By Didier Francois
April 19, 2004
With a weary gesture freighted with bitterness, Mohamed Ibrahim Abbas concedes a retreat. The failure of endless discussions. The American troops who seal the Falluja siege don't want to hear their leaders' orders. Humanitarian arguments carry little weight. For the fourth consecutive day, the convoy chartered by the Assistant Secretary General of the Iraqi Red Crescent must turn back, and the medicine, the anesthesia, the operating theater that the rebel city's doctors urgently request will not get past the blockade imposed by occupation forces. "First the Marines barred access to Falluja to non-governmental organizations- which they accused of transporting hidden weapons in their aid cargoes. We remain the only aid organization empowered to cross their blockades," Mohamed Abbas stresses. "We hold our mandate to act within the framework of natural and human catastrophes from the International Federation of Red Cross Societies," he explains, "but the American army has demanded that we lodge our travel requests 24 hours in advance and then it argues the security situation to turn back our trucks."
Last week, military outposts were established along all the paved roads and even along the main dirt roads leading into Falluja. Rather than invading the city, the coalition has closed access to it. Entrenched in concrete bunkers reinforced with sand bags, or shut up in their armored vehicles, the soldiers show little kindness to whoever tries to approach them. A resident of the Nazal neighborhood and professor at Al-Anbar University, Sabah al-Rawi was able to leave Falluja Friday, benefiting from a safe-conduct pass the Americans offered to a delegation that had come from Baghdad to negotiate a truce with the rebellion. The day before, under cover of a lull, he had already tried his luck at this road block twelve kilometers from Falluja.
"We were seven vehicles in a convoy, bearing white flags," the professor relates. "We never got to the roadblock. About fifty meters from the American position, a machine gun opened fire from a tank. My car windows were shattered. Luckily, I had told my wife and children to lie down on the seats. No one was hit. However, in the second car behind mine, a whole family was killed. The father, the mother, and their three children. A boy and two little girls." Ahmed, a Red Crescent volunteer, confirms the very weak protection offered by Geneva Convention symbols to identify non-combatants in a war zone. "We set up a little tent city for the people who wanted to leave Falluja's most dangerous neighborhoods," he testifies. "The first night, we sheltered 12 families and 25 others had signed up to join the following day. But the battle came brutally closer. Bombardments, artillery fire, airplanes, helicopters. And elite sharpshooters. I thought I was going to die. Our camp, however, was clearly labeled. We left everything there, tents, blankets, jerrycans, electric generators."
Mohamed Ibrahim Abbas, however, does not despair. "I don't have a right to." The last time a convoy was able to get into the city, last Tuesday, he discovered "a ghost town". "The only street where I could see any people was the one leading to the medical center. Right in the middle of the combat zone, the General Hospital is difficult to reach," he explains. "The doctors have requisitioned a dispensary and the three houses that surround it, near the market, to offer a free clinic to the wounded. They have sort of transformed one room into an operating theater, but they have no post-operative treatment and lose many patients. Since they lack anesthesia, all the procedures on limbs are done without sedatives. We were able to supply them with the most urgently needed products for about a week, but they urgently need settings for fractures, instruments for cranial surgery, and a campaign operating theater. So, tomorrow, I'll go back to see the Americans and hope to get my authorization."
Translation: Truthout French language correspondent Leslie Thatcher.
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