- Trucks, oil tankers and tanks are burning on the highway
east to Fallujah. A stream of boys and men goes to and from a lorry that's
not burnt, stripping it bare. We turn on to the back roads through Abu
Ghraib, past the vehicles full of people and a few possessions heading
the other way, past the improvised refreshment posts along the way where
boys throw food through the windows into the bus for us and for the people
still inside Fallujah.
- The bus is following a car with the nephew of a local
sheikh and a guide who has contacts with the mujahidin and has cleared
this with them. I'm on the bus because a journalist I know turned up at
my door at about 11 at night telling me things were desperate in Fallujah.
He said aid vehicles and the media were being turned away. There was some
medical aid that needed to go in and there was a better chance of it getting
there with Westerners to get through the American checkpoints. The rest
of the way was secured with the armed groups who control the roads we'd
travel on. We'd take in the medical supplies, see what else we could do
to help and then use the bus to bring out people who needed to leave.
- When we arrive, we pile the stuff in the corridor of
a clinic, a private doctor's surgery treating people for free since air
strikes destroyed the town's main hospital. Another has been improvised
in a garage. There's no anaesthetic. The blood bags are in a drinks fridge
and the doctors warm them up under the hot tap in a toilet.
- Screaming women come in, praying, slapping their chests
and faces. Maki, a consultant and acting director of the clinic, takes
me to the bed where a child of about 10 is lying with a bullet wound to
the head. A smaller child is being treated for a similar injury in the
next bed. A US sniper hit them and their grandmother as they left their
home to flee Fallujah.
- The lights go out, the fan stops and in the sudden quiet
someone holds up the flame of a cigarette lighter for the doctor to carry
on operating by. The electricity to the town has been cut off for days
and when the generator runs out of petrol, they just have to manage till
it comes back on. The children are not going to live.
- I am ushered into a room where an old woman has just
had an abdominal bullet wound stitched , a white flag still clutched in
her hand. She tells the same story: "I was leaving my home to go to
Baghdad when I was hit by a US sniper." Some of the town is held by
US marines, other parts by the local fighters. Their homes are in the US
controlled area and they are adamant that the snipers were US marines.
- Snipers are causing not just carnage but also the paralysis
of the ambulance and evacuation services. The biggest hospital after the
main one was bombed is in US territory and cut off from the clinic by snipers.
The ambulance has been repaired four times after bullet damage. Bodies
are lying in the streets because nobody can go to collect them without
- We get into the back of the pick-up to go past the snipers
to do what we can for sick and injured people. The men we pass wave us
on when the driver explains where we're going. The silence is ferocious
in the no-man's-land between the mujahidin territory and the marines' line
beyond the next wall; no birds, no music, no indication that anyone is
still living until a gate opens opposite and a woman comes out and points.
- We edge along to the hole in the wall where we can see
a car, spent mortar shells around it. Feet are visible, crossed, in the
gutter. I think he's dead already. The snipers are visible too, two of
them on the corner of the building. As yet I think they can't see us so
we need to let them know we're there.
- "Hello," I bellow at the top of my voice. "Can
you hear me? We are a medical team. We want to remove this wounded man.
Is it OK for us to come out and get him? Can you give us a signal that
- I think I hear a shout back. Not sure, I call again.
- "Can we come out and get him?"
- Slowly, our hands up, we go out. The black cloud that
rises to greet us carries with it a hot, sour smell. Solidified, his legs
are heavy. A Kalashnikov is attached by sticky blood to his hair and hand
and we don't want it with us, so I put my foot on it as I pick up his shoulders
and his blood falls out through the hole in his back. We heave him into
the pick-up and try to outrun the flies.
- He's barefoot, no more than 20, in imitation Nike trousers
and a football shirt. The orderlies from the clinic pull the young fighter
off the pick-up and take him straight up the ramp into the makeshift morgue.
- We wash the blood off our hands and get in the ambulance.
There are people trapped in the other hospital who need to go to Baghdad.
Siren screaming, lights flashing, we huddle on the floor of the ambulance,
passports and ID cards held out the windows. We pack it with people, one
with his chest taped together and a drip, another on a stretcher, legs
jerking violently so I have to hold them down as we wheel him out.
- The next morning the doctors at the clinic look haggard.
None has slept more than a couple of hours a night for a week. One has
had only eight hours' sleep in the last seven days, missing the funerals
of his brother and aunt because he was needed at the hospital. "The
dead we cannot help," he says. "I must worry about the injured."
- We go out again in the pick-up. There are some sick people
close to the marines' line who need evacuating. Nobody dares come out of
their house because the marines are on top of the buildings shooting at
anything that moves. Saad fetches us a white flag and tells us not to worry,
he's checked and secured the road, no mujahidin will fire at us, that peace
is upon us. Saad is 11, his face covered with a keffiyeh, but for his bright
brown eyes, his AK47 almost as tall as he is.
- We shout to the soldiers, holding up a flag with a red
crescent sprayed on it. Two come over. We tell them we need to get some
sick people from the houses. Thirteen women and children are still inside,
in one room, without food and water for the last 24 hours.
- "We're going to be going through soon clearing the
houses," the senior soldier says.
- "What does that mean, clearing the houses?"
- "Going into every one searching for weapons."
He's checking his watch, can't tell me what will start when, of course,
but there's going to be air strikes in support. "If you're going to
do this you gotta do it soon."
- In the street there's a man, face down, in a white dishdasha,
a small red stain on his back. As we roll him on to the stretcher, my colleague
Dave's hand goes through his chest, through the cavity left by the bullet
that entered so neatly through his back and blew his heart out. There's
no weapon in his hand. When we arrive, his sons come out, crying, shouting.
"He was unarmed," they scream. "He just went out the gate
and they shot him." None of them has dared come out since. Nobody
had dared come to get his body, horrified, terrified, forced to violate
the traditions of treating the body immediately.
- The people seem to pour out of the houses now in the
hope we can escort them safely out of the line of fire, kids, women, men
anxiously asking us whether they can all go, or only the women and children.
A young marine tells us that men of fighting age can't leave. What's fighting
age? Anything under 45. No lower limit.
- A man wants to use his police car to carry some of the
people, a couple of elderly ones who can't walk far, the smallest children.
They creep from their houses, huddle by the wall, follow us out, their
hands up too, and walk up the street clutching babies, bags, each other.
- The bus is going to leave, taking the injured people
back to Baghdad, a man with burns, a woman who was shot in the jaw and
shoulder by a sniper, several others.
- The way back is tense, the bus almost getting stuck in
a dip in the sand, people escaping in anything, even piled on the trailer
of a tractor, lines of cars and pick ups and buses ferrying people to the
dubious sanctuary of Baghdad, lines of men in vehicles queuing to get back
into the city having got their families to safety, either to fight or to
help evacuate more people. The driver takes a different road so that suddenly
we're not following the lead car and we're on a road that's controlled
by a different armed group than the ones which know us.
- A crowd of men waves guns to stop the bus. Somehow they
apparently believe that there are American soldiers on the bus. Gunmen
run on to the bus and see there are injured and old people, Iraqis, and
then relax and wave us on.
- We stop in Abu Ghraib and swap seats, foreigners in the
front, Iraqis less visible, headscarves off so we look more Western. The
American soldiers are so happy to see Westerners they don't mind too much
about the Iraqis with us, search the men and the bus, leave the women unsearched
because there are no women soldiers to search us.
- And then we're in Baghdad, delivering them to the hospitals.
The satellite news says the cease-fire is holding and George Bush insists
his actions in Iraq are right.
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