White flags on top of houses and cars, plenty of American and Iraqi military vehicles, too many check points and blocks on the road, many frightening walking patrols, curfew after sunset, heaps and heaps of destroyed houses, shops, offices, the only bridge, hospitals and medical care centers, walls covered with bullets shots, and election posters…empty faces with bleak looks wandering in the streets. This is the picture of Al-Qa’im after the “Steel Curtain” military operation which began on November 5, 2005 with 3,000 American and Iraqi troops participating in it.

“You are filming our miserable condition so that Bush would pity us?!  You want to soften his heart?” asked a tiny, skinny young villager disapprovingly, with obvious resignation. She was holding a very heavy cooking gas tube, trying to climb the river bank. After the only bridge which connects Rummana to Al-Qa’im was severely bombed, citizens had to cross by boat.

Our driver was impatient with blocked roads, he took the nearest dusty detour whenever he saw a queue. We arrived in Qa’im around six pm; the darkness was already thick. Our car was almost shot by the Americans, but the driver was very quick in going down the side road. “That’s how families get killed” said Abu Adel, a lovable old man who asked for a lift, and who was very keen on showing us his high education by using broken English phrases. Abu Adel was very angry because some Iraqis make use of the refugees’ misfortune and ask for double or triple rents. He preferred to put his family in a hut rather than being blackmailed.

Electricity is cut for more than a month now, after the main station was bombed, and the converters were bombed and the wires were cut. In the morning Al-Qa’im looked horrible. The General Hospital was 90% destroyed, the medical care centers, the schools, shops, houses…

The Biggest Hospital in the Western Area

Dr. Hamdi Al-Aaloossy, the director, came to meet us outside his office.  He canceled a meeting with the reconstruction committee, “They are just ink on paper, those meetings,” he said. Dr. Hamdi is usually a very calm and considerate man. This time he was really sad and fed up. The destruction this time was ultimate. He was repeating a line from a classical Arabic poem about how to complete building while others destroy what is built. He showed us the gynecology, the pediatric, the emergency departments, the blood bank, the new doctors’ house. All of them completely destroyed. “They were hit by several missiles. Thanks heavens there was no one here, just a mentally retarded and epileptic cleaning worker.” Dr Hamdi was especially sad about the gynecology dept. It was newly rebuilt in record efforts and time, with the help of The German Red Cross. It was not opened yet. All the machines and equipment were destroyed, even the ambulances in the hospital garage were bombed. They were empty. There were 5 of them. Two were destroyed in the garage.  A third was destroyed when the driver Mahmood Chiad Abid tried to rescue a family in Karabla on October 1, 2005, killing him. The rest show obvious evidences of shots.

“But if the hospital was empty, why was it bombed? Usually the Americans say that there were terrorists inside?!”

“I assure you that not a single body was found under the rubble, neither any injured person. They attacked the hospital on Nov 7, two days after the major attack on Qa’im. There were no patients, no staff and no armed men. There was one doctor, however, who decided to stay in the hospital.  But during the bombing she hid in a neighboring house. 90% of the hospital was destroyed. I call upon the Health Ministry, the Iraqi Government, the Iraqi and international organizations to help us rebuild whatever we can. Of course the departments which are bombed are beyond repair, as you see, they have to be built anew, but we can rehabilitate the other ones. The HM did not send any delegation to see the damage and estimate the expenses. It is more than a month now, and the hospital is still not working.”

Al-Qa’im general hospital is one of the most important hospitals in the far western area of Iraq. It covers the whole area from Haditha to the borders, where there are hundreds small towns and villages. There are several medical care units connected to it. In Haditha there is a similar general hospital that covers the area from Haditha city beyond till Ramadi. Both hospitals are now severely damaged and burnt.

Dr. Hamdi put 5 big tents for the medical, pediatric, and emergency consultation departments in the hospital’s garden. The other ones are for medicine and furniture store. A small bare room was used as labor room (where there were no equipments whatsoever to examine the mother or the baby, just two beds). We attended an emergency operation. The operation theater’s windows, walls, and doors were broken, but the staff did their best to keep everything clean and sterilized. Everything went well. “You are heroes,” I said. “No, just doing our best,” the doctor replied.

But they were heroes, to work in such conditions. Many of the medical staff donated blood to patients and went back to work immediately. They have severe shortage in oxygen tubes, so they rationed it to be used only in emergency operations. They have no more than ten tubes. “With people like you, there is always hope,” we said. Dr. Hamdi smiled, “We never lose hope.” No media coverage was present to show the Al-Qa’im tragedy.

A Family of 17 killed in few seconds

Modhhir Najim Abdulla, a security officer in the hospital took us to his uncle’s bombed house where 17 women, children, and civilians were killed. The house of Arkan was just heaps of concrete blocks; the roof was flattened to the ground.  There were 5 families living there. Not one of them was a stranger or a fighter.

“I just want to know why, I want a justification” Modhhir began, “the bombing began on Nov 5, loud speakers were saying stay at home, do not move out, and we did. 15 minutes later the bombing began. They did not announce evacuation. We had no chance to leave.” On Nov 7, we heard that our uncle’s house was bombed. We could not go to check; we went to the nearest American troops and told them. They accompanied us, and this is what we found.”

Modhhir was not crying, but his voice was full of rage. His sister (Najla’) who was the wife of his cousin too, was pregnant in her 9th month. She was supposed to have cesarean operation because she was a week late for her due time. “I can not describe her and her baby when we removed the bodies.” Another cousin’s baby was only 25 days. A third child’s body was not found until 2 days later. Modhhir brought the family’s IDs, death certificates, and photos.

They are: (name, age, relation to Arkan and cause of death) Arkan Abdulla Family: 1-Alia Amir, 50, wife, smashed scull, broken ribs, burns and injuries in the chest and abdomen 2- Asma’a Arkan, 23, daughter, suffocation 3- In’am Arkan, 14, daughter, smashed scull 4- Lubna Arkan, 12, daughter, injury in the head and suffocation 5- Abdul Razzaq Arkan, 10, son, broken ribs and suffocation 6- Mahmood Arkan, 22, son, broken scull and suffocation

Saddam Arkan Abdulla Family: 7- Khatar Dahham, 28, daughter in law, injuries and broken scull 8- Dhuha S. Arkan, 10, grand daughter, broken scull and injuries in head 9- Abdulla S. Arkan, 9, grandson, intestine tear 10-Thammir S.Arkan, 4, grandson, broken ribs, bleeding inside chest and broken legs 11- Amir S. Arkan, 7, grandson, smashed scull, suffocation and legs injury 12- Yahia S. Arkan, 3, grandson, smashed scull 13- Saja S. Arkan, 2, grand daughter, smashed scull, tissue tear and broken ribs

Fanar Arkan Abdulla Family: 14- Najla’a Najim, 22, daughter in law, smashed scull, suffocation 15- Leila Fanar Arkan, fetus, given birth and death certificate at the same time 16- Ahmad Salih Amir, 25 days, nephew, injuries in head, chest and ribs. 17- Khattab Mahmood Arkan, 2, grandson, smashed scull

“Who of these do you recognize as terrorist? This one, this, or maybe this?” The pictures were of women in a party, many children in different occasions…This is my sister, this is her son, this is my youngest cousin….etc. He was pointing to the faces and naming them. I felt that the list was endless. “Please stop,” I said.

“Why do you think your uncle’s house was bombed?” I asked.

“I do not know. I want them to answer this question. They bombed three houses in this street. In the other one 7 children and women were killed. It is Fuad’s house, there. The third one was empty, but it is no more than ruins. You can see it. Maybe they had wrong information about these houses, I do not know, may be they made a mistake…but these are not excuses. Even the American soldiers, the Iraqis, the CNN reporter were crying when they saw what happened to my family.” The family was buried in the garden.

The American troops played a classical, colonial, very dirty trick of divide and conquer in Al-Qa’im. They allied with one big tribe, Al bu Mahal, against another very big one, Al-Salman. They used one as informants against the other. These people may make mistakes, or they may give wrong information for different reasons, but innocents get killed in the process. In the last “Steal Curtain” operation, thousands were arrested, and informants from the other tribe were used to pick those who were thought to be insurgents. This story was repeated in many places: Rumanna, Karabla, and Al-Ebeidy. Of course anyone who is branded as a collaborator (traitor) is killed. Qa’im is one example of what is happening in different parts of Iraq.

Faud’s house was just across a dusty yard. Again it was no more than scattered bricks and cement blocks. Nassir, a cousin was called to describe what happened.

“We did not know, only by chance. Our house was raided, I was upset and decided to visit my uncle Faud’s house. The whole area was empty, only the American troops were filling the place. When I approached the house, it was as you see it now. I heard the voice my cousin Salaam and, and his sister Anwar calling for help. They were injured. But other 7 were killed. Cousin Isam (35), his wife (25), his children Hani (7) and Reem(3), his sister (20), Salaam’s bride, Sheima’ (20), and Quteiba were all killed.

The stories of buried families under the rubbles became familiar in Qa’im. In Mohssin Mohammad’s house, near the electricity station, a family of 20 were killed, and in Mohssin Hommadi‘s house 35 were killed, we were told… “We used the food refrigerator to put the human bodies,” A., an employee in the hospital said.

A did not leave Qa’im during the last attack. He described what happened.

“On Nov 5, at 3 am the troops were dropped in the Railway and the Saray areas. At the same time, the bombing never stopped. Electricity was cut, and water too. The bombing was random. The tanks dashed in the street savagely. They bombed everything, even a small door. We were two families staying in the whole street. My gate was already broken because of the bombing. I crawled to open the inner doors. They were about 40 when they raided my house. They asked about terrorists and weapons. They searched the house, and found nothing. They were attacked while they were in my house. In 6 minutes 3 houses were destroyed in retaliation.  They told us to close our ears and open our mouths when they bomb. A journalist accompanying them operated my generator and began to send his story from my house. They dug trenches in the neighboring Hadg Thammer house, opened big holes in the walls, and ruined the roof.”

AM, another employee from Rummana said, “We saw 14 airplanes bombing, we heard that there is a major attack on Huseiba. 5 days later we heard that the attack was on Karabla and Ebeidy which was hit by 50 missiles from dawn to sunrise at 6 am. A man said that they used white phosphorus.

“How did he know that?”

“He said that when the dead were buried, their clothes were intact, but the bodies were like ashes when they were held. In Rummana they collected all the men, and the Iraqis who accompanied them would point to some who are then taken away. The troops are still occupying the schools and the medical center. They tell the families to leave then they blast the house. They did that with 15 houses in Rummana. In one month, at least 150 were killed in Rummana. On Nov 15, they forced the families to spend the night outside in Ebeidy. Two newly born babies died in the cold.”

Next day we tried to go to Rummana. It was worse than AM described. The bridge, was bombed twice. First, no cars were able to cross, only on foot. Then, it was bombed again in three pieces, which raise their heads from the Euphrates as eternal witness of the American colonial barbarism.

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