Saturday, December 11, 2004

Falluja Fighting Goes On And On An On

December 07, 2004 Associated Press & Aljazeera 12.6.04

FALLUJAH, Iraq - The mangled cables and trash that litter the power station's control room do not bother Adil Raffah. But the bespectacled chief engineer begins to shake when he sees the desk he has worked behind for 25 years, now smashed.

"Only animals could do this, no Iraqi, never," he whispers, picking up a hammer left on the floor. "It must have been the Americans."

To the Marines combing Fallujah, the appearance of these two men is a positive sign: Perhaps they can play a small role in getting the shattered city up and running again. Kasim is said to know the power grid in this part of Anbar province, which includes Fallujah, better than anyone.

But the two Iraqis may not be so willing to play the part.

"I'm doing my job for my country and my family, not for the Americans," Kasim says. What hurts most, he adds, is that he still cannot go back into the city. "I don't know what happened to my home," he says.

Marines are still edgy - facing sporadic pockets of resistance and being highly suspicious of the few Fallujans who stayed behind.

Although the city has fallen, Marines daily fight scattered groups of rebels.

Once known as the "city of the mosques," Fallujah is now a landscape of pancaked multistory buildings, ruined homes and broken minarets that testify to the overwhelming firepower the U.S. military employed to retake the city.

Across town, in the eastern Askari neighborhood, some 70 young men huddled in the yard of the Red Crescent, sister organization to Geneva's Red Cross. The office was set up in late November to assist those civilians who stayed behind during the fighting.

"Of course I am angry, my house is destroyed, my city is in ruins, everything is gone," says Saad Mohammed Mansur, 23, one of the many young Sunni Arabs here who claim they are students, left behind by their families to guard homes and property. They deny having anything to do with the Mujahedeen.

Marines search the youths and test them for gunpowder residue on fingers. Those who test positive are arrested; the rest can either stay at the Red Crescent, be escorted back to their homes or out of the city, says Capt. Derek Wastila.

"Gunpowder residue is by no means an immediate recognition of guilt, but if they test positive, they get taken to a higher level of detention," says Wastila, of San Diego.

The next day, the Red Crescent says the U.S. military has ordered it to suspend operations temporarily. Its modest staff heads out, and American troops move in, arresting eight more of the young men inside.

The occupation has decided that personal vehicles will not be allowed into the city because of the threat of car bombs.


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