The United Nations (UN) has accused the US military of war crimes in their offensives against towns and cities in western Iraq.
Jean Ziegler, UN special rapporteur on the right to food, said, “A drama is taking place in total silence in Iraq, where the coalition’s occupying forces are using hunger and deprivation of water as a weapon of war against the civilian population.”
Ziegler says the US have breached the 1949 Geneva Convention by blockading supplies to cities such as Fallujah and Tel Afar to force residents to flee.
The allegations come as the US military has unleashed a new reign of terror on western Iraq. Bridges across the Euphrates river have been destroyed and a string of towns and villages from Al-Qaim on the Syrian border to Haditha near Baghdad have been attacked.
The offensive, codenamed operations Iron Fist and River Gate, began on 1 October as Iraqis prepared to vote in the referendum on the constitution.
Thousands have fled the offensive. Hundreds are feared dead.
Iraqi journalist Sabah Ali was one of the few independent reporters in the western Anbar province. She spoke to medical teams and refugees who fled the assault.
According to Sabah, as the number of refugees overwhelmed villages and public buildings people had to find refuge in factories. She discovered 400 families hiding in a phosphate factory and 350 families sheltering in a cement factory. Thousands of others are living in the desert along the Euphrates valley.
Doctor Hamdi Al-Aloosy, the director of Al-Qaim’s main hospital, told Sabah that the majority of Al-Qaim’s population of 150,000 fled the city leaving behind the disabled, the old and the sick. He said that many of the casualties he treated were women and children.
“Thousands of children and families are living in the wilderness in very bad conditions,” Dr Hamdi said. “A child of two months got seven scorpion stings. Another two families of 14 members each got poisoned because of [contaminated] food.
“The health security in the camps is zero. And the health security in the bombed and attacked areas is one hundred percent at risk. It makes me cry to think of those families.”
“Child mortality increased three times due to ordinary illnesses because we do not have any vaccines, and no electricity to keep them cool,” he added.
Doctor Hamdi said that Al-Qaim’s hospital was repeatedly targeted by US troops. “We repair the hospital every two months, the glass, the water, the electricity, and it is bombed again.”
Doctor Walid Jawad, the director of a small hospital in Aanah, 210 miles west of Baghdad, warned that the streams of wounded were overwhelming the hospital’s resources. He says, “We are receiving 500-600 patients a day—we do not have this capacity.
“We do not have a surgeon, an anaesthetics specialist, emergency medicines and supplies, children’s medicines, lab materials.”
Over 1,000 US troops stormed Al-Qaim at the beginning of this month to root out what the US military claim were “Saddamists, rejectionists, and criminals”. The military reported they killed 29 fighters in an operation that has levelled the border town.
Refugees told Sabah that there was no warning before the assault.
Afaf, a teacher and a mother of four, said that when the bombing began, “We had to leave as quickly as possible. It was a very sad day.
“People were running out of the city, holding white flags, terrified, some in cars, some on foot. Some got trucks and helped the old and the families.”
But many were left behind. Sabah reports that one man had to remain behind with his wife who was blinded in an earlier attack. She was wounded in the stomach in the latest assault and he was attempting to care for her in Al-Qaim’s damaged hospital.
Raja Yasin, a widow, fled in terror with her 10 children. “If we had not run away we would have been killed in the bombing,” she said. “We have nothing now. We need blankets and food.”
Mrs Khamis, a secondary school teacher and a mother of eight, described how she had to flee in her bare feet. “I left the lunch on the stove when the attack began. There was heavy bombing and mortar shelling, we had to run through the side streets with white flags.”
After the fighting died down her brother tried three times to reach her home to get clothes and other essentials but was turned back by soldiers.
After overunning Al-Qaim the US military destroyed most of the bridges along the Euphrates River valley. Over 2,500 troops backed by warplanes then swept through the towns of Haqlaniyah, Barwana and Haditha, 70 miles west of Baghdad.
The Iraq Red Crescent Society said the US’s first target was the main hospital in Haditha.
Haki Hadethi, a senior doctor at the hospital, told the international relief agency that “[US troops] entered our hospital without the minimum of respect to our patients and arrested many of them. Even two doctors were arrested as they were carrying out a small surgical operation.”
The Red Crescent reported that US troops then drove through the city conducting house-to-house searches.
Shaker Hakeem, 39, a local resident said US soldiers “broke into my house and started to shout at me and my wife. She was having a bath, but they just took her naked and pushed her into the kitchen, saying that if she moved she was going to die.”
Both Al-Qaim and Haditha have been repeatedly attacked by US troops since the occupation began. In April 2004 countless civilians were killed when US troops attempted to put down an uprising in the city.