*FALLUJAH, Jun 24 (IPS) - One and a half years after the November 2004
U.S. military assault on Fallujah, residents tell of ongoing suffering,
lack of jobs, little reconstruction and continuing violence.*
The U.S. military launched Operation Phantom Fury against the city of
Fallujah-destroying an estimated 70 percent of the buildings, homes and
shops, and killing between 4,000 and 6,000 people, according to the
Fallujah-based non-governmental organisation the Study Centre for Human
Rights and Democracy (SCHRD).
IPS found that the city remains under draconian biometric security, with
retina scans, fingerprinting and X-raying required for anyone entering
the city. Fallujah remains an island: not even the residents of the
surrounding towns and villages like Karma, Habbaniya, Khalidiya, which
fall under Fallujah's administrative jurisdiction, are allowed in.
Security badges are required for anyone wishing to enter the city. To
obtain a badge, one has to be a Fallujah native from a certain class.
That is, if one is from Fallujah and a government official, a high-class
badge of grade G will be issued. Journalists with an X-grade badge will
be allowed. Then there are B for businessmen and C for those who have
contracts with U.S. military in the city. Last are the R-grade badges,
which will not be admitted through the main checkpoint at the east side
of the city, and must seek entrance through "second class" checkpoints
Having entered the city through the main checkpoint, the first thing
visible is the destroyed homes in the Al-Askari district. Virtually
every home in this area has been completely destroyed or seriously damaged.
"I could not rebuild my house again because rebuilding is rather costly
nowadays," Walid, a 48-year-old officer with the former Iraqi army, told
IPS. With sorrow in his eyes he told of how he built his home six years
ago. After the destruction, "They [U.S. Military] paid us 70 percent of
the compensation and with the unemployment in the city we spent most of
it on food and medicines. Now everybody is waiting for the remaining 30
Slightly different version of this same story could be told by the
hundreds of people who lost their houses in the April and November 2004
Across the Euphrates River from the city sits Fallujah General Hospital.
Built in 1964, the hospital was unable to function during either U.S.
siege because it was being occupied by the U.S. military.
Doctors were reluctant to talk to IPS unless promised anonymity. "It is
more a barn than a hospital and we are not honoured to work in it," said
one doctor. "There is a horrible lack of medical supplies and equipment,
and the Ministry of Health is not doing much about it," added another
doctor, also speaking on condition of anonymity.
When IPS mentioned a new hospital under construction in the city, one of
the doctors replied, with irony, that half of the people of Fallujah
would be dead before that hospital project was completed. He said an
emergency plan for the existing hospital is essential, especially
because people are too afraid of seeking medical attention in any of the
Baghdad hospitals for fear of being kidnapped and killed by death
squads. The situation is further complicated by the fact that Ramadi
General Hospital, often used by residents of Fallujah, is no longer
accessible due to the ongoing U.S. military siege of that city.
During the interview of the doctors, patients and their companions
gathered around and started complaining about "the lack of everything"
in the hospital. "You press people always come here and talk to us, but
there is no result," said an elderly woman in a challenging tone. "If
you put me on television, I will tell the whole world how bad the
situation is in this city."
The doctors interviewed, however, did praise the role of some local and
international NGOs that had offered help to the hospital on occasion.
The people of Fallujah are struggling to survive amidst skyrocketing
unemployment, lack of supplies and ongoing violence in the city. At a
grocery market, there was another side to the story. Haji Majeed Al
Jumaily, 64, was a blacksmith before his hands weakened. He asked the
grocer a dozen times how much an item cost before saying, "I only have
2,000 dinars, less than a dollar and a half, to spend and I don't know
what to buy with it. Everything is so expensive and my nine family
members must be fed."
He told IPS how his two sons were killed by random gunfire from the new
Iraqi army two years ago. "Now I have to take care of their two wives
and six children as well as my wife," he said. The market was full of
people, but poverty is obvious from the way people wandered about trying
to balance what to spend with what they have in hand.
"Unemployment in Fallujah is a major problem that should be handled,"
commented Jassim Al Muhammadi, a lawyer. "The financial situation is
collapsing every day and people do not know what to do. The siege is
adding a lot to this problem."
Ali Ahmed, a 17-year-old student, interrupted: "We do not need press
releases in this city, sir. What we really need is a solution to the
everlasting problem of this city... The Americans and Iraqis in power
accused us of terror, killed thousands of us and now they are just
talking about reconstruction. Well, they are all thieves who only care
for what they can pinch off the Iraqi fortunes. Just tell them to leave
us alone as we do not want their fraudulent reconstruction."
Ahmed added that the U.S. military continues to kill and arrest people
for any reason whatsoever, and sometimes for no reason.
Infrastructure in Fallujah is just as bad as any other part of Iraq.
Water, electricity, cooking gas, fuel, telephone and mobile services are
very poor. All of the residents interviewed complained about the
government's indifferent attitude towards them. The majority believed it
was for sectarian reasons, although some others thought it is the same
all over Iraq.
The mayor of Fallujah was not available to interview, but in his latest
appearance on television he announced his resignation. In his statement
televised on Jun. 14, he declared firmly, "The Americans did not fulfill
their promises to me and so I resign."
Similar reports about the situation in Fallujah were made by the United
Nations Integrated Regional Information Network (IRIN) on May 21: "there
is still slow progress on humanitarian issues, according to local
The report stated that two-thirds of the city's residents had returned,
but 15 percent remained displaced in the outskirts of Fallujah, "living
in abandoned schools and government buildings."
"Approximately 65,000 people are still displaced out of Fallujah,"
reported Bassel Mahmoud, director of the city's reconstruction projects.
The IRIN report, similar to what IPS found here, said, "Despite Baghdad
allocating 100 million dollars for the city's reconstruction and 180
million dollars for housing compensation, very little can be seen
visibly on the streets of Fallujah in terms of reconstruction. There are
destroyed buildings on almost every street. Local authorities say about
60 percent of all houses in the city were totally destroyed or seriously
damaged and less than 20 percent of them have been repaired so far...
Power, water treatment and sewage systems are still not functioning
properly and many districts of the city are without potable water."
Residents complained to IPS that they had less than four hours of
electricity per day, and there was great frustration that at least 30
percent of the allocated reconstruction funds were shifted to pay for
extra checkpoints and security patrols in the city.
And while the residents continue to wait for the promised compensation
funds, of the 81 reconstruction projects slated for the city, less than
30 have been completed and many others will most likely be cancelled due
to lack of funding, according to a Fallujah council member who spoke
with IPS on condition of anonymity.
Current estimates of the amount needed to rebuild Iraq are between 70
and 100 billion dollars. Only 33 percent of the 21 billion dollars
originally allocated by the United States for reconstruction remains to
be spent. According to a report by the U.S. inspector general for
reconstruction in Iraq, officials were unable to say how many planned
projects they would complete, nor was there a clear source for the
hundreds of millions of dollars a year needed to maintain the projects
that had been completed.
As for Fallujah in particular, security has eaten up as much as 25
percent of reconstruction funding, but even more has reportedly been
siphoned off by corruption and overcharging by contractors.
Last year, a U.S. congressional inspection team was set up to monitor
reconstruction in Iraq. On May 1, they published a scathing report of
the failure of U.S. contractors to carry out projects worth hundreds of
millions of dollars. The report also noted that nearly nine billion
dollars in Iraqi oil revenues which had been disbursed to ministries was