|Your account||Today's news index||Weather||Traffic||Movies||Restaurants||Today's events|
Sunday, May 02, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 A.M.
As U.S. leaves Fallujah, Iraqis proclaim victory
By Hannah Allam
FALLUJAH, Iraq Masked men carrying rocket-propelled grenade launchers and waving Iraqi flags rode through the deserted streets of Fallujah yesterday, claiming victory in the withdrawal this past week of U.S. Marines after a month-long siege of the city.
A day after the U.S.-led coalition announced it was handing over most security matters to a popular general from the former regime, Fallujah residents stepped from shuttered homes to find demolished buildings, uprooted trees, rows of shelled villas and car windows riddled with bullet holes.
They took comfort in what they did not see: Americans.
"The Americans have been pushed out by true soldiers, heroic men," said Shaker Adnan, 35, who wore the burgundy beret and dark camouflage of the Fallujah Brigade, the new proxy security force assembled by the coalition. "If the Americans were men, they would have never retreated. This triumph came from God."
Meanwhile, violence continued yesterday, exactly a year after President Bush stood aboard an aircraft carrier and declared that major combat in Iraq had ended.
A U.S. soldier was killed when a rocket-propelled grenade hit his convoy near Qarraya, 45 miles south of the northern city of Mosul, the military said. A second soldier died yesterday of wounds suffered the day before in a roadside bombing in the same area.
In another bombing yesterday, two foreign contractors were killed and five others wounded in an attack in Mosul, according to the U.S. military and witnesses. Nationalities of the victims were unavailable.
A British foot patrol also came under attack in Amarah, sparking a battle with insurgents that left five Iraqis dead and six British soldiers wounded, according to witnesses and a British forces spokesman.
Prisoner abuse condemned
The United States also faced growing international condemnation over shocking pictures of Iraqi prisoners being humiliated by their U.S. captors. Governing Council member Sondul Chapouk demanded that Iraqi authorities investigate allegations of abuse.
The new Fallujah Brigade, led by Maj. Gen. Jassim Mohammed Saleh, fanned out and imposed a cordon around nearly the entire southern half of Fallujah, replacing Marines who were pulling back to set up a second cordon, some five miles from the city.
The siege on Fallujah, a hotbed of support for deposed Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, was sparked by the ambush and killings of four U.S. civilian security contractors last month. The mutilated bodies of two of them were hung from a bridge over the Euphrates River.
The willingness to install a relatively unknown armed force with ties to the ousted regime at the forefront of the Fallujah standoff was a sign of U.S. eagerness to find a way out of the siege, which raised an international outcry and angered many Iraqi leaders who supported the United States.
A U.S. officer, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the Fallujah model, though not a "hard and fast" policy, might be applied elsewhere.
Despite the coalition's insistence the move out of Fallujah was not a retreat, local religious leaders called a victory prayer at a battle-scared mosque. Other Fallujah residents wept at a soccer stadium where dozens of anti-American fighters were buried in graves marked with crude tombstones and wilted flowers. So many bodies had arrived at the makeshift cemetery that a backhoe dug long trenches in the dirt, where the dead were buried single file.
Men with AK-47 assault rifles slung over their shoulders sobbed at one row of graves, where 26 members of the same family were buried. Several gravestones simply bore the inscription "unknown martyr," along with details of the remains. "Black beard, green trousers," read one marker. "Pieces of flesh, brown shirt," read another. An estimated 600 Iraqis died in the siege, according to hospital and news accounts. Ten Marines were killed in the fighting.
"We're left with nothing but a few simple weapons, but we will continue to use them if the Americans return," said Hassan Ahmed, 35, who recited verses from the Quran over a plot. "Did you see the grave of the newborn? He never even got to see the light, rest his soul."
After threatening a major offensive, the coalition this week announced the pullback, and recruited Saleh, a former Republican Guard two-star general, to oversee security inside the city. He'll command a force that eventually will have more than 1,000 troops at checkpoints and on patrols.
Inside Fallujah, the streets belonged to men with checkered scarves over their faces, roaming freely with grenade launchers. They waved at passing cars and flashed the victory sign. Some "mujahedeen," as they are called here, drove white trucks around town with their weapons pointing out the window. Graffiti scrawled on walls read "Goodbye, USA," mirroring residents' jubilation.
Along Old Market Street, a bakery was open and residents lined up for bread. But businesses remained closed.
A 'big win for us'
Fallujah General Hospital stood virtually empty. A few doctors and a single patient remained after most had moved to a substitute hospital in a safer area.
Adnan Chechan, 29, a doctor sitting in the hospital office, declined a friend's invitation to the victory-prayer service, though he said he shared in the celebration.
"This is a big win for us," Chechan said of the Marines' withdrawal. "Baghdad fell in two days, but Fallujah fought the Americans for a month. The siege was miserable, but we hope things get better in the next few days. The only thing we hope is that the Americans keep out of our town."
Speaking to reporters for the first time since the decision to forgo an all-out attack and install the proxy force, the Marine in charge of U.S. operations in western Iraq bristled at characterizations that the Marines had "retreated" or "withdrawn" from the city.
"Both of those are dirty words in the vocabulary of a Marine," said Lt. Gen. James T. Conway of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force. He described a realignment of forces that should allow Marines to go inside with convoys and to spend millions of dollars on reconstruction projects.
While Iraqis rejoiced inside the city, the scene remained tense on the way out. At the last checkpoint on the main road leading out of Fallujah, Marines ordered Iraqis to exit their cars for body searches. An elderly woman was allowed to remain in her family's car, prompting outrage from one Marine.
"So, we're making exceptions now?" he angrily demanded of a fellow Marine.
"Dude, that's cruel," the other man responded. "How would you like someone to do that to your grandmother?"
Material from the Associated Press is included in this report.
Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company
Home delivery | Contact us | Search archive | Site map | Low-graphic
NWclassifieds | NWsource | Advertising info | The Seattle Times Company
Back to top