Fallujah, Iraq; May 10, 2004 – The US 1st Marine Division sent a small convoy into Fallujah today in order to meet with the mayor and show cooperation with the Iraqi Police (IP) and Iraqi Civil Defense Corps (ICDC). But the supposed show of force was a pre-arranged exercise. Immediately following the Marinesâ€™ departure, the embattled city erupted into what could only be described as a huge victory celebration over the US military.Residents were joined by fully armed resistance fighters who intermingled freely with uniformed IP and ICDC personnel.
At roughly 11:00 this morning, several American Humvees and Stryker vehicles entered the downtown area of Fallujah, accompanied by pick-up trucks full of members of both the IP and ICDC, who traveled in front of, beside, and behind the military convoy. The small convoy slowly made its way inside the heavily blockaded Tribal Council compound.
A 1st Marine Division press release about the exercise says Marines "traveled into Fallujah today to exercise freedom of movement and meet with city officials."
Members of both the Iraqi Police and Iraqi Civil Defense Corps joined armed mujahideen in celebration, waving their guns in the air and flashing the two-fingered "Victory" sign.
Abdul Rahman, a captain in the ICDC, explained the Marinesâ€™ exercise as a negotiated concession. "There were negotiations between the people of Fallujah and the occupation forces," Captain Rahman said. "The plan is for the Americans to pull all of their troops out of the city after they get this one patrol."
After pausing to look at the military vehicles inside the compound, Rahman added, "We want them out of our country."
Nervous residents of the recently besieged city watched quietly from sidewalks as the vehicles sat for about 30 minutes inside the Tribal Council complex, behind concrete barriers some eight feet high. The scores of Iraqi Police and Iraqi Civil Defense Core members who had accompanied that patrol now guarded the building.
In the Marinesâ€™ press release, 1st Lieutenant Eric Knapp, the Public Affairs Officer for the 1st Marine Division, states, "Cooperation between Coalition and Iraqi Forces in Fallujah is symbolic of the solidarity between all who share a vision of a secure and prosperous Iraq."
But at least some members of those Iraqi forces saw the situation differently.
Just outside the compound walls, Alla Hamdalide, a member of the ICDC forces said his unit was required to protect the Marines. "We brought the Americans from the bridge into the city," he said. "They couldnâ€™t even come in here alone. The victory for Fallujah remains."
Despite the extremely tense and somber atmosphere outside, Major General James Mattis met with the mayor of Fallujah inside the compound where they reportedly discussed plans to rebuild the city.
After only half an hour inside the compound, again with scores of IP and ICDC riding in pick-up trucks and surrounding the Marinesâ€™ vehicles, the patrol slowly made its way back out of the city. No gunfire was reported during the event.
Immediately after the patrol left the area, spontaneous celebrations erupted as crowds of residents gathered in the street and began chanting and waving banners. Members of both the Iraqi Police and Iraqi Civil Defense Corps joined in the celebration, waving their guns in the air and flashing the two-fingered "Victory" sign.
An elderly Fallujah resident riding in the back of a truck, waving a traditional Iraqi flag, yelled, "Today is the first day of the war against the Americans! This is a victory for us over the Americans!"
Resistance fighters, called mujahideen ("freedom fighters") by locals, mixed in with the crowd of unarmed civilians, police and Iraqi soldiers. Brandishing rocket propelled grenade launchers (RPGs), Kalashnikov assault rifles and hand grenades, they paraded on trucks as thousands of residents began to move up and down the main street in an impromptu victory parade.
US military officials have admitted that among the Iraqi forces making up the Fallujah Brigade, which they say will be relied upon to maintain security in the city, are an unknown number of guerillas who confronted US Marines just last month at the peak of fighting here. The new brigade is led in part by Baâ€™athist officers who served in the military under ousted dictator Saddam Hussein.
Ahmed Saadoun Jassin, a uniformed Iraqi Policeman hired and trained by the US occupation authority, didnâ€™t bother containing his joy at seeing the Marines leave. "I canâ€™t describe to you the happiness I feel right now," he said. "This is a victory for Islam."
When asked about cooperating with the Marines, Jassin explained, "This was the deal that was negotiated. They couldnâ€™t stay in Fallujah for over one hour, which they didnâ€™t."
Shop owners threw handfuls of candy at the passing crowds. Many of the people celebrating waved old Iraqi flags, while some held up copies of the Qurâ€™an.
Music blared from mosques as vehicles carrying both armed mujahideen and celebrating residents of Fallujah made their way up and down the main street of the city. Members of the IP, ICDC and several of the resistance fighters were seen firing their guns into the air.
The 1st Marine Division made no mention of the agreed restrictions Iraqi police and soldiers said were placed on the Marines to ensure them safe travel in their press release.
"Fallujans reportedly waved to the Marines as they made their way in and out of the city... Freedom of movement in Fallujah, like that demonstrated by todayâ€™s visit, is a crucial component in the process of setting the conditions necessary to rebuild and revitalize the city," wrote Lt. Knapp. "This display of teamwork serves notice to those who violently oppose stability in Iraq; they are nothing more than unwanted barriers on the road to a truly free Iraq."
One resistance fighter riding on the roof of a truck while wielding an RPG stated, "They [the Marines] just made the people of the world laugh at them. But I think they will come back, because they donâ€™t keep their word."