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Ten days in Fallujah battlefield
22/11/2004 11:59

Twelve days after losing contact with a correspondent based in Fallujah, Xinhua reporters were relieved to see him report back for work in deplorable shape on Saturday.
Abdul Rahman, a 30-year-old Fallujah resident working for Xinhua, made a phone call to the Xinhua office in Baghdad with his Iraqna mobile on Nov. 9, which became the last message Xinhua received from him.
He reported on that day that Fallujah had been ripped into two parts controlled by US-Iraqi forces and fighters respectively.
With his words still resonating, Xinhua reporters were happy to see Rahman safe and sound.
Relaxing on a sofa for the first time after 10 days in hell, Rahman calmed down and recounted his experience as a correspondent and eyewitness of the bloody fighting in the past two weeks, as well as his tale of escaping alive.
"I could either escape for life or stay to cover the truth. I chose the latter," he said.
"At the beginning, the resistance in the Jolan district was strong and the American troops backed up. After rounds of air bombings, the area became relatively silent and the Americans pushed into the city with limited resistance," he recalled.
Rahman could not confirm if the US forces used any chemical weapons as some newspapers claimed.
But he told Xinhua that some doctors in Fallujah were shocked to see that many bodies were charred without apparent injuries.
With fierce clashes on the ground and bombardment by US aircraft, many houses were leveled or people were killed.
"My friend and I heard the groaning of some injured people under ruins of some destroyed houses, but we could do nothing for them."
He was the witness of a scene where six injured Iraqis dragged by several US soldiers to a street were rolled over by a tank.
He also saw an Iraqi cameraman gunned down by a sniper while shooting in face of US vehicles.
"I don't know how long it will take me to get over this," said Rahman, still reeling from what he saw.
During the hardest period, helpless Rahman ran and crawled around, looking for shelters and food.
In the last days, Rahman was pushed to the Shuhada district, where US Marines said they trapped most insurgents and geared up for a duel.
Weighing the dangerous situation, Rahman decided to leave the city with the help of a friend whose shop was destroyed in the US raids.
"I thought Abdul Rahman was killed before he came to my house a week ago and asked me to escape with him," said Qahtan Mohamed Jawad, an agricultural engineer.
"We stayed together, ran in Baghdad and there and looked for food and drinks," said the Samaritan.
Rahman said in the city he had ever met a woman whose husband and two sons were shot dead in front of her eyes when the family went to US soldiers to turn themselves in.
Hearing her story, Rahman decided not to go to a mosque in the north which US forces said receives civilians.
The duo also avoided the routes in the west, where helicopters and snipers were taking full positions.
"South is the only chance," he said, "but the roads were full of dangers and we had to crawl with bare hands in darkness and hide in houses in daytime for fear of being shot by American snipers."
"We had only one bottle of water and drank little each time. As for food, we only had dates," said Rahman.
"On the way, we saw groups of insurgents and some spotted us. They let us go after we told them we were reporters," he said.
For consecutive nights, Rahman and Jawad crawled on unpaved roads and rough fields for about 3 kms before they reached the Euphrates river and were ferried to the southwest bank.
On Nov. 19, they were saved by the hospitable locals in the rural area and driven to makeshift refugee camps outside Fallujah.
In Amriahat, a small town near Fallujah, Rahman was reunited with his brothers who were Islamic humanitarian workers and other family members who fled the city ahead of the massive offensive.
"The moment when we reached the other side of the Euphrates, I realized that we were safe," recalled Rahman, whose left arm was wrapped with gauze, a reminder of the arduous journey.
The US-Iraqi forces mounted the major attack against Fallujah on Nov. 8 to retake the city from fighters loyal to Jordanian-born militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi as they claimed.
A senior US commander said last Thursday that about 1,200 insurgents had been killed in the all-out assault, and 1,025 prisoners were held.
Neither the Iraqi government nor the US military released any figure about civilian casualties.

Xinhua News