Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Fallujans Celebrate “Victory”

Police have secured the main street in the town, but insurgents still maintain order elsewhere.
By Wisam al-Jaff

Major General Jasem Mohammed Salah al-Muhammadi, the commander of the newly established Fallujah Protection Brigade, strides out of the Roda al-Muhammadiya mosque after Friday prayers, surrounded by well-wishers.


Dressed in his pre-war military uniform, he pauses to speak to a journalist before getting into a car that will whisk him away. A man seated by the driver flies an Iraqi flag out the window.


"Give us a chance and we can settle this problem," he said. "The people of the brigade are from Fallujah. No one is foreign, no one is from outside.”


On the outskirts of town, meanwhile, soldiers wearing the trademark red berets of Muhammadi's brigade wait in trucks to deploy in town, ending three weeks of fighting between US Marines and insurgents that has left hundreds dead.


The Iraqi force will deploy according to a deal brokered between the US military and the Fallujah's tribal and religious leaders, who insisted they did not want foreign troops in the town.


The Fallujis IWPR spoke to generally praised Muhammedai, who had sat out the siege with them.


"All Fallujah respects him, because he is a good man from a well-known family," said Majid Hassan, an officer in Iraqi army. "We trust him."


"Everyone accepts him, even the resistance. He cannot be an agent of the Americans," said a butcher who took part in the fighting.


At a signal, the trucks drove to the brigade's new headquarters in the middle of town, as the soldiers waved banners and cheered.


Looking on was a group of policemen, who returned to the streets the day before.


A few blocks away, a group of two-dozen masked insurgents were dancing in a side street, waving an Iraqi flag.


"We are victorious!" they chanted.


A policeman standing nearby politely asked them to disperse. "Please, don't gather here. A plane could bomb you," he warned.


Although the police had secured the town’s main street, insurgents wearing the typical yishmagh shawl over their faces were still keeping order in the residential neighbourhoods of al-Shuhada and al-Jolan, where the fighting was fiercest.


Along one side street, they could be seen shooing away an elderly woman, three youths, and a child who they say were trying to loot an abandoned house.


"They are from outside Fallujah - from eastern Iraq. We knew it by their accent," said one of the fighters. "Islam commands us not to kill children, otherwise we would kill them for looting.”


In the al-Jolan neighbourhood, a masked fighter helping an old woman remove the rubble from a destroyed house, declared his readiness to take up arms again if the Marines were to re-enter.


"If the Americans come back, we will attack them," he said. "Why should they want to enter the town? Saddam is captured - why do they have to come here?"


"I did not join the resistance until the latest battle," said one young man carrying an RPG. "That was when I lost my entire family. I lost my father and my mother, my brothers and my sisters, and my wife and three children."


Beside one house whose interior was smashed in the fighting, an old woman weeps and beats her head on the pavement while her daughter-in-law wanders amid the wrecked furniture.


"It was our sacrifice for the resistance," said her son stoically.


Wisam al-Jaff is an IWPR trainee in Baghdad.