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Siege of Tal-Afar  · Dissent  · More Violence

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Dahr Jamail  is an independent journalist stationed in Iraq.  Mr. Jamail submits his work to various publications around the world, and also has a web site at  

dispatches from Iraq

by Dahr Jamail


Violence Leads Only to More Violence


Ongoing military operations continue unabated in Al-Anbar province. With names like ‘Operation Iron Fist’ and ‘Operation Iron Gate’ which was launched just days after ‘Iron Fist,’ thousands of US troops, backed by warplanes, tanks and helicopters, began attacking small cities and villages primarily in the northwestern area of Al-Anbar.


According to the US military and corporate media, the purpose of these operations is to “root out” fighters from al-Qaida in Iraq, along with so-called insurgents.


An Iraqi journalist writing under the name Sabah Ali (due to concerns of retribution from US/Iraqi governmental authorities) recently returned from the Al-Qa’im area of Iraq. Her report tells quite a different story.


Venturing into the combat zone at the end of September/beginning of October, Sabah visited the village of Aanah, 360 km west of Baghdad, accomplishing a feat no non-embedded western journalist has dared undertake. The following is the report from Sabah, with photos, which shows the effect of these operations on civilians in the area:

There are 1,500 refugee families  located now in this very new and modern city of Aanah (the old Aanah was drowned under the Euphrates when a dam was constructed in the eighties). The Aanah Humanitarian Relief Committee (AHRC) said that there are 7,450 families from Al-Qa’im and surroundings areas scattered in different western cities, villages and in the desert. The AHRC report said that a few hundred families are still being besieged in A-Qa’im; they could not leave for different reasons. Some have disabled members (there are many now in Al-Qa’im), or have no money to move, or they prefer to stay under the bombing rather than living in a refugee camp.


Many families could not leave. Abu Alaa’, for example, whose house was damaged earlier this year, whose wife lost her sight in that attack, could not leave because his wife and his father in law were shot again last week, injuring his wife again in abdomen; she is still in the hospital, and he could not leave. We call upon the international society to demand that these families are given the chance to leave before the city is devastated. People who stay behind are not necessarily fighters.


They simply could not move.


Families remaining in the area are in the following towns/villages/locations: The Projects area (2,500 families), Okashat, (950 families), Fheida (500), Phosphate factory (400), Cement factory (350), Tiwan (400), Aanah (1,500), Raihana (100), Hasa (200), Jbab (125), Nhaiya (100), and Ma’adhid (75).

People are squatting in schools, public buildings, offices and youth centers. Many are in tent camps, living in tents donated by various local relief committees.


The luckiest are those who have friends or relatives to stay with in proper houses. Many of them need medical help, the children and the youth do not go to schools, they already lost a year last summer, and the women are having unbelievable difficulties trying to keep the families in impossible conditions. Aanah youth center  is turned into a refugee camp. Here there are 45 families who live in tents, 17 families in the building.


Raja Yasin, a widow originally from Basra but was married and had her 10 children in Alqaim says; “If we had not run away we would have been killed in the bombing. We have nothing now. We need blankets and food.” Raja’s family is desperately poor. She has only her teenage son to help feed the family. But Raja is happy that she ran with her family [because]: “the attack will begin tomorrow,” she said.


Mrs. Khamis, a mother of eight and a wife of a high school teacher, is not in a better situation: “We had to run bare foot; I left the lunch on the stove when the attack began. There was heavy bombing and mortar shelling, we had to run through the side streets with white flags” But she is not comfortable in the camp either: “There is no hot water; I have to give the children cold baths and the weather is changing. There is only one toilet for all these families, all together: men, women, and children. My brother tried to go back to Al-Qa’im three times to get some clothes and stuff from our house but could not go through the check points. We need blankets, food, fuel, and medicines…the attack will begin tomorrow.”


The Khamis family did not receive the monthly food ration or salary for the two months before the last attack.


Many health cases in the camp needed immediate medical attendance, especially children, but the families are blocked in the camp. And after the attack eventually began on Saturday, October 1, and the second attack on Haditha under the name of ‘Operation River Gate’, all the roads were completely closed.


Dr.Hamdi Al-Aloossy, General Director of the Al-Qa’im hospital was in Aanah, meeting with Dr. Walid Jawad, the Aanah General Director of Aanah hospital, obviously discussing what to do regarding the refugees and the impending invasion of Al-Qa’im.

Dr. Hamdi  confirmed that the majority of Al-Qa’ims population of 150,000 left the city, and that only the disabled and those who preferred to stay remained. He also confirmed that many of the casualties he treated were women and children (He has already confirmed this on Al-Arabia channel three days earlier.) He explained that the families are not afraid of the bombing, the fighting or the mortars as much as they are afraid of an American-Iraqi invasion of the city, something which many families mentioned too.


According to Dr. Hamdi: “After the families saw what happened in Tal-Afar on TV, and after the threat of the Defense Minister to attack Al-Qa’im, they were terrified. The immigration was crazy. It was an irresponsible statement by the Defense Minister. There were no military evacuation orders. These thousands of children and families are living in the wilderness in very bad conditions. A child of two months got seven scorpion stings. Another two families of 14 members each got poisoned because of canned food. The health security in the camps is zero. And the health security in the bombed and attacked areas is 100% at risk. It makes me cry to think of those families. Child mortality increased three times due to ordinary illnesses because we do not have any vaccines, and no electricity to keep them. Women health cannot be surveyed, many of them moved out of town. We used to receive 200 a day, now 15-20. We do not have regular statistics. But we can say roughly that the death percentage due to women cases increased by two times.”


“We repair the hospital every two months; the glass, the water; the electricity…and it is bombed again, the government has to do something about this. Violence leads only to more violence.”


Dr.Walid,  of Aanah, said that his hospital cannot cover the huge numbers of refugees.


“We are receiving 500-600 patients a day; we do not have this capacity. We do not have a surgeon, an aesthetician, emergency medicines and supplies, children syrups, lab materials…etc.,” said Dr. Walid, “And in Aanah now there are 3-5 families in each house.”


During our one hour visit to Dr. Walid’s office, patients never stopped coming in and going out. The majority of them are from Al-Qa’im or Rawa, another western Iraqi city which witnessed a very bad invasion three months ago. A young woman of 18, Sabreen, limping, needs an operation and natural therapy. She is one of five women workers in the Rawa textile factory who were shot by the American troops three months ago. Dr. Walid sent her to a surgeon in Ramadi, a friend of his.  In Aanah high school, we met 14 families; the majority of them were from Rawa. They turned the classrooms  into guest rooms, living rooms, and kitchens  Class desks were used as kitchen tables, and they wash dishes and

clothes in the yard. Needless to say all the schools in the attacked areas are closed. But in Aanah, where the situation is relatively calm, the schools are open, but they use 2-3 class rooms and give the rest to the refugee families to stay in.


The saddest thing about these families is that they do not know why they are facing this destiny. Aala’ Ahmad 15 years old, does not understand how the American troops could take her family’s house, occupy it and send them away, just because it looks out on the whole town of Rawa: “They did not let us go back to our house, they said that they need to come back regularly,” she said. Aala’ lost her school year. Um Ismael,  a mother of six does not understand why the American troops blew up the gate of her house while it was open. “They searched and destroyed every thing, and found nothing,” she said, “I do not even have young men for them to arrest, what are we going to do now?”


The families with whom we spent our first night in Aanah were squatting in a deserted unfinished construction site. It is a rather big, two floor house. Its owner is a lawyer from a well known family. He meant it to be a guest house. The women cleaned it from dead animals, construction mess, waste…arranged for water, electric lights, and plastic carpets on the floor, some rags on the windows openings, still it is not comfortable to live in , bats raid the place at night, the windows openings bring chilling air, stairs without railing…etc.

Afaf, a teacher and a mother of four, described what happened: “We left 3 weeks ago when the bombing on Al-Qa’im began. Some families left earlier after the Defense Minister, Sadoon Al-Duleimi, threatened Al-Garbiya area of an overall attack. They were clever because they had time to take some furniture, clothes, food and stuff with them. When the bombing began we had to leave as quickly as possible. It was a very sad day. People were running out of the city, holding white flags, terrified, some in cars, some on feet; some got trucks and helped the old and the families.”


All these families  had more or less similar reasons to run away. But all of them agreed on one thing: they were afraid of the impending American-Iraqi invasion. “We have our daughters to worry about. Every thing can be fixed except honor,” Afaf told us. They were afraid that the invaders would rape their girls. “We saw what happened in Tal-Afar. They arrest all the men, the women are left on their on, and the roads are closed. We do not want to find ourselves in this situation,” Afaf said.

Other families  are living in horrible conditions in various refugee camps scattered throughout northwestern Al-Anbar province.


Keep in mind that this visit took place just before the current major military operations began. Reports from that area now confirm that the situation has grown far, far worse.

Another friend of mine recently returned from the Al-Qa’im area where she brought aid supplies to refugee families. During a phone call she reported, “You can’t imagine the situation these people are living in Dahr. There are so many of their homes bombed by warplanes,  people living in camps,  and families in the desert who just need blankets and food. It’s horrible.”


And now, according to a recent IRIN report, “Nearly 1,000 families have fled their homes in Haditha in western Iraq following the launch of a US-led military operation to hunt down insurgents in the town in the Euphrates river valley, according to residents in the area.” 1,000 families have fled their homes in Haditha in western Iraq following the launch of a US-led military operation to hunt down in insurgents in the town in the Euphrates river valley, according to residents in the area.”


This essay is reprinted herein with the author's permission.

Posted  October 11, 2005

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