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Last Updated: Wednesday, 24 November, 2004, 16:38 GMT
Eyewitness: Farewell to Falluja
US forces are consolidating their hold over the Iraqi city of Falluja, scene of fierce fighting in recent weeks. The BBC News website spoke by phone to Fadhil Badrani, an Iraqi journalist and resident of Falluja who reports regularly for Reuters and the BBC World Service in Arabic.

We are publishing his and other eyewitness accounts from the city in order to provide the fullest possible range of perspectives from those who are there:

Suspected insurgent captured by US troops in Falluja
Iraqis left inside Falluja risk being arrested or killed in the fighting
I spent six nights sneaking through Falluja's wrecked streets to get to where I am now - at a refugee camp two kilometres outside the city.

It was too dangerous to be outdoors during the day so we did all our moving between midnight and five in the morning.

There were many tense moments. My friends and I stayed sane by reciting verses from the Koran.

When we got to the river at the western edge of the city, we hid among the reeds and palm trees until the guide, who had arranged our escape, sent a car to pick us up.

I saw only desolation on the streets. I doubt if there are more than a few hundred civilians left inside Falluja now.

I shall remember how I celebrated Eid this year - with bombardment and the sound of gunfire

A US army checkpoint came under fire while we were passing by it.

The fighters' rockets were landing everywhere but the Americans did not seem too bothered and were not returning fire.

Further down the street, I saw three crippled armoured trucks.

Distant bombing

I have spent the last few days in a village that has been taken over by refugees from Falluja.

They have built a city out of tents and makeshift shelters. Families have filled the corridors and classrooms of the local school.

Every day, trucks bring food and water donated by Arab states and wealthy individuals from within Iraq.

Falluja street
US forces have yet to allow civilians back into Falluja

All the supplies arrive at the local mosque, where the imam and his men are in charge of the distribution.

For the first time in weeks, I have been able to bathe and eat properly.

I feel safer here among the refugees - it is very unlikely that anyone will want to bomb us now.

No one knows how long we will wait before we can return to Falluja. I have heard the US military say it will be another three weeks before anyone can go back in.

In the distance, you still hear bombs dropped by American jets exploding over the city. But I am no longer there so I cannot tell you which districts they are fighting over now.

Brotherhood and horror

I think I'm very lucky to have survived these last few months.

I shall remember how I celebrated Eid this year - with bombardment and the sound of gunfire.

I shall never forget how the people left behind in the city helped each other.

I became very close to those I shared the house with.

Each of us knew that if death came, it would probably come to all of us - at any instant, we could all be finished off by the same bomb.

Bombed out

Falluja was not a poor city, compared to many others in Iraq.

Refugee woman from Falluja
Falluja's refugees face an uncertain wait

But many of its homes are now dust. Hardly a single one among those still standing is unscarred by war.

Wherever you look, there are bullet-holes, fire damage and massive holes missing from the walls.

Many people used to cultivate flowers in their gardens. The roses have wilted, the backyards are graveyards.

My old house, near the train station, is half destroyed. I had built an office to one side of it, which had a library with all my books, documents, professional certificates and newspapers.

All this is gone. It got bombed.

One of my most prized possessions - prayer beads that belonged to one of Iraq's old rulers, King Faisal - was in that library too.

But at least my wife and children are safe. I sent them away long before the assault and now I can look forward to seeing them again.

Other interviews with Fadhil Badrani:

Translation from Arabic by Jumbe Omari Jumbe of bbcarabic.com



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