With Ali Fadhil
RAMADI - As the threat of a giant U.S. military operation in Ramadi lingers
and sporadic clashes plague the city daily, residents struggle to cope, both
inside and outside the sealed city.
A week spent in Ramadi, the capital of Anbar province west of Baghdad, reveals
that residents are suffering from lack of water, electricity, cooking gas, and
medical supplies for the hospitals. The streets are eerily empty, and it appears
that many people have now left the city, although possibly as many as 150,000
still remain in their homes, either because they are too afraid to leave or
they have nowhere to go.
"We will survive anyway," Um Qassim, a middle-aged housewife with
six children, told IPS. "It is Allah who gives life, and he is the only
one able to take it away."
Despite the horrible conditions here, with armed resistance groups controlling
vast swathes of the city, and other areas subject to frequent shooting from
U.S. snipers on the rooftops of houses, she said that people should be grateful
to their god whatever happens to them, adding, "Those Americans will leave."
The operation is part of a renewed crackdown on what the Pentagon says is a
stronghold of the Sunni Arab resistance. As the threat of an all-out U.S. attack
on the city looms, Imad al-Muhammadi with the Iraqi Red Crescent in Ramadi told
IPS, "Ramadi is a lot more difficult than the Fallujah crisis because people
cannot flee to Baghdad and many other cities due to the threat of sectarian
death squads, so it is very difficult to provide them with safe shelter at a
reasonable distance from the military operations."
Muhammadi said that many of the families who had left are facing "horrible
living conditions in tents, abandoned schools, and are staying under any roof
that protects them from the burning summer sun."
"There is no positive sign on the American side that shows a different
solution from those of Fallujah and other cities which have been 'deleted' in
order to be 'liberated,'" he added. "Civilians, as usual, are the
ones living the hardships of occupation and definitely the ones dying in vain."
According to Maurizio Mascia, program manager for the Italian Consortium of
Solidarity (ICS), a non-governmental group based in Amman, Jordan that provides
relief to refugees in Iraq, minor clashes were reported on Monday, mainly in
al-Qadisiya, al-Mala'ab, al-Andalus, al-Aramel, al-Aziziya, al-Qattana, al-Soufiya,
the city center (close to Abd al-Jaleel mosque), and 30th of July.
Additionally, U.S. and Iraqi forces are reported to be attacking the eastern
side of the city in an effort to push into Ramadi.
ICS reports that the number of checkpoints and the frequency of Multi-National
Forces (MNF) patrols have increased since the beginning of the crisis, making
it likely that both the MNF/Iraqi forces and insurgents are preparing themselves
for a heightened battle.
"The population is still leaving the city, and the number of families
in displacement traced in Anbar by ICS monitors is close to 3,200 now,"
Mascia told IPS by telephone. "The new IDPs [internally displaced persons]
are mainly approaching Rutba and al-Baghdadi, while Heet remains the main destination
of Ramadi IDPs." He said about 1,000 IDP families are present now in Fallujah
and surrounding areas.
However, he added, "Most of the families are avoiding approaching Fallujah
due to the complicated procedure enforced by MNF to enter the city." Mascia
said that the number of families recorded by ICS is almost certainly low, since
his group only logs families who get direct relief aid from their workers.
"The Americans, instead of attacking the city all at once like they've
done in their previous operations in cities like Fallujah and al-Qa'im, are
using helicopters and ground troops to attack one district at a time in Ramadi,"
Mascia told IPS from his office in Amman.
"Access to Ramadi is extremely difficult," he continued. "The
checkpoints are set up at the two bridges and make it extremely difficult to
access the city by vehicle. The only available option to avoid the checkpoints
is the desert way heading to al-Ta'meem district."
"The main dangers for the population are the MNF at the checkpoints and
the snipers: both usually shoot at any movement that they consider dangerous
causing many victims among civilians."
According to Mascia, services at the main hospital, as well as health clinics,
is down to a "low standard due to the security situation and lack of medical
And similar to the tactics used during the U.S. assault on Fallujah in November
2004, the U.S. military continues to use loudspeakers to ask people to either
hand over "insurgents" who are present in their neighborhoods, or
to evacuate their homes and flee the city. ICS reports that some of the messages
have specifically made reference to what happened in Fallujah.
Correspondents with the London-based Institute for War and Peace Reporting
(IWPR) in Baghdad recently reported on the use of snipers by the U.S. military
in Ramadi: "People in Ramadi
estimate that about 70 percent of the
city's population have fled in the last week, many of them holding white flags
for fear of being shot at by Marine snipers."
The IPS correspondent in Ramadi also witnessed snipers shooting at civilians
in the city.
"The ongoing violence between U.S. Marines and the insurgents, air strikes,
and outages in the water, electricity, and phone networks have already made
life untenable," adds the IWPR report. "Ramadi residents say U.S.
troops regularly take over houses to fight the insurgents, and combatants on
both sides have been seen using rooftops as sniper positions."
The Association of Muslim Scholars, based in Baghdad, has encouraged the residents
of Heet, which is near Ramadi, to host those fleeing the city. Some more vulnerable
families are also staying in mosques that are offering shelter to refugees.
An IWPR reporter in Baghdad wrote that a 17-year-old student who fled Ramadi
with his parents, Ghayath Salim al-Dulaimi, said his relatives had been prevented
from leaving by U.S. air strikes two days earlier.
"Our neighborhood has emptied completely there's no one left,"
he told IWPR. "People are leaving in droves and there aren't any services
at all. You can't get to hospital because movement is restricted."
Responding to a question about the situation in Ramadi at a June 15 news briefing,
Brig. Gen. Carter Ham from the Pentagon said, "I think those who are looking
for perhaps a large-scale offensive may be somewhat off the mark. And I think
what we will see increasingly is the Iraqis finding ways to increasingly establish
the presence of Iraqi security forces, and we'll help them do that in any way
that we can."
(Inter Press Service)