The first truck arrives, it has 77 bodies. One by one the black body bags containing the remains are unloaded. Each bag is numbered. They are lined up to match the number painted on bricks that are to serve as tombstones.
The bags are carefully opened and each corpse is checked for some form of identification. Only five have names. Many of the bodies are swollen and blackened, their faces and limbs eaten by dogs. They have been dead for some time.
There are murmurs of prayers from the men preparing their last resting place. Each person is carefully laid to rest in a carved hollow inside a long trench.
Occasionally one of the bodies is recognised and a howl of tears and rage goes up from the crowd.
After the bodies of some of the fighters are laid to rest, one of the gravediggers makes a speech to them, praising their sacrifice. “They call you terrorist,” one man cries. “But you are the sons of Fallujah. The martyrs of Iraq and god’s loved ones. You have sacrificed yourself for our freedom and for our country.”
The cry and the chants of “God is great” rise from a small crowd that has started to gather. All join in pushing the earth to cover the tombs. Another truck arrives and another trench is prepared. Now the crowd is bigger.
Word has gone round the camp that the Americans have finally allowed the bodies of fighters to be buried. In the Muslim and Arab tradition the dead must be washed and buried within a day. These men lay where they fell for days, sometimes weeks, as the US army declared that those they deemed to be fighters “should be left to the dogs.”
The bodies of the fighters are buried in the clothes they fell in. Now 22 bodies are unloaded. Each is carefully checked, placed in order then laid gently into a new trench.
The speeches become more angry. One man shouts, “These are our sons, not terrorists. Today we are burying our martyrs, yesterday with our hands we buried whole families.
“Yesterday I buried a ten year old girl. Is she the terrorist that the Americans and Iraqi prime minister Iyad Allawi say were in Fallujah? Are all the old men, the women, the children, terrorists? If they are terrorists then we all are terrorists!”
The crowd, now in their thousands, push the earth over the graves.
And then another truck comes. This time there are 33 bodies. But with it comes further disturbing news. The rescue workers have discovered a street in the Jolan quarter full of dead civilians. Many of the civilian dead were buried soon after they were killed. The civilians are buried in graves inside the city, in their gardens or are carted off to be stored in a container outside the city.
These newly discovered civilian bodies had been overlooked. “In one street there are ten houses full of families,” one of the gravediggers explains. “We found 22 bodies. The houses have also been looted.”
“The Iraqi National Guard are traitors,” someone shouts. “They are worse than the Americans.” The crowd again begins to shout slogans of defiance, and pledges to continue the resistance.
Among the final batch of bodies to be buried was that of a young man, barely in his teens. I recognised him from an image we printed in Socialist Worker. He was killed weeks after the Americans claimed the resistance had been crushed.
Wrapped around the young man’s hand is a white flag. He was dressed in a new jeans jacket and his hair was neatly combed. The rescue workers said he was found in one of Jolan’s many streets. No one knows who he is, and he does not carry a copy of the Koran with his name in it—the resistance fighters write their names in their Koran so they can be identified if they are killed.
As the sun begins to set a small cluster of civilians laden with belongings emerge from Fallujah.
They have been told to leave their houses by the US troops and their Iraqi allies.
They claim that the US troops were clearing out the houses so they can demolish their neighbourhood. They join the thousands of others now living in tents around the shattered city.