A documentary poem by David Morgan
based on brave Jo Wilding’s 11 April 2004 account of her visit to Falluja
Fires are burning on the highway
on the highway to Falluja
trucks, oil tankers, tanks, are burning
Resistance fighters hold the roads
I was told last night of children
in the hell that is Falluja
children with their limbs blown off
US soldiers circulating
“leave now or be killed” they said
Aid is desperately needed
Blankets, bandages and dressings,
plasma, drugs and medicines
and wheels to take the wounded out
In a bus now, with Iraqis
On the way towards Falluja
as a passenger I’m useful
Speaking English helps at check-points
manned by angry U.S. troops
passers-by are giving food
throw it through our open windows
to hand out to the people there.
Surprisingly our bus gets through
We are in Falluja now
at a doctor’s makeshift clinic
Red Crescent aid is far away.
Another casual war time crime,
not mentioned in our TV news:
US air-strikes have destroyed
Falluja’s biggest hospital.
So two children must be cared for
in this makeshift doctors clinic
children hit by sniper fire
also hit was their grandmother
when they tried to leave the town.
The lights dim out, a flashlight shines
the operation carries on.
“It’s no use,” the doctor tells us,
“these children are not going to live.”
Some said that we are mad to come
Falluja? You must be insane!
To risk that deadly sniper fire.
But if we don’t go, then, who will?
to help the sick and injured there.
The ambulance we have is damaged
snipers shot at it four times
no one dares to get the wounded
Arab speech makes bullets fly,
but English voices may get through
We drive in a ferocious silence
under our Red Crescent flag
through this deadly no-man’s-land
We stop and I shout out: “Hello”
“Is anybody there ?” I yell
“We are a first-aid team,” I shout
“Can I get this wounded man?”
“Yeah,” a soldier gives permission
Slowly with our hands held high
we walk towards the wounded man
As we lift him blood pours from
a bullet hole drilled in his back
through his blue-black football shirt
he’s less than twenty years of age
we take him back, but he is dead
We wash the blood off from our hands
and set off in the ambulance
to the only hospital
standing in Falluja now
there are many patients trapped there,
to leave in our bus to Baghdad
is their one and only hope
Siren screaming, lights all flashing
Somehow we get safely through
and fill the ambulance with wounded
returning safely to the clinic
A doctor rushes out to meet us
“A pregnant woman needs our help
can you get her?” Off we set
Azzam drives; Ahmed directs him
I am the passport U.S. face
A bullet hits the ambulance
We stop at once, turn off the siren
our blue light flashes overhead
We can see U.S. Marines
Silhouettes among the shadows
We lie low, and more shots come
red lights whipping past the window
close by my head; I start to sing
What else can you do when shot at?
A big bang and a jerk together
means they hit one of our tires
I am outraged: We’re trying to save
a woman who, is giving birth
there is no medical attention
there is no electricity
Falluja’s in a deadly siege
our ambulance is clearly marked
and now you’re shooting at us?
How dare you do this crime, how dare you!
Azzam shifts into reverse
just as they burst another tire
and with smell of burning rubber
we scrape and clatter on the rims
somehow safely round a corner
and all the time the shots kept coming
what to do? I kept on singing.
We get back to the clinic safely
in our ruined ambulance
and somewhere out there in the darkness
a woman must give birth alone
The ambulance is wrecked, besides
my face at night is no protection.
So we sit around and listen
planes are overhead all night
the thumping helicopters and
the frantic thrash of bombing jets
in a noisy stream above us
each explosion helps demolish
a place where human beings live
on the banks of the Euphrates
this small city named Falluja
Haggard doctors in the morning.
Little sleep in this past week.
We go again, Dave, Rana, me,
We’re in a pickup truck this time
There’s sick who need evacuation
Marines are on the building tops
shooting anything that moves
Saad fetches a white flag and tells us
“Don’t be afraid, I’ve checked the road
the Mujahedin will not fire at you”
says this eleven-year old, our guard
his AK-47 beside him
almost equal’s him in height
his face obscured by his keffiyeh
except his eyes, so brown and bright.
We shout up to the soldiers, saying
“Thirteen women and children live
in the building underneath you
some are sick and all lack water
will you let us help them now?”
“We’re clearing houses” said a soldier
“doing a weapons search, but soon
there will be air strikes in support
you’d better get your work done quick.”
We go down the street before us
There’s a white-clad man, face down,
a small red stain spreads on his back.
from the round that blew his heart out
someone shot him in the back.
Again, the flies have got there first.
there is no weapon in his hand.
All at once, his sons come, crying,
“He was unarmed,” they scream, “Unarmed!
He just went out the gate, they shot him.
No one dared to come out since.”
His little girls come whispering
“Baba. Baba.” Daddy, Daddy
They’ll never hear his voice again.
The people pour out from the houses
in hope that we can take them out
But “men of fighting age can’t leave”
says a marine, we ask him then:
“What’s fighting age?” All those who are
under forth-five, “ he says.
It is appalling that these men
will be trapped in a city which
will soon be blasted and destroyed.
Not all are fighters, few are armed.
It’s going to happen out of sight
far from the “media” in Falluja
safe, embedded with Marines
Back at the clinic, busy scene:
The bus is going to leave and take
the injured people to Baghdad,
Rana says she’ll stay and help.
Dave and I don’t hesitate:
We tell them that we’re staying too
“if we don’t,” we ask, “who will?”
this has become our motto now.
But Azzam says we have to go.
His contacts with armed groups are loose
The wounded must get to Baghdad
If we are kidnapped or shot dead
it will cause problems, better that
we just get on the bus and leave
and come back with him later on.
It hurts to climb aboard just when
the doctor needs help with his work
to save more people from this hell.
I hate it that skilled first-aid men
can’t ride in safety, while I can,
because I have a western face
(might look like the sniper’s sister)
but that’s the way it is today
leaving now feels like desertion.
I feel ashamed to take the bus.
The woman with the gunshot wound
is on the back seat and the man
with dreadful burns in front of her,
is being fanned with a cardboard sheet,
his intravenous bag hangs from
the rail below the baggage rack
The heat must be unbearable.
Saad comes on board to say goodbye
I hold his hand in mine and say:
“Dir balak,” You take care,
and know, just how inane this sounds
to this pre-teen Mujahedin
who carries his Kalashnikov
gripped tightly in his other hand
Our eyes meet and stay fixed,
his full of fire and fear.
Why can’t I take him far away
where he can be a child again?
Why can’t I find the ones who put
the rifle in this small boy’s hands
and ask them if they realize
just what this does to a small child?
The long road back is slow and tense,
as crowds of people make escape
long lines of cars, pick ups buses
ferry all these people to
the doubtful safety of Baghdad,
Other traffic is heading back
towards Falluja: Men who took
their families out to safety
and who now, return to fight
or help to try evacuate
women and children trapped by war.
Now back in Baghdad we can watch
the news by satellite which says:
“The cease-fire in Falluja holds”
and Bush is saying to the troops
on Easter Sunday that he ...”knows
what we do in Iraq is right.”
Shooting unarmed men in the back
outside their family home,
Shooting grandmothers with white flags,
Shooting at women and children
who are trying to flee their homes,
Shooting at ambulances
Well George, I now know just what
it looks like when you brutalize
a people so they’ve nothing left to lose.
I know what it looks like to see
an operation done without
an anesthetic, just because
the hospitals have been destroyed
or are being hit by sniper fire
and all Falluja’s under siege
that cuts off all a city needs
I know what it is like to see
those tracer bullets pass my head,
although I’m in an ambulance.
I know that what the U.S. does
in Iraq is not “right;” it is
a crime, and is a deep disgrace
that everyone of us must share.
David Morgan, Tuesday, April 13, 2004, Burnaby, BC