs on.”
He said he wanted to talk more about what he saw inside Fallujah during the nine days he was there.
“I saw cluster bombs everywhere, and so many bodies that were burned, dead with no bullets in them. So they definitely used fire weapons, especially in Julan district. I watched American snipers shoot civilians so many times. I saw an American sniper in a minaret of a mosque shooting everyone that moved.”
He also witnessed something which many refugees from Fallujah have reported.
“I saw civilians trying to swim the Euphrates to escape, and they were all shot by American snipers on the other side of the river.”
The home he was staying in before he was detained was located near the mosque where the NBC cameraman filmed the execution of an older, wounded Iraqi man.
“The mosque where the wounded man was shot that the NBC cameraman filmed—that is in the Jubail Quarter—I was in that quarter. Wounded, unarmed people used that mosque for safety…I can tell you there were no weapons in there of any kind because I was in that mosque. People only hid there for safety. That is all.”
He personally witnessed another horrible event reported by many of the refugees who reached Baghdad.
“On Tuesday, November 16th, I saw tanks roll over the wounded in the streets of the Jumariyah Quarter. There is a public clinic there, so we call that the clinic street. There had been a heavy battle in this street, so there were twenty bodies of dead fighters and some wounded civilians in front of this clinic. I was there at the clinic, and at 11 a.m. on the 16th I watched tanks roll over the wounded and dead there.”
After another long pause, he looked out the window for awhile. Still looking out the window, he said, “During the nine days I was in Fallujah, all of the wounded men, women, kids and old people, none of them were evacuated. They either suffered to death, or somehow survived.”
According to the Iraqi Red Crescent, which managed to get three ambulances into the city on November 14, at least 150 families remain trapped inside the city. One family was surviving by placing rice in dirty water, letting it sit for two hours, then eating it. There has been no power or running water for a month in Fallujah.
People there are burying body parts from people blown apart by bombs, as well as skeletons of the dead because their flesh had been eaten by dogs.
The military estimates that 2,000 people in Fallujah were killed, but claims that most of them were fighters. Relief personnel and locals, however, believe the vast majority of the dead were civilians.