road to Faluja is strewn with discarded tanks and
burned out cars and palm groves whose depth of green
contrasts strikingly with the parched earth leading
out of Baghdad.
atmosphere, upon entry, is markedly different to that
of Baghdad. The American military presence is much
less pronounced, there is a marked absence of foreign
press. Faluja, it seems, is not bleeding enough to
by children bathing in a river set aglow by the setting
sun, families returning home from the fields, groups
of old men heading to prayer, we make our way to Faluja
General Hospital, whose morgue last night served as
temporary home to the bodies of ten men, a young woman
and a ten year old boy. The influx of the 37 wounded
has ceased, the blood cleaned from the floors, the
mourning keening woman brought home. The anger, however
is still here. Its presence cannot be dealt with by
the hospital staff as efficiently as they patched
up, with limited pain killers, surgical equipment,
blood bags, IV lines, the 37 people who were carried
into them from 10pm onwards last night - all shot
with 50mm high caliber bullets - blowing off legs,
ripping open abdominal cavities, shattering bones,
tearing through muscles. Searing anger and distrust
and pain onto a community's collective memory.
are sick. They are deeply, deeply sick. Tell the Americans
we don't believe in this freedom" says an elderly
man. His comment is one of the many of the crowd that
surround us yelling their pain and anger - demanding
an explanation, a response - "why?" "why
do they insist on continuing to massacre our people
- how much more blood do they want?" "show
them, show the world, tell them the truth."
we move on, to the school occupied by the American
military for the past week. It is here that - we are
told - a non violent orderly demonstration to the
school took place last night. All those interviewed,
all those crowded outside the school now insist that
the official version is false. They gathered peacefully,
and marched peacefully, past the mosque through a
residential area to the barbed wire coils that surround
the occupied school.
American troops as we arrive, are packing up. This
is not a media stunt - the media have come and gone
- a constant traffic, all day, through the hospital.
Pictures taken, grief and loss encapsulated into palatable
sound bites. This withdrawal is tactical. The public
relations campaign of a benign occupation will be
difficult to maintain if there is follow-up to this
particular massacre. If there are charges pressed
by the families, by the brothers who were hit by stray
bullets inside their house. If there is investigation
into the legitimacy of the official army version of
events. It will become difficult, if there can be,
in Falluja, a focal center for people's anger and
frustration, an occupied school, snipers pointing
guns at people entering and exited the mosque. It
is easier for everyone, if the soldiers slip off into
the night, avoiding the scrutiny, the fixed eye of
accountability, which must be a factor in any "liberated"
"democratic" country. So they do, slip off
into the night - and, not recognizing us as their
armoured cars and trucks pass our car on a dark highway
to Baghdad, American soldiers pump their fists into
the air for our cameras, giving us the victory sign.
- an ephemeral, passing phenomena has come and gone
in Falluja. It came, sat uncomfortably for a week
- without translators, cultural or historical sensibility,
brought a temporary horde of journalists to record
its only lasting impression on a community; that of
violence, and pain, and loss; and left. Falluja, we
are told later via a news report by a BBC reporter,
has always been "anti American". This should,
and will, nullify or qualm any murmurings of distrust
abroad as to what lies ahead.
Caoimhe Butterly is an Irish human rights activist,
currently living in Baghdad with Voices in the Wilderness.
She spent a year in Jenin, Palestine, and since her
deportation in Dec. 2002, has been campaigning full-time
in Ireland and the UK, giving over 70 talks on Palestine
and Jenin. She is in Iraq indefinitely.
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