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Fallujans Differ Over US Incursion

Many blame America for the fighting – but some point their fingers at foreign militants.
By Wisam al-Jaff

The main street in Fallujah is nearly deserted at midday. Only a handful of residents are out, mostly buying up drugs in pharmacies or outside the grocers, piling rice, oil, and other dry goods into their vehicles.


Blast marks in the stores' metal doors, and a handful of burnt-out vehicles, bear witness to more than three weeks of fighting between US Marines and anti-Coalition insurgents.


Damage is much worse in the close-packed residential districts that stretch off to the side.


Here, residents express their anger at the Coalition for the fighting - which local sources claim has cost hundreds of civilian lives - but some blame foreign Islamist volunteers who they say provoked the US incursion.


Many residents say US Marines had no place in Fallujah at all, and question why the March 31 killing of four US contractors - the event which triggered the fighting - should justify turning their city into a battleground.


"All the problems began when the US military entered the city. If they had not come in, nothing would have happened," said civil servant Najam Mawloud, standing behind the counter of a pharmacy.


Many Fallujis refused one of the original US demands - handing over those suspected of killing the contractors - as long as Iraq remained under occupation.


"We agree to give these people up, but not to the US military, to Iraqi judges [instead]," said Khaled al-Dulaimy, a policeman carrying supplies back to his house.


"The people of Fallujah [are opposed to] the [presence] of the US military, both in the past and in the future."


"We are tribes, and our tribal rules do not allow foreigners to come looking for our compatriots," said Jassem Karem, an elderly man standing outside his house, talking with neighbours.


Karem expected that violence would continue, as families of Fallujis slain in the fighting launch revenge attacks on American forces.


"Tribal rules will require families to avenge their slain [relatives]," Karem said.


"They want those who killed the four [contractors], but we want the soldiers and pilots who attacked and killed 300 of our women and children," said Omar al-Issawi.


Other residents, however, expressed dismay that their city had become a centre for anti-Coalition insurgents, both local and foreign.


"Fallujah is a shelter for Baathists, fidayeen [paramilitaries], and members of the Saddam regime," said day-labourer Nabil Ibrahim, attributing this to local tribes’ refusal to hand people over to US forces.


Several others blamed the violence on non-Iraqi Islamists who have taken refuge in the city.


"Countries bordering Iraq pay them to attack the US army to create instability and force them to get out of Iraq,” remarked Mukhtar al-Jumaily, a tire store owner who says that he frequently services vehicles belonging to foreigners.


Neighbouring countries, he went on, want to make sure Iraq does not become a base for the US to attack them.


Wisam al-Jaff is an IWPR trainee.


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