: “Haj Mahmoud says that they did not leave the city because they thought that the fighting would be confined to the outskirts, as it was last April. They did not expect the whole city to be shelled and destroyed. The Americans, he assures me, want to punish the city for not welcoming them. Zarqawi was only a pretext, Mahmoud says.

Mahmoud’s daughter Fatema, 16, a student at the Teachers Institute, says that she used to have big dreams. Now all she wants is to be a normal person once again, to live without fear. The family’s youngest son Abdel-Gabbar, aged three, has been traumatised by the shelling, and still runs to his mother’s arms whenever he hears a loud noise, even if it is just a door slamming. Aisha, 14, misses her younger brother and says she cannot forget the sight of him lying dead in front of the house.

The whole city is calm. So calm, it is disturbing. Falluja today is a city of untold stories and unspeakable pain. The only electricity in the whole town is that produced by the generator at Crescent House.”

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