Fallujah: The homecoming and the homeless
News: "The assault by 10,000 US troops began on 8 November, just after the US presidential elections: its aim, to clear a city regarded by the Americans as a hotbed of insurgency.
More than 70 marines died, and 1,600 rebels. But no one knows the civilian casualty toll - this in a city which once numbered 300,000. Indeed, there are no estimates of how many people are still there, or how many escaped to neighbouring towns and to Baghdad before the assault got under way.
Ahmed Rawi, a Red Cross spokesman, said yesterday: 'No one knows how many families are inside the city.' The Red Cross team - which entered without escort and left before curfew - met no residents, apart from engineers and technicians. The Red Cross reported that hundreds of dead bodies remain stacked inside a potato chip warehouse on the outskirts. Some of the bodies were too badly decomposed to be identified. Raw sewage runs through the streets.
All this, and there are no humanitarian workers working inside the city. When the first of Fallujah's refugees are allowed to return on Christmas Eve, they will be funnelled through five checkpoints. Each will have their fingerprints taken, along with DNA samples and retina scans. Residents will be issued with badges with their home addresses on them, and it will be an offence not to wear it at all times. No civilian vehicles will be allowed in the city in an effort to thwart suicide bombers. One idea floated by the US is for all males in Fallujah be compelled to join work battalions in which they will be paid to clear rubble and rebuild houses. "
By Patrick Cockburn in Baghdad and Kim Sengupta