Attack's aftermath

The U.S. blocks an aid convoy from entering Fallujah, and Iraq warns journalists to describe the military action as an overwhelming success.

Published November 15, 2004 3:10PM (EST)

U.S. military chiefs said Sunday that they saw no need for the Iraqi Red Crescent to deliver aid inside Fallujah because they did not think any Iraqi civilians were trapped there. "There is no need to bring [Red Crescent] supplies in because we have supplies of our own for the people," said Col. Mike Shupp of the U.S. Marines. A convoy of food and medicine brought by the group on Saturday was not allowed into the city.

Col. Shupp said casualties could be brought out over the reopened bridge and treated at Fallujah's hospital, adding that he had not heard of any civilians trapped inside the city. The Red Crescent believes at least 150 families are trapped, with many people in desperate need of food, blankets, water and medicine. Some residents still inside the city, contacted by Reuters Sunday, said their children were suffering from diarrhea and had not eaten for days.

Asked what he would do about the families and other noncombatants in the city, Col. Shupp said: "I haven't heard that myself, and the Iraqi soldiers didn't tell me about that. We want to help them as much as we can. We are on the radio telling them how to come out and how to come up to coalition forces."

Red Crescent trucks and ambulances stopped at Fallujah's main hospital, outside the city. There is almost no one at the hospital for doctors to treat because most residents were too scared to leave their homes amid the fighting. The Red Crescent has said the only way it can help is to go into the city.

As the military nears the end of its assault, some community leaders have said resentment of the U.S. presence will only grow more violent. Although U.S. commanders believed the second attack on Fallujah in eight months would stamp out the insurgency centered in the city, many residents believe the rebellion is spreading steadily nationwide.

Much of Fallujah has been destroyed and hundreds of thousands of residents are refugees, but the attack seems only to have deepened the city's anger and antagonized much of the Sunni minority. One Sunni Muslim cleric, an aide to Abdullah Janabi, the wanted head of the "mujahideen council" that ran Fallujah until the U.S. assault, said the rebellion would intensify. "Maybe the Americans will come into Fallujah," said the cleric, who asked not to be named. "Maybe they will take it. But it is not the end. There are 18 provinces in Iraq and the resistance will continue to grow tougher ... America has taken its last breath."

It is not an opinion the Iraqi government wants the world to hear. Baghdad warned journalists last week to endorse the position that the operation has been an overwhelming success or face legal action. Reporters were "not to promote unrealistic positions or project nationalist tags on terrorist gangs of criminals and killers," it said.

The cleric, in his 40s, spoke to the Guardian for two hours in a private house in Baghdad. He spent six years fighting in Saddam Hussein's army in both the Iran-Iraq war and the first Gulf War and largely supported the former dictator. In April of last year he fought alongside Iraqi troops at Baghdad airport and has helped run the rebellion. "I felt like every human being feels when someone comes into their country: sad and terrified. Now we have to fight to change our sadness to happiness," he said. He fled to Baghdad as the assault began last week.

"I didn't want negotiations. I knew they would come and bomb us," he said. "I saw fighting everywhere, destruction of the houses and a lot of fighters, from Fallujah, from Ramadi, Baghdad, Diyala, Mosul and Samarra." He said the insurgency and its guerrilla tactics were improving daily. "For every weapon there is an opposing weapon," he said. "For a Bradley or a tank, a mine blows it to pieces. For a Humvee, a BKC [a Russian machine gun] can put holes in it. Our people are tough and have only small weapons, but they can defeat [the coalition] with skill and pride and dignity. You have to have belief and trust that if you die there is going to be a victory."

Although the cleric represents the extreme, his views are broadly shared by more secular and moderate figures. In a separate interview at another Baghdad house, Mohammad Hassan al-Balwa, a businessman, spoke of his frustration. He once ran Fallujah's council but resigned during the U.S. assault in April. "The Americans don't want this place to be quiet," he said. "From the beginning they brought chaos and treated people badly. The pressure the Americans put on the Fallujan people is what has made them so tough." He said clerics should not take political positions, but defended the role of the mujahideen council, much criticized by the U.S. military for "terrorist" behavior.

Both Balwa and the cleric said some groups were often too extreme, particularly Tawhid and Jihad, which was behind the killing of Briton Ken Bigley.

By Rory McCarthy

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