Baghdadis Aid Fallujah Refugees

Capital's residents provide shelter for people fleeing Fallujah fighting.

Baghdadis Aid Fallujah Refugees

Capital's residents provide shelter for people fleeing Fallujah fighting.

Tuesday, 22 February, 2005

As morning breaks in the west Baghdad neighbourhood of Hayy al-Shurta, a small crowd of curious residents approaches three pick-up trucks and a saloon car parked by the side of a dirt road. Inside, families are huddled up asleep.

"Are you from Fallujah?" asked shopkeeper Walid Muhammed. "Our house is open. We have food and water."

All across west Baghdad, residents have opened their homes to refugees from Fallujah in one of many displays of solidarity with the embattled town.

Responding to a sermon by prominent Sunni preacher Hareth al-Dhaeri in the area's Um al-Qura mosque, many Baghdadis have combed the highways, looking for pick-up trucks loaded with families, to invite them to their homes.

The refugees speak of the horrors they witnessed in the embattled town and the problems they had getting away.

"Everywhere there were bodies, mostly civilians," recalled Mohammed Salman, 45, head of a family of 18 from Fallujah's Hay al-Askari, where the fighting was concentrated.

"Many fell outside their homes, and others were burned in their cars.

"We saw before our eyes that my uncle's family was killed. His house collapsed on his family, but they did not remove the bodies as firing was going on late in the night."

Abd al-Rahman Ahmed, 55, who fled the fighting with four girls and five boys, said, "We had to drive on back roads, because the US forces would not let us use the main highways.

"We came across many canals and ditches that made us stop many times to go back to where we came."

Elsewhere in the capital, well-wishers flocked to both Sunni and Shia mosques, bringing food and water and donating blood, to be delivered by Red Crescent truck convoys or individuals willing to pass through the US blockade on back roads.

"I woke up this morning and decided to come down to the mosque to give blood," said mechanic Ali Yassin, 27, one of several dozen donors at west Baghdad's Kubeisi mosque.

Yassin says donating was the next best thing to taking up arms himself, "I had to be honest with myself. I knew I couldn't go there to fight."

Residents of the district of Taji on the highway north of Baghdad have chosen to show their support in another way.

The locals - known for their religious conservatism - have collected sugar, oil, rice, flour, medicines and blood at local mosques, but are also launching solidarity attacks on Coalition supply lines.

"What's happening in Fallujah now is real terrorism. We cannot stay here doing nothing, so we blow up American convoys passing on the highway," said Firas, 24, a recent college graduate.

He says locals have staged several ambushes, including one launched with rocket propelled grenades from a nearby orchard on a convoy of Humvee jeeps and trucks.

Shortly after, he said, the orchard was bombed and five farmers were killed.

The claim could not be independently verified, but IWPR correspondents have spotted numerous burning or burnt-out American vehicles on Highway 1 since US Marines entered Fallujah on April 4.

Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt said in an April 12 press conference that securing highways has become a top priority for the US military.

Taji residents say they will keep up the attacks.

"Struggle, struggle, struggle. There is no chance of negotiating. Sunni and Shia must unite to drive out the Americans," said Saif Emad, a worshipper at a nearby mosque.

"Hundreds of the people of Fallujah have been killed for four American civilians," he continued, in reference to the Pentagon contractors whose deaths in an ambush in Fallujah on March 31 had led to the attack.

"Is the blood of Muslims worth so little to Americans?"

Naser Kadhem, Hussein Ali, Izzat Abdul Razzaq and Muhammed Fawzi are IWPR trainees.

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