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November 18 2004

The Carthaginian Solution

What follows is a collage put together from the eyewitness accounts of reporters with major newspapers and news services, most of them embedded with U.S. troops. It is meant to be a portrait of Falluja… well, you can't quite say "after the battle" since -- as in the Chechen capital Grozny after the Russians flattened it in 1999 -- the fighting goes on and on. I'm sorry to say that I suspect the following only begins to catch the scale of the destruction in Falluja:

"Even the dogs have started to die, their corpses strewn among twisted metal and shattered concrete in a city that looks like it forgot to breathe. The aluminum shutters of shops on the main highway through town have been transformed by the force of war into mangled accordion shapes, flat, sharp, jarring slices of metal that no longer obscure the stacks of silver pots, the plastic-wrapped office furniture, the rolls of carpet… [T]he insurgents were putting up their most tenacious resistance as US and Iraqi forces pursued them through a bleak landscape of bombed-out cinder block factories and houses reminiscent of the movie ‘Blade Runner'… It is still far from clear when civilian residents will be allowed back in [to Falluja] -- or what they will think of this post-apocalyptic wasteland when they are… Driving down Highway 10, the main street running east to west through the heart of Falluja, is like entering a film that is set sometime on the other side of Armageddon. Cars sit on the roofs of buildings. Lamp posts lie at odd angles on the street. Just south of the highway, a minaret has been snapped off near the base like a pretzel stick, and another minaret is missing a huge chunk. Fire has blackened the facade of building after building… As he trudged through the desolate, rubble-filled streets, [Marine Sgt Aristotel] Barbosa said he remembered thinking how bad the city looked, worse than he had imagined. ‘Basically every house has a hole through it,' he said…

"A drive through the city revealed a picture of utter destruction, with concrete houses flattened, mosques in ruins, telegraph poles down, power and phone lines hanging slack and rubble and human remains littering the empty streets. The north-west Jolan district, once an insurgent stronghold, looked like a ghost town, the only sound the rumbling of tank tracks… Restaurant signs were covered in soot. Pavements were crushed by 70-ton Abrams tanks, and rows of crumbling buildings stood on both sides of deserted streets. Upmarket homes with garages looked as if they had been abandoned for years. Cars lay crushed in the middle of streets… The reaction of US troops to attacks, say residents, have been out of all proportion; shots by snipers have been answered by rounds from Abrams tanks, devastating buildings and, it is claimed, injuring and killing civilians. This is firmly denied by the American! military. About 200,000 refugees fled the fighting, and there have been outbreaks of typhoid and other diseases… The city's Haj Hussein mosque was destroyed in one overnight air raid, [residents] said. The U.S. military says it considers mosques legitimate targets if insurgents use them for military purposes…

"Rasoul Ibrahim, a father of three, fled Falluja on foot on Thursday morning and arrived with his wife and children in Habbaniya, about 12 miles to the west, at night. He said families left in the city were in desperate need. ‘There's no water. People are drinking dirty water. Children are dying. People are eating flour because there's no proper food,' he told aid workers in Habbaniya, which has become a refugee camp, with around 2,000 families sheltering there… Cowering in their house with nothing to eat or drink as bombardments and firefights shook their neighborhood, Iyad al-Mashadani and his family dug a 3-foot hole in their yard and drank the brackish water. ‘We were sure that we would die,' said Mashadani, 32, a car mechanic…

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