Atrocities and War Crimes in Fallujah

November 20, 2004

Many independent and non-governmental agencies are speaking out against the U.S. military siege of Fallujah, condemning the U.S. for carrying out numerous atrocities and war crimes.

On November 17, the UN's High Commissioner for Human Rights, Louise Arbour, expressed concern over the killings of wounded people and civilians in the city. "There have been a number of reports during the current confrontation alleging violations of the rules of war designed to protect civilians and combatants," she said.

The statement came a day after the release of television footage showing a U.S. soldier killing an unarmed Iraqi prisoner inside a Fallujah mosque.

On November 16, Human Rights Watch said the killing of wounded Iraqi prisoners is a war crime. "If it is what it appears to be, then obviously it would be a grave breach of the Geneva Conventions. It would probably be a war crime," Joe Stork, Washington director of the Middle East division of Human Rights Watch, told Reuters.

On the same day, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) joined others in condemning the crime. Article three of the Geneva Conventions "clearly bans any attack against a person who is not taking part, or is no longer taking part, in hostilities, that includes those wounded, taken prisoner or a civilian," ICRC spokeswoman Antonella Notari spelt out.

There have been numerous eyewitness reports of U.S. soldiers shooting indiscriminately, and tanks running over and crushing to death wounded Iraqis.

Total Destruction

A reporter from the Associated Press said "Destruction was everywhere. I saw people lying dead in the streets, wounded were bleeding and there was no one to come and help them....There was no medicine, water, no electricity nor food for days....U.S. helicopters were firing on and killing people who tried to cross the river." He watched horrified as a family of five was shot dead as they tried to cross [the river]. Then, he "helped bury a man by the river bank, with my own hands....I kept walking along the river for two hours and I could still see some U.S. snipers ready to shoot anyone who might swim."

Other reports have said "U.S. warplanes, tanks and mortars have left a shattered landscape of gutted buildings, crushed cars and charred bodies...A drive through the city revealed a picture of utter destruction, with concrete houses flattened, mosques in ruins, telegraph poles down, power and phone lines hanging slack and rubble and human remains littering the empty streets."

A report by the UN also revealed that 20 doctors had died during a U.S. air strike on a Fallujah clinic, and there have been numerous reports of the U.S. dropping huge bombs on the city.

An Iraqi woman who fled the city told reporters on November 13 that bodies of children and injured in the city were "deliberately crushed by US tanks." She said "U.S. occupation soldiers showed no mercy on the wounded, who were left stranded on the city's streets," and recalled how a U.S. tank had rolled over the bleeding body of her nephew, crushing him to death.

800 Civilians Killed

Speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of U.S. military reprisal, a high-ranking official with the Red Cross in Baghdad told reporters that "at least 800 civilians" have been killed in Fallujah so far.

"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.

"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.

Other Red Cross workers 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."

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 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."