Al-Fallujah, a Sunni Muslim town some 50 kilometers west of Baghdad, has emerged as one of the main flashpoints of resistance against coalition troops. Almost every day there are attacks against U.S. troops in this city of half a million people. And angry residents say troops have two options if they want the violence to stop: leave, or learn to respect local tribal customs.
Fallujah, Iraq; 14 November 2003 -- "Death to American spies and collaborators," read signs and slogans posted along the approach to Al-Fallujah. U.S. troops are clearly not welcome.
Al-Fallujah is the nerve center of resistance in Iraq's Sunni triangle. Roadside bombs, rocket assaults, and flash guerrilla attacks have become a nearly daily occurrence here.
For the U.S. troops based here, trying to track down the assailants is like looking for shadows in the night. No particular group has claimed responsibility for the city's unending assault on U.S. soldiers.
The mayor of Al-Fallujah, Taha Badawi, says there are a number of groups fighting the Americans -- and all for different reasons. "There are those who suffered [at the hands of the U.S. troops]. There are people who were connected with the previous regime. And then there are extremist groups which came from outside [Iraq], and we don't know what they want," he said. "And there are people who cannot stand foreign troops [on their soil]."
Badawi says Iraqi borders are not sealed and anyone who wants to fight U.S. troops can easily come to Iraq to fulfil a dream of killing Americans. He also says that many former officials from Saddam Hussein's regime were born in Al-Fallujah and returned home after Hussein's ouster. "I have no reason to believe that they stay quiet here," the mayor said, laughing.
But Badawi, whose popular election was approved by the Americans in April, also blames the behavior of the U.S. troops for the ongoing violence. He says the Americans have clearly grown stronger and more determined, but that that will only drive the fighting to continue. "A tough [U.S.] response to the attacks only increases the violence and we get more casualties and more Al-Fallujah residents are being killed," Badawi said. Al-Fallujah, he noted, is run according to tribal traditions and the death of a resident can be compensated only by "blood money" or revenge.
The mayor also holds the U.S. troops responsible for setting off the chain of violence. It was they, he says -- and not local residents -- who cast the first stone in late April, by opening fire on anti-American demonstrators.
Badawi offers a short-term solution to the problem. He says the local Iraqi police, who are too poorly armed to adequately fight terrorists or resistance fighters, should be given modern weaponry. He says he is negotiating with coalition troops to give police officers more than hand guns and Kalashnikov machine guns.
But the biggest problem, the mayor says, is that most people in Al-Fallujah simply cannot tolerate the presence of foreign troops on their soil.
Ordinary residents of Al-Fallujah agree. They say they have had enough of the U.S. troops in their town. Ali Rabya, a street vendor, says the behavior of the U.S. forces is growing more and more erratic, and said it is a "miracle" that he is still alive. "Yesterday, I was driving my car -- a [Toyota] Supra 85 -- and the American resistance fired at me with a heavy machine gun," he said. "I don't know how I got away from them. Only God saved me." Rabya says he does not know why U.S. troops were firing at his car.
Ali owns a shop selling tires. He says the U.S. troops were right to depose Saddam Hussein. "We lived in hell under Saddam, but now the Americans are doing the same things to us," he says, adding that while Al-Fallujah residents at first looked at coalition troops as liberators, they are now clearly acting the part of aggressive and hostile occupiers. "What can they expect from us in return?" he asked rhetorically.
"Do you think I will keep quiet if someone from my family is killed, even if I know I will be killed? I will fight, even with a small machine gun. I don't have a mortar. And even though I know I would be killed, I would take my revenge," Ali said.
Ali says the heavy-handed behavior of the U.S. troops makes many Iraqis wish Hussein was back in power. "Why is [the U.S.] doing this, making us wish that Saddam would come back, making us long for the days of Saddam? Everyone, everyone [wants Saddam to come back]. Before, only the Ba'athists wanted Saddam," he said. "Now even those who opposed Saddam want him back and long for the days of Saddam."