City of ghosts

Here are a few paragraphs from a story published in The Guardian today, written by an Iraqi doctor who visited Falluja when most journalists could not get in. His testimony will also be broascast by the UK's Channel Four News, and you can watch an excerpt here.

As I went into the graveyard, the bodies of two young men were arriving. The faces were rotting. The ambulance driver lifted the bones of one of the hands; the skin had rotted away. "God is the greatest. What kind of times are we living through that we are holding the bones and hands of our brothers?"


Then he began cursing the National Guard, calling them even worse things than the Americans: "Those bastards, those sons of dogs." It wasn't the first time I had heard this. It was the National Guard the Americans used to search the houses; they were seen by the Fallujans as brutal stooges. Most of the volunteers for the National Guard are poor Shias from the south. They are jobless and desperate enough to volunteer for a job that makes them assassination targets. "National infidels", they were also called.


I counted the graves: there were 74. The two young men made it 76. The names on the headstones were written in chalk and some had been washed away. One read: "Here lies the heroic Tunisian martyr who died", but I didn't see any other evidence of the hundreds of foreign fighters that the US had said were using Falluja as their headquarters. People told me there were some Yemenis and Saudis, some volunteers from Tunisia and Egypt, but most of the fighters were Fallujan. The US military say they have hundreds of bodies frozen in a potato chip factory 5km south of the city, but nobody has been allowed to go there in the past two months, including the Red Crescent.


He concludes:

The US military destroyed Falluja, but simply spread the fighters out around the country. They also increased the chance of civil war in Iraq by using their new national guard of Shias to suppress Sunnis. Once, when a foreign journalist, an Irish guy, asked me whether I was Shia or Sunni - the way the Irish do because they have that thing about the IRA - I said I was Sushi. My father is Sunni and my mother is Shia. I never cared about these things. Now, after Falluja, it matters.
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Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.