Horrors of Fallujah Siege Documented by Iraqi Journalist
Ali Fadhil is perhaps best known for his documentary film on the aftermath of the US siege on Falluja in November, 2004. In the assault, American and Iraqi forces surrounded Fallujah, expelling the city’s residents, bombing hospitals and shelling buildings. The documentary, "Fallujah - The Real Story" was produced last year by Guardian Films for Channel Four News.
Whole neighborhoods were attacked and relief workers were denied access. When the dust had settled, 10,000 buildings were destroyed with thousands more seriously damaged. At least 100,000 residents were permanently displaced and over 70 U.S. soldiers were killed. The Iraqi death toll remains unknown, but is well into the hundreds.
Ali Fadhil compiled the first independent reports from the devastated city, where he found scores of unburied corpses, rabid dogs and an embittered population. The documentary was produced last year by Guardian Films for Channel Four News, it's called "Fallujah - The Real Story."
A transcript of part of the film and an interview between Ali Fadhil and US jourmalist Amy Godman has been released in the US, with the following information....
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ALI FADHIL: Fallujah has been closed as a city for two months. Rahena is one of the first Fallujans to go back home since the Americans occupied the city. She wanted to show me what had been left behind.
RAHENA: Look at it! Furniture, clothes thrown everywhere. They smashed up the cupboards and they wrote something bad on the dressing table mirror.
ALI FADHIL: She doesn't speak English, so I explained to her what the words mean.
RAHENA: I knew it. I knew those words were insulting.
ALI FADHIL: Every Fallujan knows this song. It was written after the war and is full of hatred towards the Americans. It is impossible to live in the city at the moment. There is no water, no electricity, and no sewage. It's almost a city of ghosts. Most of the 350,000 people who used to live there now live in refugee camps. I wanted to get inside the city, but it was closed. So I started by looking for Fallujans in the surrounding villages and camps. I began my journey in Habaniya, 35 kilometers west of Fallujah. This place used to be a tourist resort. Saddam’s own son, Uday, used to come here for his holidays. People here are cutting down trees and making fires to keep warm. Abu Rabiyah has been living here for two months now.
ABU RABIYAH: We’re meant to be the country of oil, aren’t we? But look at me. I'm measuring the kerosene for this lamp by the drop. We have no heat here. We're using wood for the fire.
ALI FADHIL: These people are freezing. They have received no food aid for three months. They are meant to be voting on January the 30th.
FALLUJAN REFUGEE: We won't vote. We just won’t vote. They must take us back to our houses first.
ALI FADHIL: Inside one of the tents, I met Hamid Allawi. I asked him if he had received his voting papers.
HAMID ALLAWI: No, I didn't receive them, and I don't want them anyway. None of the Fallujans here got their voting coupons.
ALI FADHIL: Suddenly, we were told that some people were unhappy that we were filming. It felt dangerous, and we had to leave. We go straight to Saklawiya, a village just north of Fallujah. At Friday prayers, the talk is all about the elections.
SHEIKH JAMAL AL RAHAMIDI: When they hand out food rations, they should give out voting papers as well. Why isn't the government giving the people their vote?
ALI FADHIL: Sheik Jamal al Rahamidi is a powerful man. Many Fallujan refugees come to listen to his sermons. He gets very emotional when he talks about last November’s attack.
SHEIKH JAMAL AL RAHAMIDI: And I saw, with my own eyes, the Holy Koran thrown on the floor of the mosque by those sons of pigs and monkeys. The Americans were treading on the Holy Koran, and it broke my heart.
ALI FADHIL: I wanted to speak to the sheikh, because back in November, the Americans had asked him to remove bodies from Fallujah. I wanted to know what he had seen.
SHEIKH JAMAL AL RAHAMIDI: The Americans had marked the houses that had dead bodies with them with a cross. That’s where we found the martyrs. In my opinion, these people were civilians, not terrorists. They were men who had stayed behind in the city to protect their homes. I say this because we found the bodies in groups of two or three or four. It was Ramadan, and people would naturally gather together for Iftar, the first meal after fasting. We found the bodies right behind their front doors. It looked to me as if they had opened their front doors to the Americans and had been immediately shot dead. That's how we found them.
ALI FADHIL: Sheikh Jamal took me to a cemetery on the edge of the city. He showed me where he had buried the bodies. He claimed none of them had weapons with them and that he had found an old man of ninety who had been shot dead in his kitchen. The gravestones had no names, only numbers. I counted 76 of them. The Americans claim they killed 1,200. So even if these people were insurgents, where are the other graves? I wanted to get inside Fallujah itself, but to do that, I have to get the new Fallujah identity card. Everyone who wants to return to the city now has to get this I.D. from the American military. To most Iraqis, this seems crazy. It's the only place in Iraq where you need an I.D. in order to get into your own city.
MAJOR PAUL HACKETT: This card will allow them to get back into the city in a controlled, organized manner.
ALI FADHIL: But the men queuing for the card told me they saw it as another punishment given to them by the Americans. Fallujans have always been so proud of their city. Concepts such as honor and dignity matter a lot here, so to be fingerprinted by an American soldier just to go home is embarrassing. That's why these men are covering their faces.
FALLUJAN: This is just another humiliation for people of Fallujah. I think they're doing it on purpose just to humiliate us.
MAJOR PAUL HACKETT: My understanding is ultimately they can hang their card on a wall and keep it as a souvenir, but eventually, not too distant in the future, that card is going to be unnecessary for access to Fallujah.
ALI FADHIL: Finally, we made it into Fallujah. The first thing we noticed was graffiti saying “Long live the mujahedeen!” I couldn't believe it. The whole city is destroyed. It was a big shock. I wasn't prepared for this much destruction. I was here just before the American attack. It's hard to believe this is the same city. Fallujah used to be one of the few modern Iraqi cities, and now there is nothing. The only people I see are Fallujans trying to work out where they used to live, people like Abu Sallah. This is all that remains of his home.
ABU SALLAH: Look at these mattresses here. These were from my son's wedding! This was my son's room. And look here, this was our kitchen. This is the sugar bag that we left in the kitchen right here. If Allawi really wants us to vote in the elections, then let him come here first and look at the state we're living in.
ALI FADHIL: I could smell bodies beneath the rubble. I went to the old city of Fallujah. This was the place where the four American contractors were brutally lynched last March. The Americans don't allow anyone to go here. They say it's not safe. It is a scary place, but these Fallujan people insist on taking me somewhere. They want to show me something really gruesome. I counted four dead bodies. They were rotting. It looks like these people were shot while they were sleeping. It's very common for friends in Iraq to sleep in this way together. There are no signs of a gun battle, no bullet holes. I could not see any weapons, no obvious signs that they were insurgents. I'm told they were civilians. Nearby, in another house, another dead body. But here, there were definite signs that this was an insurgent. There is an R.P.G. launcher on the roof of his car and a booby trap bomb by the door. In both cases, the corpses have been eaten by hungry dogs. I see a lot of dead dogs in the city. There is a serious outbreak of rabies.
FALLUJAN DOCTOR: We have seen in our hospital many, many cases suspected to be rabies. You know we have no toxin or vaccine in our hospital, so most of the patients die. About 50, 50 cases.
ALI FADHIL: Dr. Chichen and his colleagues are living in Fallujah’s main hospital. This city is empty so they have no patients. Their only job is to recover the rotting corpses and to bring them for burial. When I went to the main cemetery in Fallujah, they were still burying their dead. Two months after the fighting started, we still don't know how many Fallujans died. But we do know the American casualty figures. 51 U.S. soldiers were killed and over 400 were wounded.
AMY GOODMAN: Ali Fadhil's documentary, Fallujah: The Real Story, produced by Guardian Films for Channel 4 in Britain. This, a U.S. exclusive, an excerpt of that film. Ali, your conclusion at the end of the film, which we are not playing right now?
ALI FADHIL: Yeah, it's about the defeat of the insurgency that the U.S. forces had claimed at that time, because they said ‘This is a big win for us against the insurgency in Iraq,’ which actually wasn't true. With the time of the raid on Fallujah, there was exclusive and enormous military operations in different areas in Iraq, especially, for example, Baghdad and Mosul. There were, for example, the raid -- the explosion, the suicidal explosion inside one of the military camps -- big American military camps in Nineveh, north of Iraq, and everywhere actually. So, the conclusion was that this is not true. The Americans -- the insurgents, sorry, they just separated out from Fallujah. They just fled Fallujah a few days before the invasion, the American invasion on Fallujah.
AMY GOODMAN: You won the Foreign Press Association award for this, Amnesty International’s award, as well as others, and you've come here with a Fallujan I.D. Now, it was talked about in the film by an American major, American Major Paul Hackett who is now running for Senate in Ohio. He's who you interviewed there.
ALI FADHIL: Yes, well, I didn't know, actually. But I met him there in Fallujah, in a camp where they do these I.D.s. American soldiers sitting beside computers and having computer machines and printers. So they print kind of I.D.s, where they take the print of the iris, they take the print of your – the ten fingers, and then they give you this I.D., which is -- ou can't get in or out of Fallujah without it. It's with a picture and you can say until now, this very day, Fallujans can't get in or out of their city without this I.D.
AMY GOODMAN: And it’s a photograph of you with a bar code at the top, with your name written in English.
ALI FADHIL: Exactly, so it can be read by the computer, and -- of course, I'm not a Fallujan. And I had it by coincidence. I don't know how; it was very exclusive. You can see here the type of the Fallujah -- of the personnel holding this I.D. is “C,” which is contractor. So I was allowed to get in as a contractor inside Fallujah with the cameras and everything. I -- before I come to America, for a few days, I met two Fallujans, friends of mine I made through this film, in Amman in my way to America. And I asked them about the situation there. And they just said it's just the same when you left it. It's a siege, nobody allowed to get in or out without this I.D. And they're having problems with the Americans, the Iraqi forces and with the insurgents. So nothing changed, actually.
AMY GOODMAN: And how did you get these images, for example, the bodies at the end, in their homes, dead? How did you get in?
ALI FADHIL: Well, the thing is, that was the north part of the city, which is known in Fallujah as the Souk. It was banned, and there were tapes, yellow tapes saying, ‘Danger Don't Cross!’ These were areas announced by the military forces. If you cross it, then it's a green light for anybody to shoot you. So some Fallujans actually said, “You have to come to this place. You have to. Come with us. We'll get you, don't worry. We'll take care of your safety.” Some of the few Fallujans who got in these days because these were the first days where Fallujan civilians were allowed to get in to see their houses. So they took me and they sneaked me through the small alleys and rows, and I found myself in these places and this house, and actually, I got a shot from a sniper on me on the top of one of the buildings when I got the shot for the mosque, the dome of the mosque.
AMY GOODMAN: You're an un-embedded journalist.
ALI FADHIL: Un-embedded. Yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: Compare that situation to the other reporting you're seeing from there?
ALI FADHIL: Well, if you remember, at that time, all of the reports came about Fallujah it was from the journalists embedded with the military forces, because they didn’t allow anybody to get in -- any media to get in. And everyone who wants to get in, he has to be embedded with the U.S. forces. So I would say this film is really, really something. It means a lot of things to me, and it's kind of exclusive in the way it's been done, in the way the access we got inside the city, because it was dangerous, not only from the military forces, from the American forces, but also from the insurgents inside.
AMY GOODMAN: We only have 30 seconds. But you're a general practitioner. You were a doctor in Iraq. Why did you put that down to pick up a camera?
ALI FADHIL: The main reason is because, while I'm sitting in 2003, I returned back to Iraq. I was in exile in Yemen, practicing also medicine. When I returned back, I found myself just writing death certificates and doing nothing to my patients. So I decided to – I mean, I was in a total despair, so I was ready to do anything. When I was visited by a Guardian reporter, he asked me to work as a translator with him. When I started that, I found that the media is much, much stronger than medicine.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, Ali Fadhil, I want to thank you for being with us. Now coming to the United States to go to journalism school at New York University with your family. Welcome to the United States.
ALI FADHIL: Thank you.