FALLUJAH - Three years after a devastating U.S.-led siege of the city, residents
of Fallujah continue to struggle with a shattered economy and infrastructure
and a lack of mobility.
The city that was routed in November 2004 is still suffering the worst humanitarian
conditions under a siege that continues. Although military actions are down
to a minimum inside the city, local and U.S. authorities do not seem to be thinking
of ending the agonies of the over 400,000 residents of Fallujah.
"You, people of the media, say things in Fallujah are good," Mohammad
Sammy, an aid worker for the Iraqi Red Crescent in Fallujah, told IPS. "Then
why don't you come and live in this paradise with us? It is so easy to say things
for you, isn't it?"
His anger is due to the fact that the embattled city is still completely closed
and surrounded by military checkpoints that make it look like an isolated island.
Those who are not genuine residents of the city are not granted the biometric
identification badge from the U.S. Marines, and are thus not allowed to enter
Since the November 2004 U.S.-led attack on the city, named Operation Phantom
Fury, which left approximately 70 percent of the city destroyed, the U.S. military
has required residents to undergo retina scans and finger-printings in order
to gain a barcode for identification.
"This isolation has destroyed the economy of the city that was once one
of the best in Iraq," Professor Mohammad al-Dulaymi of al-Anbar University
told IPS. "All of the other cities in the province used to do their wholesale
shopping in Fallujah, but now they have to find alternatives, leaving the cities
businesses to starve."
All of the residents interviewed by IPS were extremely angry with the media
for recent reports that the situation in the city is good. Many refused to be
quoted for different reasons.
"Fallujah is probably the city that had the most of media coverage in
the history of the occupation," Hatam Jawad, a school headmaster in Fallujah,
told IPS. "People are tired of shouting and appearing on TV to complain,
without feeling any change in their sorrowful living situation. Some of them
are afraid of police revenge for telling the truth."
Many residents told IPS that U.S.-backed Iraqi police and army personnel have
detained people who have spoken to the media.
"I am not going to tell you whether it is good or bad to be a Fallujah
resident," 55-year-old lawyer, Shakir Naji, told IPS. "Why don't you
just ask what the prices of essential materials are and judge for yourself?
Kerosene for heating is almost one U.S. dollar per liter, a jar of propane gas
is $15, and it is not winter yet, when the prices will definitely be doubled."
Water and electricity services are at a minimum in the city. An Oxfam International
report released in July found that 70 percent of Iraqis do not have access to
safe drinking water.
Since the November 2004 siege, entire neighborhoods remain totally destroyed,
and with no water or electricity. Most of the businesses in Fallujah remain
"We depend upon the private sector for electricity," Fatima Saed,
a woman whose husband was detained in 2005 and has not been released yet, told
IPS. "In my situation, to pay $50 a month [for electricity] is a disaster
because I have to cut it from the quantity and quality of food that I buy for
myself and my kids."
The Oxfam report also stated, "At the beginning of May 2007, the Central
Office for Statistics and Information Technology (COSIT), part of the Iraqi
Ministry of Planning, released a survey highlighting the fact that 43 percent
of Iraqis suffer from 'absolute poverty'. The poverty of many families is rooted
in unemployment, which affects probably more than 50 percent of the workforce."
Fallujah General Hospital, situated across the Euphrates River from the city,
is still functioning, but with a minimal number of specialist doctors and medical
supplies. The only doctor who would speak to IPS did not want his name published.
"The manager of this hospital is a good man and he is trying hard to improve
the services, but the Ministry of Health in Baghdad still treats us here as
a bunch of terrorists. We are suffering both corruption from the ministry and
ignorance about al-Anbar province from this (Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki)
administration," he explained. "We do not have enough medicines, and
the equipment brought to us by contractors is still in boxes and seems to be
part of the corrupt contracts of the province. It is impossible to work under
People coming for treatment or surgery in the hospital appeared desperate to
get their essential needs met.
"We have to buy cotton, bandages, medicines, and all we need from private
pharmacies," 35-year-old Muath Tahir, a teacher who had his appendix removed
three days earlier, told IPS. "Those who can manage would go to the private
hospital for better treatment, but my $230 salary is not even enough for my
daily needs. This city has become impossible to live in."
(Inter Press Service)