*This article appeared in The Inter Press Service on November 16, 2004*
by Dahr Jamail
BAGHDAD — At least 800 civilians have been killed during the U.S. military siege of Fallujah, a Red Cross official estimates.
Speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of U.S. military reprisal, a high-ranking official with the Red Cross in Baghdad told IPS that ”at least 800 civilians” have been killed in Fallujah so far.
His estimate is based on reports from Red Crescent aid workers stationed around the embattled city, from residents within the city and from refugees, he said.
”Several of our Red Cross workers have just returned from Fallujah since the Americans won’t let them into the city,” he said. ”And they said the people they are tending to in the refugee camps set up in the desert outside the city are telling horrible stories of suffering and death inside Fallujah.”
The official said that both Red Cross and Iraqi Red Crescent relief teams had asked the U.S. military in Fallujah to take in medical supplies to people trapped in the city, but their repeated requests had been turned down.
A convoy of relief supplies from both relief organisations continues to wait on the outskirts of the city for military permission to enter. They have appealed to the United Nations to intervene on their behalf.
”The Americans close their ears, and that is it,” the Red Cross official said. ”They won’t even let us take supplies into Fallujah General Hospital.”
The official estimated that at least 50,000 residents remain trapped within the city. They were too poor to leave, lacked friends or family outside the city and therefore had nowhere to go, or they simply had not had enough time to escape before the siege began, he said.
Aid workers in his organisation have reported that houses of civilians in Kharma, a small city near Fallujah, had been bombed by U.S. warplanes. In one instance a family of five was killed just two days ago, they reported.
”I don’t know why the American leaders did not approach the Red Cross and ask us to deal with the families properly before the attacking began,” said a Red Cross aid worker, who also spoke on condition of anonymity.
”Suddenly they attacked and people were stuck with no help, no medicine, no food, no supplies,” he said. ”So those who could, ran for the desert while the rest were trapped in the city.”
If the U.S. forces would call a temporary cease-fire ”we could get our trucks in and get the civilians left in Fallujah who need medical care, we could get them out,” he said.
Mosques have organised massive collections of food and relief supplies for Fallujah residents as they did last April when the city was under attack, but these supplies have not been allowed into the city either.
The Red Cross official said they had received several reports from refugees that the military had dropped cluster bombs in Fallujah, and used a phosphorous weapon that caused severe burns.
The U.S. military claims to have killed 1,200 ”insurgents” in Fallujah. Abdel Khader Janabi, a resistance leader from the city has said that only about 100 among them were fighters.
”Both of them are lying,” the Red Cross official said. ”While they agree on the 1,200 number, they are both lying about the number of dead fighters.” He added that ”our estimate of 800 civilians is likely to be too low.”
The situation within Fallujah is grim, he said. If help does not reach people soon, ”the children who are trapped will most likely die.”
He said the Ministry of Health in the U.S.-backed interim Iraqi government had stopped supplying hospitals and clinics in Fallujah two months before the current siege.
”The hospitals do not even have aspirin,” he said. ”This shows, in my opinion, that they’ve had a plan to attack for a long time and were trying to weaken the people.”