Fallujah, Iraq; May 9, 2004 – Residents of this battered city say they are prepared to fight against future US patrols in Fallujah, despite having suffered heavy losses during the severe fighting in April. Meanwhile, burial of the dead continued this week while stories of Marines violating the rules of war circulated on the streets of Fallujah.
Members of both the Iraqi Police and Iraqi Civil Defense Corps stated they have been told by their superiors that patrols with Marines will begin in the embattled city on Monday.
The public affairs officer for the US Marines in Fallujah, Thomas Johnson, chose not to discuss when patrols would be resumed in the city for what he called "obvious reasons."
Abdul Muhammed is a resident of Fallujah who said his brother was killed by Marines. "When the Americans start patrolling on Monday," he said, "even more people will fight them this time because so many people need revenge now."
Another man, Abdul Aziz Muhammed, stated angrily, "They try to cover their failure by these patrols. We will fight them again!" He added, "We donâ€™t want them in our city! Nobody in Fallujah wants to see them in our streets! Everyone who lost family to them will revenge them!"
A defiant mood persists throughout much of this Sunni Muslim city 60 kilometers West of Baghdad, whose residents had to bury nearly 500 of their dead in a soccer stadium at the height of last monthâ€™s incursions by US troops. Residents explained that these hasty burials were made necessary by the Marines having taken control of the cityâ€™s main cemetery.
In many cases, people say they were unable to bring their dead to the graveyard as American snipers shot seemingly anyone who moved about the streets of Fallujah.
Residents said over half of the dead are women, children, and elderly men. They further pointed out that not all of the military age males were fighters.
Gravestones in the new "Martyrsâ€™ Cemetery," as locals have dubbed the field, seem to confirm this proportion. Many of them are smaller graves, home to the bodies of children. Several plots, bearing only basic descriptions of their residents, contain the bodies of people buried before they could be identified. One gravestone reads, "Old man wearing jacket with black dishdasha, near industrial center. He has a key in his hand."
"Man wearing red track suit," a different marker says. Still another inscription reads, "Three women killed in car by missile while leaving city."
Some bodies were being brought to the makeshift cemetery for reburial as late as this week, having already been buried once in a garden or lawn elsewhere in the city. In many cases, people say they were unable to bring their dead to the graveyard as American snipers shot seemingly anyone who moved about the streets of Fallujah.
Unmanned military surveillance drones continued to buzz over the city this week, an ominous reminder that occupation forces remain amassed not far from the city limits.
One Imam spoke optimistically during Friday prayers. "We have two reasons to be happy this month," he said. "One is the birthday of our prophet. The second is our victory over the Americans!"
Hassan Al-Jublan is an Iraqi policeman (IP). Positioned at an intersection near the Julan area of Fallujah, where much of the heavy fighting took place and the stench of decomposing bodies remains in the air, he said, "We will accompany the Marines on their patrols, but I donâ€™t think it will help them any. You can see that people here are very angry."
A member of the Iraqi Civil Defense Corps (ICDC) operating in the Industrial section, who preferred not to be identified in print, expressed deep reservations about working with Marines in the streets of Fallujah. "So many people here feel we are traitors because we work with the Americans," he said. "Personally, I donâ€™t want to be on their patrols."
There are more stories of alleged US war crimes in Fallujah than journalists and human rights workers could ever record. One of the most common eyewitness accounts also seems to be one of the most bothersome to Fallujans. Many residents say US Marines positioned snipers on the minarets of several mosques, from which vantage point they fired on civilians.
Ali Hammad said he witnessed snipers firing from a minaret. "I saw American snipers shoot a woman on her roof while she was hanging her clothes. This was during their ceasefire," he said.
Another man said his cousin was shot by a sniper who fired from a minaret. Abdul Khalil Qusam angrily said he hopes the Marines reenter Fallujah on Monday. "They killed my cousin and burned my house," he said. "God gave us the victory, and He will give us another when they come back!"
The US military says Iraqi fighters used minarets as fighting positions, but denies using any part of any mosque for cover or vantage point. In an interview on the matter, Public Affairs Officer Johnson blamed the resistance, whom he referred to as "the bad guys," for fighting that involved mosques and minarets.
Aziz Hussein lives near the Fallujah train depot, another flashpoint of intense fighting between the resistance and occupation forces. Hussein, who was in Fallujah for much of the fighting, stated that most of the residents of Fallujah supported those they call mujahideen, or "freedom fighters." In Fallujah, the mujahideen are thought of as having defended the city from re-invasion.
"When someone lost one of their family or their home," Hussein said, "they didnâ€™t blame the mujahideen. Most of the people killed by bombings were civilians. Americans said the civilians were killed by mujahideen, but this is just not true."
Sheikh Adbul Hamid Farhan Muslah at the Abdul Aziz Mosque in Fallujah said U.S. Marines used the minaret there for its snipers to control the neighborhood.
He said, "First they bombed the minaret early in April, then one of their snipers used it to shoot seven people, as well as several cars. This kept people in their homes because if they left they would be shot."
At yet another mosque a huge bomb crater gapes across the front yard. "The mujahedeen will shoot the Americans as soon as they start their patrols here," Fallujah resident Ahmed Ibrahim said angrily, standing beside the crater. "Fallujah is our city, not the Americansâ€™!"