Evidence began to emerge Tuesday of civilians, including children, who were seriously injured in the U.S. assault on the Iraqi city of Fallujah. As American troops sought to consolidate their control over the city, patients in a hospital in Baghdad described how they had been hurt during U.S. bombing raids before the ground assault began last week.
There has been limited independent information from inside Fallujah because of the intense fighting and the security cordon around the city. Tens of thousands of residents fled before the fight began, but others stayed behind. The Iraqi government insisted Tuesday night that there was no humanitarian crisis in the city and no civilians had been killed.
But there is evidence to suggest that there have been civilian casualties and shortages of medical care. Lying next to each other in the al-Nouman hospital in Baghdad's Adhamiya district Tuesday were Ala'a Farhan, 11, and his brother Nafar, 7. The elder boy was injured on his left shoulder; the younger child was missing the lower part of his left leg. He lay on a hospital bed still dressed in a jumper and trousers, watching as blood seeped through the dressing on his leg.
The boys' father, Farhan Khalaf, said his sons had been injured in an air or artillery strike on the city in the days before the ground assault began Nov. 8. It came just as the family was preparing to flee to the nearby village of Saklawiya, where many other refugees have sought shelter. "We were collecting our things to go out of Fallujah to a place called Saklawiya where there are other members of our tribe," Khalaf said. "That's when we got hit by the Americans. My cousin was with me and we took the children to Fallujah hospital."
On the night before the assault began, U.S. Marines and Iraqi forces seized control of Fallujah hospital. Khalaf took his injured children, left the hospital and tried to take them 40 miles to Baghdad with other relatives. But as they moved they came under attack a second time, from what they believe was an American tank round. His cousin Falah Hassan, 38, was killed, and his two children were badly injured. Both are also recovering in the al-Nouman hospital.
The younger boy, Ahmed Falah, 2, was in the arms of a veiled female relative. He had bandages around wounds to his chest, around his right hand and above his right eye. On a bed to the side was his brother, Salah, 7, who had his left leg wrapped in plaster and many bandages protecting a serious wound to his stomach.
"When my cousin was hit and killed his two children were hit as well," said Khalaf. "We pray that the government will see all this and do something about it. These children are not terrorists; they are not al-Qaida." They shared the quiet ward with another family wrapped in their own suffering. None of the children cried, and the relatives spoke quietly to themselves.
On one bed lay a young mother, Nasreen Aswad, 19, with a wound to her hand. Next to her was her seriously injured son, Mustafa, 2. The boy's head lay on a neatly folded yellow towel, with a book of prayers in Arabic by his side and a small patch of green cloth pinned on his shirt, a form of blessing. His left leg was missing and heavily bandaged at the stump. By his side on the bed was a toy mobile phone, a gift from the doctors.
His father, Ahmed Aswad, said the family had been leaving Fallujah for a village on the outskirts of the city just before the ground assault. "My wife wanted us to go to the hospital for the doctor to check on our child and as we were walking, about 30 meters from the house, we were hit by a shell," he said. "My wife was hit in the hand, and my son lost his leg."
The Iraqi Red Crescent has sent convoys of food, medical aid and blankets to Fallujah, although so far they have been prevented from entering the city. U.S. officers said the city was not yet secure enough to allow the convoys in, and said they had enough food and medical supplies available to treat the injured.
Although it is thought that most of the city's 300,000 residents fled before the assault, there have been other reports of civilian injuries. One account from doctors suggests that up to 20 Iraqi medical staff and patients were killed when a missile destroyed a health clinic in the center of town. Other reports said a 9-year-old boy died from a shrapnel wound to his stomach and had to be buried by his parents in the garden because it was too dangerous for them to leave their home.