International Action Center
From Feb. 20-25, IAC activist John Catalinotto was in Belgium and Germany taking part in protests against Bushs visit to Europe. On Feb. 25, he participated in a meeting where two people from Falluja, Iraq, told of the U.S. assault on their city. Below is his translation of an excellent interview with the two by Rüdiger Göbel of the German daily newspaper Junge Welt, in its Feb. 26 edition.
Interview: Rüdiger Göbel
Junge Welt, Week final supplement, Feb 26, 2005
Discussion with Mahammad J. Haded and Mohammad Awad over the voting farce in Iraq after the siege and bombardment of a city with a population of 360,000; the mood in the U.S. Army and in the population in occupied Mesopotamia.
* The physician Mahammad J. Haded and Mohammad Awad, director of a refugee center, were in the besieged and bombarded Iraqi city of Falluja during the large U.S. offensive called "Dawn" in November 2004. In the past two weeks (Feb. 12-26) they reported to numerous meetings in Germany on the terror they experienced. Further information in addition: www.iraktribunal.de
Q: Two weeks ago U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld left after a visit to the occupation troops in Baghdad into his airplane and a few hours later reached the "security conference" in Munich. How long does an Iraqi from occupied Mesopotamia need to reach Germany?
Mahammad J. Haded: We had to drive with a passenger car from Falluja to Baghdad and then to the German Embassy to pick up a visa. From there out we drove a good 1,000 kilometers (625 miles) to the Jordanian capital Amman with a taxi. With Jordan Air we continued to go to Frankfurt/Main. All in all we were underway for three days.
Q: In the past weeks the "elections" dominated the reports from Iraq in the local media. In the province Anbar, where Falluja also lies, only two percent of the eligible voters took part in the vote according to occupation reports. How do you explain that?
Haded: The elections in Iraq were important for the USA. They were of enormous symbolic importance, but it was a vote that doesn't represent the Iraqis. The Iraqis were rather erased as Iraqis and instead divided into Shiites, Sunnis, Christians, in Kurds, Turkmen and Arabs, and so on. Political parties that really work for our country did not take part only at all in the election. Because of a lack of security they were for a postponement of the vote. For example, the Sunnis in Mosul, Tikrit, Dijala, Anbar, Falluja, Ramadi and large parts of Baghdad were of this opinion: one cannot participate in the vote so long as occupation troops are in the country. They demanded a clear schedule for their departure. The Shiite Imam however called from the mosques for taking part and explained that those who do not vote are unbelievers. They said to their followers that their vote would support the demand for the departure of the Americans. Voters and non-voters alike were united in wanting the departure of the U.S. soldiers.
Mohammad Awad: The Americans and the Iraqi interim government spoke of 14.5 million eligible voters. In the end according to their data eight million participated. Many Iraqis believe that at most five million co- operated - in an overall population of 26 million.
Q: From fear of attacks or by political conviction?
Haded: There are many reasons, from lack of security up to political boycott. On Election Day it was forbidden to drive with an automobile. One had to thus go by foot to the election. There were notices threatening polling stations. Many had thus actually feared participating in the election. Many stayed away because they assumed the Americans would carry out electoral frauds. They didn't want to be part of a farce.
Awad: Most Iraqis refused to cooperate out of political conviction. How can I put my voting card into an urn, which is "protected" by an American tank, was heard again and again. From the United Nations there were exactly 15 elections observers in Iraq! How could they possibly get an accurate picture of the proper voting procedures.
A widespread slogan in Iraq was: whether you go to vote or not, in the end in any case the occupation will win. Already before votes were counted it was clear that the new government was set up by the past interim government. Singular posts are only shifted and ministers switched around. That means in the last analysis that the Iraqi people had no real voice.
Q: Falluja had 360,000 inhabitants before the U.S. invasion. How many people still live in that "city of the thousand mosques," which has now been besieged and bombarded several times?
Haded: First, in Falluja there were only a hundred mosques. The city is today totally ruined. Falluja is our Dresden in Iraq. [Dresden was a German civilian city filled with refugees that was firebombed by British and U.S. planes as World War II was ending-trans.] About 5,000 families, that is, 25,000 to 30,000 Iraqis, remained during the U.S. major offensive in November in Falluja, the rest of the inhabitants having fled. Meanwhile some returned. We estimate that about 20 per cent of the population of Falluja returned.
Q:: The U.S. army indicated at the end of December that one of every three dwellings in Falluja had been destroyed due to the major offensive.
Haded: That includes only those destroyed by bombing. Apartments and houses that were not destroyed directly by U.S. bombs were destroyed later. Furniture was smashed into little pieces. Besides, innumerable houses were purposefully set on fire. Even schools and hospitals were destroyed. The Americans moved ahead from house to house. Devastated houses were marked with a "X ".
Q: How many Iraqis were killed during the U.S. offensive?
Haded: Still today corpses are found under the rubble of destroyed houses. An unknown number of dead people were thrown by the U.S. troops into the Euphrates River. The U.S. army announced that 1,200 people had been killed. We ourselves pulled out and then buried more than 700 corpses. Beyond that we cannot give accurate data.
Q: According to U.S. military, the dead bodies are exclusively "terrorists," that is, resistance fighters. Civilians were unhurt. Is this your experience?
Haded: We have innumerable pictures and also films, on which you can see who was killed in Falluja. I invite everyone to come into our city and to make their own picture of the situation. I will bring you together with children who had to watch their parents being shot by Americans. And I will bring you together with men who saw how their children and their wives were killed.
There was and there still is resistance in Iraq and also in Falluja. The resistance against the occupation is legitimate and corresponds to international conventions. It is not however by any means legal to bombard civilians. That is permitted neither to the Americans nor to opponents of the occupation.
Many Iraqis are the opinion that the attacks on civilians are not the responsibility of the resistance, but that in the long run the Americans and the secret services of the neighboring countries are behind them. It is similar with Musab al-Zarkawi, with whose existence the Americans justified the attacks on Falluja. Where is al-Zarkawi today? He is a phantom, who manages to show up exactly where he can be used. It doesn't matter if it is in Kirkuk, Mosul, Tikrit, Samarra, Ramadi, Baghdad or Basra - everywhere, where there is resistance, Al-Zarkawi manages to emerge where he is useful [to the U.S.].
Q: The major offensive called "dawn" began at the night of Nov. 8. They began at that time at the general hospital in Falluja. How did you experience the USA assault?
Haded: The city hospital lies in the west and is separated by the Euphrates from the city itself. Between seven and eight in the evening, U.S. soldiers encircled and occupied the 200-bed hospital. At the time about 30 patients were still in the hospital. Although there was no resistance and also no fighters were being treated, the physicians and the maintenance personnel, altogether 22 persons employed there, were immediately arrested: We were thrown to the ground, bound and later interrogated. We were told we would have to vacate the hospital, patients as well as the caregivers. Afterwards the hospital was wiped out, even the medical instruments were destroyed.
Q: Were resistance fighters treated in the hospital?
Haded: Ask the Americans. U.S. troops were inside, looked through everything and asked us again and again where the terrorists were hiding. Ask them how many they found and arrested. If they had found someone there from the resistance, they would have never released us physicians again.
At the same time as the occupation of the hospital the bombardment of the entire city began. We could hear the detonations clearly. Even rescue cars were attacked. First inhabitants tried to bring the wounded with their passenger cars into a hospital. But everything that moved on the roads was fired on.
We finally established a field hospital in the eastern part of Falluja. In principle it was no more than an outpatient clinic. We gave the exact location of the building to the Americans. Two days later it was bombed, so this emergency station was thus lost. We finally established a second emergency-aid clinic, which was actually not functional. We had practically nothing there. Water and electricity were turned off, and the telephone no longer worked.
The conditions were catastrophic and nevertheless we operated on 25 wounded people there. We had no medicines, however, and the wounds became infected. For all practical purposes the patients lay in their deathbeds. Those with major injuries were lost. In the surrounding houses we looked for volunteers who helped us with cleaning up and to wash away the blood. My 13-year-old son was among the helpers.
After seven days I went to the Americans. I wanted to organize transportation for our patients. But first I was arrested by soldiers of the Iraqi army - all of them Shiites and Kurds. Finally I was able to speak with a responsible person in the U.S. army. I asked him if we might bring our patients into the hospital. First he didn't believe me, explaining that there was nobody left in Falluja and that everyone had fled. I asked to be allowed to drive with a car and a white flag through the roads and to gather the remaining inhabitants in a mosque. In one hour I had collected about 50 people from their homes, approximately ten families. Two days later there were 200 Iraqis in the mosque. Some told me that American soldiers had purposely fired their weapons at families, even those holding white flag. Also in the mosque we had set up a small outpatient clinic. In the surrounding houses we looked for medicines - nothing special, a few tranquilizers.
Up until today U.S. soldiers surround the central hospital. Patients must come on foot! Whoever comes by passenger car is fired at.
Q: Why during the bombardment had several thousand Iraqis remained in Falluja?
Haded: For different reasons: Some, for example, had no relatives in Baghdad with whom they could find accommodation. Others were ashamed to be in tents living like refugees. Others would gladly have fled, but had no car. However, most of those who remained simply could not imagine that the Americans would fight with such a rage. They did not believe that the U.S. soldiers would bomb and shoot directly at civilians and at whole families. Fighters, yes, but unarmed people, women, children, wounded people, old people?
Q: Were you yourselves witnesses to a massacre?
Haded: No, I did not see personally that the U.S. troops did such a thing. In one of the emergency outpatient clinics, however, there were two wounded people, about whom I inquired later with the Americans. An Iraqi soldier said to me then, they had shot and buried the two there and then.
In arrangement with the Americans I arranged to have a small group of volunteers from the 200 people in the mosque gather the dead bodies from the roads. An outbreak of epidemics was threatened, and the smell of decay was terrible. These volunteers told me later that many women and children as well as old people were among the victims.
Awad: Also I had announced myself as a volunteer for the collection of corpses. You can imagine that the dead people were lying for days and in some cases for weeks on the roads and in dwellings. Many corpses had already been chewed over by dogs. A remarkable number of dead people were totally charred - we asked ourselves which weapons the Americans used there.
I saw in Falluja with own eyes a family that had been shot by U.S. soldiers: The father was in his mid-fifties, his three children between ten and twelve years old. In the refugee camp a teacher told me she had been preparing a meal, when soldiers stormed their dwelling in Falluja. Without preliminary warning they shot her father, her husband and her brother. Then they went right out. From fear the woman remained in the house with the dead bodies. In the evening other soldiers came, who took her and her children and brought them out of the city. Those are only two of many tragedies in Falluja.
Q: Ten of thousands of Iraqis fled before the conquest of Falluja and until today have not returned to the U.S.-occupied city. How are the living conditions for these refugees?
Awad: Very, very difficult. At first they lived in provisional accommodations, many of them in the open air. We lacked milk for children and old people had no medicines. From the governmental side, that is, the Iraqi interim government of Iyad Allawi, there was practically no assistance for these people. Let alone from the Americans. We were and are dependant on donations of private organizations.
At the same time there was an overwhelming, spontaneous solidarity from within the Iraqi population. Many who had fled Falluja found accommodation with relatives or friends. Innumerable Iraqis in Baghdad and other cities also announced that they would accept refugees in their homes. Approximately one month after beginning of the U.S. offensive finally the Iraqi Red Crescent came into action and began to distribute aid.
Q: What is the mood today in Falluja? Are rage and hate against the occupier dominating or rather resignation and regret that there was resistance?
Haded: The population is full of rage. People hate the Americans - Americans generally, not only U.S. soldiers. They are occupiers, killers and terrorists. Almost every family in Falluja has to mourn a victim; how you can expect any other reaction there.
I say to you: Most of the [U.S.] soldiers feel fine about shooting Iraqis. They really believe all Iraqis are terrorists, as their government tells them. I saw soldiers who were laughing together in their unit, as if they were drugged. In a mosque they organized a carnival. The place of worship was transformed into a discotheque!
Even if it doesn't look that way at first sight, in the long run the Americans lost in Falluja. Which does it mean if an Empire uses all its power to attack what is a small city, without any morals, without scruples. That is the beginning of the end.
Q: The U.S. army offered at the end of its Falluja offensive to pay 500 dollar remuneration for each destroyed dwelling.
Haded: What is 500 dollars? That is not even enough to get rid of all the debris! The offer is a new sort of attempt to humble us. They want to make us into beggars. I do not want the money. We Arabs and Muslims believe in principles: We would rather live in tents and in liberty than in luxury and under occupation.
Awad: In my opinion the occupation forces must pay an appropriate remuneration for the physical and psychological damage, which the citizens of Falluja suffered - after the Americans have left our city and our country.
* To our interviewees
Dr. Mahammad J. Haded belonged to the medical staff of the Central Hospital of Falluja, which was occupied in November 2004 by U.S. troops; in addition he works in a small hospital in the center of the city. He was one of the few physicians who remained during the attack on Falluja.
Mohammad F. Awad is a civil engineer and since 2003 has been president of the City Council of Zaqlawiya, a town nine kilometers north of Falluja. Since past year he is also director of the refugee assistance center supported by the Red Crescent in Zaqlawiya. He was one of the volunteers who gathered corpses of killed inhabitants of Falluja and brought them for identification to Zaqlawiya.
Translation by John Catalinotto, International Action Center, USA, who participated with Dr. Hadad and Mr. Awad in a public meeting in Heidelberg on Feb. 25.
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