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Last Updated: Monday, 15 November, 2004, 11:46 GMT
Eyewitness: Falluja battle scars
Bodies near a US marine in Falluja
Bodies have been left uncollected for days

American forces say they are still fighting small pockets of insurgents in the city of Falluja.

Our correspondent, Paul Wood, is with American marines in the city. He gave the following interview to BBC Radio 4's Today programme:

If you look outside of my window now, you can see a deserted street with about five bodies on it.

They still have their weapons with them - [you can hear] a little bit of what they call "suppressing fire" from the marines, because occasionally people are still circling around.

These are bodies of insurgents who tried to attack the base over the last couple of days.

These bodies still have their weapons with them, because the marines think it's just too risky to go out a couple of hundred metres further from this base to take the weapons away.

The consequence of this, for the ordinary people of Falluja, is that for four days now there have been bodies lying in the streets.

It is starting to become a serious health risk.

I spoke to an officer who had been a little way out from the base and he said that cats and dogs are now starting to eat these bodies.

In these last hours and days of the fighting, it is more frantic, it is more intense
It is a quite horrific picture which I'm drawing but that is what awaits the people of Falluja when they come back.

Q: What resistance is there left? To what extent do the Americans now control the city?

They do pretty much control it, but there is still intense fighting going on.

Now remember that on Sunday, the Iraqi government declared mission accomplished.

Well, we're not quite there yet.

There are still injured coming into this base, yet you might hear occasionally at this base thunderous explosions - those are mortars firing volleys in support of the mission of the rest of this unit, which is now right in the south of the city.

The attack, to quote one officer this morning, "is being pressed very hard in the south of the city".

But the character of the fighting has changed.

It is no longer through extremely dense narrow streets and alleyways.

I went out with the marines doing a little bit of that on Friday and it was absolutely horrific. We took casualties on just 15 minutes into that fighting. The marines were being peppered with small-arms fire and rocket-propelled grenades constantly.

They dragged these casualties on - one guy literally bled all over my right trouser leg as we brought him back. They both survived.

The character of the fighting is changed now, because they have pushed the insurgents right to the edge of Falluja. The insurgents have nowhere else to go - there's only desert and the US army beyond them.

Boy injured during the Falluja fighting
Given the volume of gunfire which is being poured out by the Americans, any civilians who are still here, of course their plight is desperate
So in these last hours and days of the fighting, it is more frantic, it is more intense.

Q:If it's not safe to go out on the street, what is the situation for civilians there, as far as food and water is concerned?

Well, these are the crucial questions.

As an embedded reporter, I have a very limited ability, to be honest, to answer those. I see what my unit sees.

We have heard from the Iraqi Red Crescent that in their view, conditions are catastrophic inside Falluja - no food, no water, no medicines, no electricity.

On the other hand, the Iraqi health ministry, for instance, which is visiting this unit this Monday morning, says that the Red Crescent simply isn't in a position to make that assessment, precisely because it hasn't yet been allowed inside Falluja.

And the Iraqi health ministry's own figure for civilian casualties is 20, because it says most people are out of the town and those that are in have very sensibly - in fact they're compelled to - have stayed literally on the floor of their homes.

But given the volume of gunfire which is being poured out by the Americans, any civilians who are still here, of course their plight is desperate.

Map of Iraq
But to get any kind of assessment of the scale of the humanitarian tragedy - if indeed that's what it is - we have to know how many are here and we're not going to know that literally until the smoke clears.

Q: But as you travel with the American soldiers, do you come across civilians?

We saw literally a glimpse of civilians.

We were on the roof of a building - this was the first day of the battle in fact on Wednesday - and saw people waving white flags running away. And the marines stood up to say "Keep going, it's dangerous, don't come in this direction" and as soon as they did that, a volley of gunfire came in, because they'd revealed their position. And that was the only view of civilians that we have had.

One female civilian came to be treated at the medical post here and left before I had a chance to speak to her.

But I've questioned ordinary marines, officers and they say quite truthfully, we literally don't see civilians and that is the position of, I think, most of the US forces here - they do not see civilians.

Having said that, a big civil affairs effort is about to start.

The civil affairs people are arriving today with, just for this battalion, $20m to start very rapidly paying out compensation for damage, trying to repair things because they know - the marines know - they're going to be back here again unless they can win those famous hearts and minds.

Of course, I don't know how people are going to feel when they see their city and they see the holes in the mosques and they see the destruction that has been wrought by this battle.

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