U.S. and Iraqi Forces Work to Secure Fallujah
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LINDSEY HILSUM: A family who somehow survived the battle of Fallujah emerges from the rubble. They say the front of their apartment block was bombed, so they hid in the back.
The Americans are still taking people out of town. They drop them north of Fallujah, where they can go to the village of Saphowier, now housing 4,000 extra families.
Only a little aid has got through there. It’s still hostile territory for the Americans, and most Fallujah families are dependent on friends and relatives.
The refugees are given some water, a little food and money and sent on their way. Father and daughter are alone now; his other two children were killed.
The people aren’t being allowed back into Fallujah, only teams of Iraqi men supervised by Marines going to collect bodies. Rotting corpses spread disease, so the refugees can’t return until the streets have been cleared.
So far, they have collected only fifty bodies, but there are thought to be at least a thousand more in the streets, the houses, and hidden under rubble.
Even as they’re bringing bodies out of the houses and off the streets, I can still hear the sound of fighting a few blocks away.
At this point, it’s hard to tell who the bodies were. Were they civilians or were they insurgents? It’s going to take several days– maybe even a week– to bury them all.
And this is just the beginning of the clean-up operation in Fallujah. The bodies are lying where they fell. Some have been there ten days or so.
According to Islamic custom, they should have been buried within hours of death, but they will be given an Islamic burial now. The bodies will be identified as far as possible from clothes and documents found on them.
This team of Marines is taking care to work with community and religious leaders, but trust is skin deep.
On the face of it, they cooperate well, but off camera, the Iraqis told me they blame the Americans for Fallujah’s problems. All the bodies, they say, are civilians killed by Americans. That’s not true– some bodies have been found with weapons– but it shows how difficult it is to build confidence.
CAPT. ALEX HENEGAR, U.S. Marines: We’re building relationships where the things we can do, we do them, and we build up their trust.
In return, they offer to help something like this. They provide organization, leadership. It’s unfortunate circumstances, but this is the context of our meeting, and I think it’s proceeding quite well.
LINDSEY HILSUM: The body collection is curtailed when a fire-fight breaks out just a couple of blocks away. The Americans are rounding up all men of fighting age for interrogation.
We’ve seen about 200 detainees in the last few days. Most will be released. Some may feel the Americans liberated them from the brutal extremists running Fallujah, but others will remain bitter towards their captors and occupiers.
According to the Marines, mosques were used as sniping positions and weapons stores– that’s why so many minarets have been blasted away– but it’s agreed that Muslims must search the mosques, so the Iraqi forces are sent in.
The search is perfunctory, to say the least. The problem, say the Marines, is that the Iraqi soldiers don’t want to find anything in the mosque, so they just don’t look very hard. They uncover no weapons here, just propaganda.
SOLDIER: Loads of propaganda talking about how the suicide bombings on our convoys, how they’re going to kill Americans, how they’re going to kill the Iraqi police for collaborating with coalition forces, how they’re going to kill the Iraqi national guard — just a lot of hate, murder. It’s what it’s all about; there’s just drawers of it.
LINDSEY HILSUM: The devastation of Fallujah is immense: Houses reduced to rubble by aerial bombs, streets where each building has been hit by a tank round.
The Americans are going to offer compensation and help rebuild, but it will take years and millions. And livelihoods, family heirlooms and memories can’t be so easily restored.