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Home | The Sunni Heartland | The Unexpected War | Paying the Price

The Sunni Heartland

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Resentment grows in Falluja

photo: Tom Bullock

The town of Fallujua is an hours drive southeast of Ramadi. For American soldiers, Falluja is a danger zone. For Iraqis, it is the city of mosques. Saddam Hussein built dozens of elegant religious centers with soaring minarets for the Sunni Muslims who live here. On this day of worship, the faithful promise to continue their fight against American occupation. They say their town and their religion are under siege. Khalid Abdul Moneen complains that American soldiers do not treat them with respect.

"Americans here for a long time, and we see a lot of bad things happen from America when they arrested people. It seems like they against us," says Moneen.

Resentment started from the first day - when U.S. troops entered Falluja in an overly aggressive or combative manner.

Fred Abraham, of Human Rights Watch, spent seven days in Falluja interviewing Iraqis and American soldiers.

"We saw again and again example of a failure to understand or even plan for the complexities of post war Iraq," says Abraham, "and a general failure to understand that running the country is much more difficult than overthrowing its government."

On April 23, 2003, two weeks after the fall of Baghdad, the U.S. Army 82 Airborne drove into this quiet town. Falluja had already appointed a mayor; different families were guarding key institutions. They had prevented the kind of looting that was destroying much of Baghdad. People were eager to get back to normal, put their children in class. But that didn't happen. The American military had set up headquarters in a local school. It was another source of tension and misunderstanding, says Fred Abraham.

"Part of the problem was the lack of U.S. translators," explains Abraham, "so the forces couldn't understand what Falluja residents wanted and these misunderstandings in Falluja culminated in the events of April 28, when an estimated seventeen people were killed at a demonstration."

The demonstration here was a local matter, the protestors wanted the Americans to leave the school. But American soldiers believed the angry crowd was there to support the fallen regime. April 28th, the day of the protest, was also Saddam Hussein's birthday. The army claimed they were responding to shots fired. A Human Rights Watch report draws a different conclusion: that the response of the 82nd Airborne was excessive and indiscriminate, and called for an investigation.

"The main evidence is the ballistics. We looked at the walls where the U.S. soldiers were based, we found no evidence that they had been shot at," says Abraham. "In other words, we saw no marks that might have been bullets, and in contrast, the wall across the street was pockmarked with bullet holes where clearly showed a wide and sustained response by the 82nd Airborne."

photo: Tom Bullock

A Toyota taxicab parked across the street from the school is racked with bullet holes. The driver, Osama Sala Abdl Latif, had tried to rescue the wounded, to take them to the local hospital. But, he says, American soldiers stopped him by shooting up his taxi. Abdl Latif was wounded himself. The Americans, he says, are worse than Saddam.

"I was shot by accident after the previous regime," says Abdl Latif, "and they sent high official to give me money apologize and treatment abroad if I wanted. The Americans have never done that."

Next: You can't bear it anymore...