AMMAN - As with the siege of Fallujah six months back, U.S. claims over the
siege of the Iraqi town al-Qa'im are being challenged now by independent sources.
The U.S. military claims a "successful" end to the week-long operation
earlier this month around al-Qa'im, a town about 320km west of Baghdad close
to the Syrian border. The operation was launched against what the U.S. military
saw as the presence of al-Qaeda fighters in the town.
Iraqi civilians and doctors in the area say no foreign fighters were present
in the town. Al-Qa'im and surrounding areas have suffered great destruction,
and many in the town population of 110,000 were killed, they say.
Abu Ahmed, a resident of al-Qa'im, told IPS on the telephone that "all
the fighters here are Iraqis from this area."
He said continuing violations by U.S. soldiers had provoked people into confronting
the occupying forces. He said troops had been raiding homes, sending women into
the streets without their hijabs, and entering areas where women sleep.
"The fighters are just local people who refuse to be treated like dogs,"
he said. "Nobody wants the Americans here."
Abd al-Khaliq al-Rawi, head of communications for the local government in al-Qa'im,
said on al-Jazeera television that the fighters were all local Iraqis. "We
have not seen any outsiders. The fighters are from the area. They are resisting
Al-Qa'im and surrounding areas were besieged by U.S. forces for a week by about
1,000 troops backed by warplanes, tanks, and helicopters as a part of Operation
Matador. The U.S. military claims the operation was a success in that 125 "militants"
were killed in an effort to search for followers of the terrorist Abu Musab
But accounts of the operation from non-governmental organizations (NGOs), Iraqi
doctors, and civilians differ greatly from those put forward by the military.
"Qa'im is still surrounded by the MNF [multinational forces], and we've
yet to get any humanitarian workers into the city," Daunia Pavone, program
manager for the Italian NGO consortium Solidarity, told IPS in Amman, Jordan.
The bombing had stopped, she said, but they did not know when it might resume
and were unable therefore to send aid workers into the area.
"The Americans said they could not get inside the city," Pavone said.
"Once the Americans surrounded the city, nobody was able to get out. So
we are very concerned that there are a large number of civilian casualties inside
Pavone said that about 12,000 Iraqis had left in all, and that the rest had
remained trapped inside. "I think there will be lots of civilian casualties,"
At least nine soldiers were killed and more than 40 wounded during the siege,
according to the U.S. military.
The U.S. military has made no statement on civilian casualties, but witnesses
say scores of innocent Iraqis were killed.
The city center "has been almost completely destroyed," the director
of al-Qa'im hospital Dr. Hamdi al-Alusi told al-Jazeera television. He said
the casualties included many women, children, and elderly people, and he appealed
to humanitarian organizations to intervene quickly.
"Ambulances were prevented from moving and the medical teams have left
the city center because it has been destroyed," al-Alusi said during the
siege. Water and electricity networks have been destroyed, and "there are
scores of wounded people and scores of victims who cannot reach the hospital
or anywhere else. We pray to God and implore the whole world to look into what
happened to al-Qa'im and adjacent cities."
Rafa Asahab, a Syrian who lives in Abu Kemal village on the Syrian border,
told IPS he saw some of the effects of the siege. "At least 100 civilians
in al-Qa'im have been killed," he said. U.S. warplanes also entered Syrian
airspace many times, he said.
Eyewitnesses said U.S. jets and helicopters also attacked surrounding al-Karabilah,
al-Jazirah, and al-Quaydat towns. "Medical staff confirmed the killing
of civilians by helicopter gunfire," Dr. Muhammad Abud reported on al-Sharqiyah
television. He said ambulance crews had difficulty retrieving some bodies that
had been ripped apart.
Adil al-Rawi, an eyewitness in al-Qa'im, said on al-Arabiya television during
the siege that U.S. forces had shelled the hospital. "They are using warplanes,
mortar shells, and tanks to shell the city indiscriminately, hurt citizens and
bomb the houses with warplanes."
Many people in the towns need medical aid, and the thousands of residents who
fled need water, food, tents, and blankets, Pavone said.
The siege came as violence and bloodshed continue to escalate in Iraq amid
rising opposition to U.S. forces. Tensions rose further when anti-occupation
Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr made another demand Monday that the United States
withdraw from Iraq. Sadr had launched a bloody uprising against occupation forces
last summer in Najaf, Hilla, and the Sadr City area of Baghdad.
Last week, the new Iraqi government announced a continuation of the state of
emergency (excepting the Kurdish region in the north). Emergency was declared
on Nov. 7, 2004. Most of the country has remained under martial law ever since,
despite elections in January this year.
(Inter Press Service)