Falluja residents desperate for aid

"One of my sons was wounded by shrapnel last night and he's bleeding, but I can't do anything to help him."

Reuters

Sun 14 November, 2004 14:19

By Omar Anwar

FALLUJA, Iraq (Reuters) - No food. No water. No help. As fierce fighting casts a pall of smoke over the rubble-strewn Iraqi city of Falluja, thousands of Iraqi families remain cut off from desperately needed supplies.

Seven Red Crescent trucks and ambulances have reached the main hospital on the western outskirts, but it is still too dangerous for them to cross the Euphrates river to bring help to locals, including hundreds of children, cut off for six days.

"Our situation is very hard," said one resident contacted by telephone in the central Hay al-Dubat neighbourhood on Sunday.

"We don't have food or water. My seven children all have severe diarrhoea. One of my sons was wounded by shrapnel last night and he's bleeding, but I can't do anything to help him."

The man, who gave his name only as Abu Mustafa, said he had seen U.S. troops and Iraqi national guards in his street as explosions rang out. "There were bodies lying in the street."

Abu Mustafa said he knew of six families nearby in a similar plight, but then broke down in tears.

"We are still fasting, though it is the Eid (end of Ramadan feast) today. Allahu akbar, Allahu akbar (God is great)."

Aid groups describe the situation in Falluja, where U.S. and Iraqi troops launched an full-scale military offensive last Monday to crush insurgents, as a humanitarian disaster.

Up to half Falluja's 300,000 people fled during daily air strikes in the countdown to the assault, but thousands remain trapped as fighting rages around them.

There are no statistics on the number of civilians killed or wounded in the fighting, only personal accounts of pain, hunger and fear from those trapped in the city.

Some locals say the stench of decomposing bodies fills the air. Others tell of children dying because it was too dangerous to get them to help. One family buried their 9-year-old boy in the garden after he bled to death over several hours from a stomach wound.

BODIES IN THE STREET

Thousands of refugees are living in makeshift accommodation at camps outside the city, or with relatives.

"It was terrible. We had no water or electricity. I even saw dead bodies lying in the street and a tank rolled over them," said Mohammed Ali Shalal, a 65-year-old truck driver who fled on Friday and is sheltering with a nephew in nearby Amriya, where 20 people were crammed into a two-bedroom apartment.

"We ate dry bread and drank dirty water. I can't believe I'm safe and speaking to you now."

Shalal said troops using loudspeakers told residents to go to a local mosque, where they were interrogated.

"They let the old people go and detained the young," he said.

Red Crescent secretary-general Jamal al-Karbouli said he was still waiting for U.S. permission to enter Falluja proper.

"If we have any hope of entering, we will wait here, even for another night if necessary," he said. "Otherwise we will return to Amriyat al-Falluja and distribute the goods there."

At least 10,000 civilians from Falluja have been sheltering in nearby towns such as Amriya and Habbaniya since before the offensive.