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09 Nov 2004 17:55
Lurking in shabby houses, rebel fighters fire gunshots and rockets at invading United States soldiers before rushing to another building to escape a punishing barrage of American artillery and missiles, AFP correspondents in Fallujah said on Tuesday.
The militants, many with scarves covering their faces, have chosen mobility to counter the far-superior US firepower as thousands of US and Iraqi troops storm their enclave, which has been a no-go area for foreigners since April.
But the besieged city is feeling the strain of the onslaught, with medics appealing for international aid as they struggle to cope with scores of patients, caught in the torrent of air strikes and missile fire, using a make-shift operating theatre.
Unable forcefully to block the rumbling advance of US tanks and armoured vehicles through the network of winding streets that make up Fallujah, rebels lurk in the side allies, allowing convoys to pass and then attacking.
Ducking and diving for cover when the shells thunder down, the fighters regroup and fire back when there is a minute’s calm.
They have also posted snipers on the top of high buildings to hamper the progress of US ground troops, while taking shots at low-flying combat helicopters, which drop bombs and flares on rebel positions.
None of the fighters could take a moment’s rest due to the relentless hail of gunfire. For food, they grabbed snacks brought by other rebels holding up the rear.
Reports about the battle of Fallujah differ depending whose version is given, with US troops saying they control a third of the city and were approaching the centre, while the fighters insist that the military was still only at the outskirts.
Walking outside is deadly and only fighters dare to venture out, while everyone else still in the city is forced to stay at home without water or electricity.
US military officials estimate that just 10% or 20% of Fallujah’s 300 000-strong population remain, while Iraqi officials put the number much higher at about 100 000.
Mosques, which still have generators, have called on the people to resist the invasion of the US-Iraqi troops, with declarations made through loudspeakers.
The Fallujah assault has been building up for weeks, with 20 000 US and Iraqi troops gathering outside the city since mid-October ahead of the full-scale invasion, launched after Prime Minister Ayad Allawi gave his permission on Monday.
Water and electricity has been cut off since Sunday, and the sanitation situation is deteriorating.
An old cinema has been transformed into a operating room for a public clinic after the general hospital was seized by Iraqi forces on Monday.
“We have more than 30 wounded and our ability to perform operations such as amputations of legs and hands is constrained, especially because this is not our specialty,” said its director, Dr Hachem al-Issawi.
“We are five doctors specialising in bones and not surgery,” he said.
Hazra Mohammadiyah, another makeshift clinic set up inside a mosque in the centre of Fallujah, is slightly more fortunate as it still has one ambulance left to pick up the wounded.
Fallujah has two other medical centres.
Locals are unable to reach the first, Taleb al-Janabi hospital, because it is situated close to a US military base. The second, which was built from donations from Bahrain, has not yet been equipped.
The roads in the centre of the city were all but deserted on Monday, except for a few cars driving around to pick up any wounded caught in the shelling, witnesses said.
All exits from the city were totally blocked from the morning and an indefinite curfew was imposed from 6pm.—Sapa-AFP
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