Sunday, January 09, 2005


Every single home, shop and shed in Khalil's neighbourhood has a big "x" mark sprayed in red to indicate that US and Iraqi forces have searched it.

Some are burnt or simply levelled to the ground.

"I saw them burn homes with my own eyes on the 14th (of December), there was no fighting, why?" said an angry Ismail Ibrahim Shaalan, 50.

His son was angry at both sides. "Insurgents beheaded people and the Americans destroyed our city, we do not know who to believe now," said Wisam, 14. Another neighbour emptied a pair of shoes and a sweater from inside a paper bag on to the ground, saying this was all he was able to salvage from his destroyed home.

"Is this the olive branch that Allawi extended?" said a bitter and tearful Alaa Abdullah, 25, who has just returned to the city.

Most are returning to destroyed and looted homes in a city that resembles a disaster zone with no power, heat or running water. Some are finding bodies of relatives that stayed behind.

"I buried my father three days ago," said Qisma Diab, 55, as she waited with nine other women at an intersection for a special bus to take them back to a checkpoint through which they entered earlier. The few that stay are setting up tents next to the rubble of their homes and living off rations handed out by US and Iraqi forces.

A US Marine admitted that in some cases they were forced to use "alternative means" like torching or bombing homes they believed were being used as sanctuaries for insurgents.

"If we could not get in there we had to use alternative means," said Sergeant John Cross.

But an Iraqi soldier nearby admitted that in some cases Iraqi troops burnt homes if they found pro-insurgency literature or material.

His remarks provoked the anger of a man who overheard him and a scuffle ensued, which is broken up by a passing national guard patrol. In a similar scene of anger and frustration, an argument broke out between an old-man and an official with the Red Crescent handing out blankets and heaters.

The humanitarian agency tried to venture Wednesday into some of the worst neighbourhoods of Fallujah to look for bodies, but was told by the US military this work was being done by the health ministry and that it was better off distributing aide to returning residents.

It takes about six hours for people to make it through a security checkpoint at the entrance of the city. They are then handed small orange cards that list 13 "new rules of conduct" such as a ban on graffiti and public meetings.

"This is an insult," sayd Khalid Ibrahim, 42. "They treat us like Palestinian refugees."

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