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Sunday, December 05, 2004

They love us in Fallujah

loaded for Americans

Sorry to interrupt our trip to colonial wars past, but it seems while armchair apologist for murder Max Boot thinks the Fallujans are happy to be liberated, they beg to differ, as Juan Cole says, muttering something about jihad, or some such thing. Oh yeah, Shadid speaks fluent Arabic. Something about colonial wars which really piss off the locals and make them vow revenge

Insurgent waits to fight another day
After Fallujah, son is dead, but father’s fervor remains

By Anthony Shadid
Updated: 8:24 a.m. ET Dec. 1, 2004

BAGHDAD, Nov. 30 - In a cramped room that has become his refuge, with walls of grimy plaster and sloppy brickwork, a man known as Abu Mohammed sat with his children.

It was evening in Baghdad, and the Muslim call to prayer wafted over the neighborhood that takes its name from its main avenue, Palestine Street. As the invocation became audible, scratchy but melodic, Abu Mohammed paused for a moment in respectful silence. Soon after, the electricity returned to his shack, powering a lone fluorescent light that offset the gray of dusk. He sipped his sweet, dark tea and dragged again from a locally made Miami cigarette.

Then, with humility and pride, 39-year-old Abu Mohammed began his story — a tale of death, life and prospective martyrdom. Unlike so many accounts of a conflict that has reshaped Iraq, it came not from the U.S. forces prosecuting the war, but from among the ranks of the men they fought.

A blacksmith turned insurgent, Abu Mohammed undertook an odyssey this month that carried him from the battlefields of Fallujah, roiled with religion, to a harrowing escape across the Euphrates River and a lonely exile in Baghdad, where he waits to fight another day. It began with the death of his son, Ahmed, whose short life was ended by an American bullet.

"He was only 13, but he was the equal of a thousand men," Abu Mohammed said, in words that served as an epitaph.

His hard face, framed in short, graying hair, softened. Almost imperceptibly, a glimmer passed over his limpid eyes. Sitting on a thin, tattered mat with a floral design, he leaned his short, wiry body forward, his hands clasped at his waist.

"He had more guts than me, a hundred times more," the father said. "He was still a child, but he was a hero."

In the fervent streets of Fallujah before this month's U.S. assault, residents recalled, Ahmed was a mascot of sorts among the hundreds of men who called themselves mujaheddin, guerrillas fired by faith. He was shorter than his father and more conscious of his looks: He wore his dark hair fashionably long and, residents said, preferred shirts that showed off biceps built with a regimen of weights.

He spent his hours at the Hadhra Muhammadiya mosque, a gathering place for fighters, where he became familiar with insurgent leaders such as Abdullah Janabi and Omar Hadid. Abu Mohammed said Janabi gave Ahmed a bottle of fragrance — a tradition of the prophet Muhammad, who adored musk and believed its aroma could awaken the spirit.

Ahmed joined the war early, becoming a fighter at 12. Residents said that in his first operation in March, he hung out at the mayor's office for days, selling candy on the street and joking with U.S. soldiers. Once his presence became familiar, he managed to leave a homemade bomb at the building, which detonated. Soon after, he joined his father as a fighter.

"I consider him a man, and I treat him as a friend," one resident recalled Abu Mohammed saying of his son.

Beginning in April, Fallujah became a virtually independent fiefdom of Iraqi and foreign insurgents, a redoubt where car bombings, abductions, beheadings and attacks on the U.S. military were planned and executed. U.S. forces put pressure on the city and the insurgents, gradually increasing it until, in the first week of November, artillery attacks and air raids signaled the ground assault that would follow.

"The Americans were testing us," Abu Mohammed said. "They wanted to see what kind of power we had."

He said Ahmed insisted on serving on the front line, donning a black tracksuit that an insurgent leader had just given him. The boy's mother was angry, Abu Mohammed acknowledged, but her protests were in vain.

On a clear day before the ground assault, guerrillas scurried around the narrow streets of the Shuhada neighborhood. A barrage of artillery and air raids lasted from 8 a.m. until 1 p.m., Abu Mohammed said. There was a break, then fighting resumed at 4 p.m. Abu Mohammed sent his son to fetch ammunition from among the rocket-propelled grenades, mortar shells, rockets and AK-47 assault rifles that he kept in a hole next to their one-room house.

The boy ran, crouching, about 600 yards down a street lined with ocher-colored buildings. As he did, he was struck about 6:10 p.m. by a bullet whose source his father did not see. It pierced the back of Ahmed's neck and tore through his chest. The boy was buried three hours later, at a cemetery next to the Farouk mosque, with four others killed that day.

The mystique of martyrdom prevented Abu Mohammed from mourning the death of his son. Ahmed died, as he put it, "in the path of God." But three weeks on, he allowed himself a moment of reflection: "He was one of my ribs," he said.

The boy's mother has yet to learn of her son's death. She thinks he is staying with relatives, Abu Mohammed said.

"I cannot tell her now," he said plaintively.

He thrust his hands forward. "She's a mother. What do you think her reaction will be?"

‘Like celebrating a feast’

The battle for Fallujah began on Nov. 8 and, under cover of darkness, Abu Mohammed began fighting.

Residents said he already had a reputation as a fighter. Before the war he was a blacksmith and a day laborer, making barely enough money to support two wives and nine children, all of whom slept in one room, with a kitchen adjoining it. Months after the fall of Saddam Hussein's government in April 2003, he joined the ranks of insurgents. He said he worked as a scout, then ran weapons, then became a renowned sniper.

A man not given to boasting, he said he had carried out 17 or 18 "operations" outside Fallujah, in the arid expanse of western Iraq. Since he began fighting, he said, 30 men he knew have died. After an operation this fall, when he fired rockets at a U.S. base in Habbaniya after sneaking past fortifications, residents said Janabi, the insurgent leader, nicknamed him wawi, or jackal.

"When I shoot a target with a rocket-propelled grenade, it's like celebrating a feast," he said.

While atrocities unleashed by the insurgents — beheadings and bombings that have killed scores of civilians — have at least anecdotally seemed to unleash popular revulsion, there remains a constituency in Iraq that celebrates the guerrilla war. Myths have grown up around it, all infused with religious imagery and notions of divine intervention. Residents trade stories: that the knights of the prophet Muhammad were seen riding through Fallujah's streets on horseback with their swords drawn; that birds guided by God cast stones at Apache helicopters; that a scented breeze descends on the fighters as they battle U.S. troops.

Abu Mohammed said he was one of a group of 60 fighters, part of a guerrilla force that he said numbered between 2,000 and 2,500. Of those, he put a specific number on foreign fighters with them: 416. He said most of them wore blue or black tracksuits.

In the four days he fought, he said, he saw nine of his colleagues killed. Throughout the fight, he said, they were well-armed from ample stockpiles, but they were overmatched. U.S. air support and shelling overwhelmed them, he said, coming from "above, the side and in front of us."

"You could hide easier from the rain than from the shelling we saw," he said.

On one night, he said, the fighters were surprised by a tank that no one heard until it was 50 yards away. Two of his men were killed before he and six others managed to retreat.

"We never heard it," he said. "In a fight you leave your ears open, but we didn't hear anything."

He shook his head. "What kind of tank was that?" he asked.

In the propaganda that surrounds the insurgency, much of it on video CDs that can be bought for 50 cents in Baghdad, the images celebrate the technological divide. Footage of blasts from a tank barrel and fire from helicopter gunships shifts seamlessly to pictures of bloodied corpses and women in black, yelling.

The Americans, Abu Mohammed said, are "strong in their technology, but I've never seen cowards like them."

A hint of anger flashed across his usually calm demeanor. "Fifteen thousand Americans against 2,000 mujaheddin, with their technology and their firepower? They say they were victorious, but what kind of victory was that?"

"We have a principle: defending our country," he said. "Why are they coming here? For what?"

For some reason, they don't seem grateful for their liberation.

Fallujans pose challenge to Iraq gov't


BAGHDAD, Iraq -- According to Iraq's government, people like Ismail Ibrahim should be glad Fallujah is all but rid of the insurgents accused of turning the city into a terrorist base and using its civilians as human shields.

But in a Baghdad school where Ibrahim and about 200 displaced Fallujans have been living since the latest fighting drove them out, the talk is of vendetta - not against the insurgents but against the Americans and the Iraqi government.

"I feel hatred. I hurt. This is my city and it has been destroyed," Ibrahim said, sitting on a thin mattress on the floor of a room he shares with his wife, seven children and another family.

"The people of Fallujah are people of revenge. If they don't get their revenge now, they will next year or even after 50 years. But they will get it."

It probably is too early to tell whether this is simply bravado or whether people returning to Fallujah will retaliate against American and Iraqi forces. Without expressing sympathy for the Americans or the government, there are Fallujans who take a different view in private, saying they blame the insurgents for turning their city into a battleground.

If the government can capitalize on that latter sentiment, rebuild Fallujah quickly and compensate the civilian victims, the anger may be assuaged, some Fallujans say.

And if the election scheduled for Jan. 30 is perceived as fair it might boost the Iraqi government's credibility, some experts say, adding that politicians need to reach out to the largely Sunni Arab people of Fallujah and assure them they will not be marginalized in a Shiite and Kurdish-dominated Iraq.

"We will work to include them in the political process and in the elections," Prime Minister Ayad Allawi said of the Fallujans. "God willing, gradually ... tempers will cool."

But conversations with men such as Ibrahim show that U.S. and Iraqi authorities probably will have a tough time winning over the city's 300,000 people.

"The Americans just don't get it," Ibrahim said. "They think that they can use their muscles to subdue the resistance. On the contrary, it will increase."


"I think the Americans have incurred a long-term feud with all the major clans of Fallujah," said Juan Cole, an Iraq expert from the University of Michigan. "I do not believe the Americans will ever have the 'hearts and minds' of the people in Anbar. At most, they could crush them militarily."

posted by Steve @ 1:40:00 PM

1:40:00 PM

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