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

Mujahedin Set the Rules in Fallujah

Armed insurgents openly man checkpoints alongside Coalition-created force.
By Naser Kadhem

Captain Mohammed al-Issawi, 35, an officer in the Fallujah Protection Army, stood at his checkpoint with a squad of his men and a handful of anti-Coalition "mujahedin" insurgents.

"We work together with the mujahedin to provide security," he admitted.

And even if they did not work together, he said, "we would cooperate to give them the news" – in other words information about United States troop movements, foreigners in town, or anything else of interest to the anti-Coalition guerrilla movement.

Despite the creation of the Coalition-sponsored Fallujah Protection Army, FPA, de facto control of this predominantly Sunni town is exercised by the mujahedin, dressed in their trademark yishmagh headscarfs and armed with Kalashnikov rifles and rocket-propelled grenade launchers.

Not only do they stand guard on the street, either with the FPA or by themselves, they also enforce their own brand of religious puritanism on the town's inhabitants.

Posters on the walls of Fallujah homes, shops, mosques, and schools warn that anyone caught drinking alcohol or bringing it into the town will be "severely punished”.

Young people in the town said the rules are enforced by the mujahedin, who say that residents of the town must obey God's decrees since He helped them win the battle with the Americans,

Local student Omar Muhammed, 24, said that soon after the end of the month-long siege of the town by US Marines, the fighters arrested a group of young men whom they caught drinking.

"The next day the mujahedin drove a white pickup truck through the town, so that people could see how they had been arrested, and they beat them during the ride," Muhammed said.

Since then, he said, everyone has deserted the place on the Ramadi highway where the young men were caught, formerly a popular place for drinking alcohol.

Cafe owners, meanwhile, have been accused of distracting young men from religion.

"The mujahedin closed my coffeehouse ten days ago," said Salah Sahi, owner of what was once the al-Nour cafe. "One day a group of fighters came and asked me to close down permanently, because young men gather in my cafe. I am thinking of changing my trade to selling religious cassettes and CDs."

Other mujahedin pamphlets warn women to dress according to conservative Islamic standards of modesty. "Your city urges you to be Muslim in word and deed," said one leaflet, urging them to wear hijab headscarf and to "put on makeup only for your husbands".

"We will have no mercy on those who fight against God with their beauty and their clothes," said the pamphlets.

Fallujah residents report seeing fewer women on the streets, and those who do appear wear the hijab, and the face-covering niqab veil, too.

"We don't find too many women going out alone to shop any more," said boutique owner Abd al-Jabbar al-Janabi. "Now they go out only with their husbands or brothers."

Janabi added that demand for veils also has increased.

Meanwhile, barbers have been ordered not to cut hair in "foreign" styles.

"They told me not to do a Marine cut, or shaved heads, goatees or sideburns," said barber Salah Kadhem, 27. "I will comply or I'll have my shop destroyed."

Many Fallujah residents welcome some of the changes such as an order calling on doctors to keep their fees down.

"We thank the mujahedin, because they did us a big favour by threatening doctors who took high fees from their patients," said Raed Muhammad, 26, a history student.

"There were some doctors who charged high fees, but now they've reduced them to the same as other doctors," said pediatrician Abd al-Sitar Jawad, 46. "It's a positive step."

Others expressed gratitude for the tighter social controls imposed by the guerrillas.

Taxi driver Shami Abd al-Jabar, 32, praised the mujahedin for taking "good steps to prevent young people from wandering around at night drinking alcohol... Such actions are against our religion and tribal society.

"I feel there is security and stability, because the mujahedin are protecting the Fallujah people."

Naser Kadhem is an IWPR trainee in Baghdad.