Highway to hell: The road to Falluja

As we drive through the back roads on the way to Falluja, US jets are pounding the area around the tiny village of Garma.

    US marines hunt for Iraqi rebels on the outskirts of Falluja

    The sight of US reinforcements flying into the area and the continuous sound of explosions and gunfire proves too much for my driver. He pulls into the village, unwilling to go any further.
    Halfway between Baghdad and Falluja, Garma is well placed to witness the US bombardment of the latter, where the steadily rising toll of Iraqis from the past week's fighting has passed 600. At least 1000 have been reported wounded.

    With the main routes into the town blocked or too dangerous, Garma - just 15 minutes from Falluja - has become a stepping stone for resistance fighters on their way to help their besieged compatriots.

    Witnesses report seeing scores of fighters passing through Garma daily.

    A lorry of what appear to be 15 tribesmen stops next to us. But the tribesmen - each man's face covered by an aqal (the Iraqi headscarf) - are from Baghdad.

    Stopping to rest at a tea shop before entering the besieged town, Ahmad, a 25-year-old with the worn face of a battle-hardened warrior, tells me of his intentions.

    "We're going to assist our brothers in Falluja and try to prevent the massacre of Iraqis."


    But Ahmad and his colleagues will have their work cut out for them. Breaking news from Aljazeera on a nearby television shows fresh images from Falluja: Scores of dead, including many children. The town is seeing a bloodbath.

    Falluja's hospitals are overflowing
     with dead and wounded

    The images prove too much for Ahmad; he drops his face into his hands and breaks down. As he walks away, I call an Aljazeera cameraman in Falluja to check on his safety.

    My colleague's voice is panic-stricken as he describes the scene, echoing the pictures that have shocked Ahmad.

    "There are images we can't show because it's just too gruesome. I have never seen anything like this before," he says.

    "There are bodies everywhere, and people can't go out to retrieve them because they're too afraid of being blown away themselves.

    "I can't believe the number of children here, we were at the hospital and it's full of dead and wounded kids.

    "The ones that aren't dead have lost limbs and are wailing in pain, begging for their parents. What parents?" he screams. "I don't have the heart to tell them that their parents are in pieces.

    "Back at our office the Americans are shooting at us. I walk out of the bathroom and a laser is pointed at my chest," he says, referring to US sharpshooters in the area.

    "We'd just bought cigarettes from a store across the street; no more than 10 minutes later it was bombed."

    Tired of fighting

    Ahmad returns and orders another cup of tea. But our conversation shifts focus as he asks about my life growing up in Canada. He looks at me curiously and asks my age.

    Deadly fate: A fighter lays dead
    in the battle-ravaged town

    "You see? We're the same age, but look at my face, I look many years older than you," he says, his voice quivering with emotion.

    "We Iraqis are tired of all this fighting, why doesn't the US just leave us alone? What did we ever do to them?"

    "You know what the funny thing about this entire mess is? If Saddam were to come back right now, all this fighting would stop in two hours, isn't that right Ali?"

    Ahmad and his companion begin laughing.

    The laughter ends as more images of the Falluja scene appear on TV.

    "The US will never leave Iraq," he says more soberly. "You know what I want to see happen in Iraq? I want to see a federal Iraq where everyone from north to south, and east to west is fairly represented. We Arabs, Sunni, Shia, and Christian; the Kurds, the Turkmen - we are all Iraqis."

    But his hopes and desires seem far away as the sound of bombs and mortar shells reverberate through our cafe. A few minutes later the driver of his lorry sounds the horn. Ahmad takes a final sip of his tea and says goodbye.

    If the mounting toll is any indication, Ahmad will probably not make it out of Falluja alive.

    SOURCE: Aljazeera


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