Iraqi Health Minister Presses Authorities to Explain U.S. Targeting of Falluja Ambulances
by Dahr Jamail
The New Standard
April 18, 2004
Baghdad, April 17 -- A thundering explosion rocked my bed at just before 8am this morning ... followed by the cracking of light weapons fire. I met a few of my friends shortly thereafter atop our apartment building, looking for the smoke that often follows roadside bombs, but we were unable to spot the location of the attack.
Life in Baghdad today continues to be lived on edge -- pins and needles really -- awaiting the outcome of the Najaf standoff between U.S. troops and Muqtada Al-Sadr. Everyone shudders to think what will occur if the U.S. decides to invade the holy city where the radical Shia cleric is holed up.
Yet the U.S. policy of threatening him, then announcing the goal of detaining or killing him has drawn more followers towards his radical and violent ways. While Al-Sistani continues to attempt to keep his followers in line, more are drawn to Al-Sadr for his open vehement thrashing of the U.S.-led occupation. He refuses to acknowledge any legitimacy of the U.S. in his country, and more and more Iraqis are nodding in agreement with his speeches.
The danger, of course, lies in having Sistani and his followers drawn into this conflict between Sadr and the U.S. military here.
I attended a press conference today at the Ministry of Health, led by the Iraqi Minister of Health himself. In short, he held the press conference to stave off criticism of not doing enough to assist (medically) the besieged and suffering residents of Falluja, as well as some of the areas down south where fighting has occurred.
Al-Iraqia television, the Coalition Provisional Authority-run propaganda station that most of my Iraqi friends call the "CIA Station", was at the press conference. They packed up and left promptly after the minister and his two doctors finished their discussion, entirely missing the pointed questions that were to follow.
A stunning surprise, however, was that the minister acknowledged the U.S. military had been intentionally targeting ambulances in Falluja. He expressed his outrage over the matter, and stated that he had personally pressed the Iraqi Governing Council (IGC) and Bremer for explanations about why these human rights violations, as well as violations of the Geneva Conventions, are occurring.
He said that the U.S. military had accused mujahedeen in Falluja of using ambulances for fighting, and that is why Marines were firing on them. Perhaps there is some truth in this, but at the same time, ambulances that were being used legitimately are being targeted as well, and innocents are dying. My personal friends Jo Wilding and David Martinez were riding in one of these that received 5 sniper rounds through it. I can vouch that they are not mujahedeen.
The minister said that he tried to negotiate with the military, promising to try to insure that ambulances were cleared, and not being used by the mujahedeen.
I asked the minister if he would comment on the U.S. military using cluster bombs in Falluja. When I was in Falluja last weekend I took several statements from citizens there that said cluster bombs were being used on civilians (that they are being used at all in Falluja is a war crime), and when my friends Jo and David returned there several days ago, they reported hearing the distinctive sound cluster bombs make often through the night in Falluja.
I too have heard the horrendous sound, for during my last trip in Iraq when Al-Dora was being bombed on a nightly basis for a few nights, I heard the other worldly sound--a long buzz which sounds almost like a roar, then an explosion, another buzz, followed by several random explosions going off (these would be the "bomblets"). It's really difficult to describe with words, as I've never heard anything quite like it. A gruesome sound, knowing that on the other end of it is found shredded and burning bodies.
A doctor sitting next to the minister took the microphone and said that as a surgeon himself, there was no way to differentiate between bombs by the wounds they make on bodies.
So my question was effectively dodged.
The Ministry of Health is near the Medical City, and on our way out I sadly watched a man with one leg and one of his hands heavily bandaged riding out from the hospital on a donkey. My face is slammed up against the level of poverty and struggle here in Baghdad on a daily basis.
Nearly every traffic jam finds me looking sadly out the window at women and children begging; sometimes I give some dinars, sometimes I stare at my feet and just stomach the sadness. My God the people of Iraq have suffered so much, for so long. And now the "liberators" have brought one of the bloodiest, most chaotic situations to them that they have known in a long time.
More and more Iraqis I meet say, "This is worse than Saddam." So many of them are Shi'ite. I have not heard one Iraqi ever refer to the resistance fighters as "terrorists." The only time I hear that term used is when Iraqis refer to the U.S. military, George Bush, or the suicide car bombers.
My interpreter Yousef doesn't want to be working with foreigners anymore, but he desperately needs the money. Last time I was here (in December/January) I visited his home; this time, he can't take me because he can't risk having his neighbors see that he is working with me. This is the climate in Baghdad for anyone working with foreigners in any capacity.
The flights leaving Baghdad airport continue to leave full on a daily basis...those of us here continue to watch Najaf and Falluja closely...
Dahr Jamail is Baghdad correspondent for The NewStandard. He is an Alaskan devoted to covering the untold stories from occupied Iraq. You can help Dahr continue his crucial work in Iraq by making donations. For more information or to donate to Dahr, visit The NewStandard.