Crowd Control American-Style

Baghdad, Iraq.

The road to Faluja is strewn with discarded tanks and burned out cars and palm groves whose depth of green contrasts strikingly with the parched earth leading out of Baghdad.

Its atmosphere, upon entry, is markedly different to that of Baghdad. The American military presence is much less pronounced, there is a marked absence of foreign press. Faluja, it seems, is not bleeding enough to lead.

Passing by children bathing in a river set aglow by the setting sun, families returning home from the fields, groups of old men heading to prayer, we make our way to Faluja General Hospital, whose morgue last night served as temporary home to the bodies of ten men, a young woman and a ten year old boy. The influx of the 37 wounded has ceased, the blood cleaned from the floors, the mourning keening woman brought home. The anger, howe! ver is still here. Its presence cannot be dealt with by the hospital staff as efficiently as they patched up, with limited pain killers, surgical equipment, blood bags, IV lines, the 37 people who were carried into them from 10pm onwards last night–all shot with 50mm high caliber bullets–blowing off legs, ripping open abdominal cavities, shattering bones, tearing through muscles. Searing anger and distrust and pain onto a community’s collective memory.

“They are sick. They are deeply, deeply sick. Tell the Americans we don’t believe in this freedom” says an elderly man. His comment is one of the many of the crowd that surround us yelling their pain and anger–demanding an explanation, a response–“why?” “why do they insist on continuing to massacre our people–how much more blood do they want?” “show them, show the world, tell them the truth.”

Later, we move on, to the school occupied by the American milita! ry for the past week. It is here that – we are told–a non violen t orderly demonstration to the school took place last night. All those interviewed, all those crowded outside the school now insist that the official version is false. They gathered peacefully, and marched peacefully, past the mosque through a residential area to the barbed wire coils that surround the occupied school.

The American troops as we arrive, are packing up. This is not a media stunt–the media have come and gone–a constant traffic, all day, through the hospital. Pictures taken, grief and loss encapsulated into palatable sound bites. This withdrawal is tactical. The public relations campaign of a benign occupation will be difficult to maintain if there is follow-up to this particular massacre. If there are charges pressed by the families, by the brothers who were hit by stray bullets inside their house. If there is investigation into the legitimacy of the official army version of events. It will become d! ifficult, if there can be, in Falluja, a focal center for people’s anger and frustration, an occupied school, snipers pointing guns at people entering and exited the mosque. It is easier for everyone, if the soldiers slip off into the night, avoiding the scrutiny, the fixed eye of accountability, which must be a factor in any “liberated” “democratic” country. So they do, slip off into the night–and, not recognizing us as their armoured cars and trucks pass our car on a dark highway to Baghdad, American soldiers pump their fists into the air for our cameras, giving us the victory sign.

Liberation–an ephemeral, passing phenomena has come and gone in Falluja. It came, sat uncomfortably for a week–without translators, cultural or historical sensibility, brought a temporary horde of journalists to record its only lasting impression on a community; that of violence, and pain, and loss; and left. Falluja, we are told lat! er via a news report by a BBC reporter, has always been “anti Amer ican”. This should, and will, nullify or qualm any murmurings of distrust abroad as to what lies ahead.

CAOIMHE BUTTERLY is an Irish human rights activist, currently living in Baghdad with Voices in the Wilderness. She spent a year in Jenin, Palestine, and since her deportation in Dec. 2002, has been campaigning full-time in Ireland and the UK, giving over 70 talks on Palestine and Jenin. She is in Iraq indefinitely, and can be reached through: