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'Getting Aid Past US Snipers is Impossible'
Published on Saturday, April 17, 2004 by the Guardian/UK
'Getting Aid Past US Snipers is Impossible'
Jo Wilding, 29, is a human rights campaigner and trainee lawyer from Bristol. She and two other foreign nationals have been inside Falluja for the past week, providing medical and humanitarian aid
 

Everybody in Falluja has lost someone. There is not a person here who doesn't have a close friend or relative who has been killed, and a lot of them have lost several. We are hearing that the death toll is around 880 civilians, and that within the first few days 86 children were killed.

People have been under bombardment for the last eight days. A lot of people are trapped in their houses still - despite the ceasefire - without food, without water and terrified to leave. Food and medical aid is now arriving but the problem is getting the aid around the city. A lot of it is delivered to the mosque, but then getting it to the hospitals, past the American snipers, is proving to be impossible.

The main hospital apparently has been destroyed by bombing and the second largest is covered by US snipers - the Iraqis call it sniper alley. So Iraqi people are not able to get to and from the hospitals. I was working from a private clinic that had been turned into a hospital, and there was also one other improvised hospital in a car garage.

Nobody could give us a figure for injuries but there was an enormous stream of people going to this clinic, this makeshift facility. It comes in bursts. There is a lull in fighting and then more people start coming into the clinic. We saw two kids arriving with their grandmother, they had all been wounded by gunfire, they said by American snipers, while they were trying to leave their house to flee to Baghdad.

An elderly woman with a wound to the head was still carrying the white flag she had been holding when she was shot. They were all saying it was American snipers shooting - and we know that the US is using armed marines on rooftops to hold the parts of city they are controlling.

The times I have been shot at - once in an ambulance and once on foot trying to deliver medical supplies - it was US snipers in both cases. It is so unacceptable to stop medical aid getting through. They could have just asked to search us.

We saw mainly bullet wounds for the majority of civilians. Families are getting injured when they try to leave the house, trying to escape for Baghdad. A bullet goes astray or it gets them in their house. Then a lot of people are injured from shelling. They get hit by shrapnel that gets into the house.

Now the people you see on the streets of Falluja are the fighters. Everyone else is staying indoors. We were able to evacuate some women and children from their houses. We were asked to go and pick up some people close to a marine line.

We went and found an old man lying outside his house. He was unarmed and he was dead, shot in the back. I don't know how long he had been there, but his family were still inside the house, too terrified even to go and get him, even though to leave a body in the street for Muslims is just not possible. They were trapped in the no man's land between the mojahedin line and the marine line.

When the children came out of the house, they were crying and screaming "Baba, Baba" [Daddy, Daddy]. They were so frightened. We got this family out and also other families on the same street, including one where the marines were occupying their roof.

There is this terrible sadness in Falluja but also a strong community feeling. People are making every effort to help evacuate others, to distribute food, to negotiate for a ceasefire. There is a huge number of unqualified volunteers at the clinic.

There is much outrage too, at what the Americans have done. One of the doctors said to us he was happy when Saddam was got rid of, but then everything that had gone on since was worse.

Both sides have been firing, despite the ceasefire. On Wednesday night some mojahedin were trying to shoot down a drone plane. There are young children involved in the fighting. I saw boys, about 11 years old, masked up and holding AK-47s.

There is nowhere in Falluja that is safe . The only place people can go is Baghdad. At the checkpoint leaving Falluja towards Baghdad, women and children have been trying to leave, but in cars driven by men (women don't drive here) so they weren't allowed out. They are not letting men aged 14 to 45 - of "fighting age" - leave the city.

We negotiated so that one male driver was allowed per car through the checkpoint. But people fear that once a large proportion of women and children leave, the Americans will destroy the city.

· Jo Wilding was talking to Rachel Shabi

© Guardian Newspapers Limited 2004

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