Falluja should be carpet bombed night and day.
'It's a pay scale for the Iraqis: $700 for an attack on a tank; $1,000 for a helicopter'
Yesterday's attack created jubilation in Falluja, the pro-Saddam city where attacks on US forces are increasingly frequent and deadly
Michael Howard in Falluja
Monday November 3, 2003
The successful attack on a US helicopter six miles to the south, was a cause for celebration for the neighbourhood graffiti artists. Youths with spray cans competed with each other to be the first to celebrate the "successful operation" against American soldiers.
On a shop wall in the Al Rissalah district, Mohammed al-Zhorbai marked up the number of dead Americans from yesterday's attack as 60, and entreated the "noble heroes of the resistance," to keep harassing and killing "occupation force until the foes leave our land".
That morning he had danced in the street while a jeep carrying four US soldiers burned near the bridge spanning the Euphrates river, the victims of a roadside bomb in an area known to locals as "the American cemetery."
Welcome to Falluja, the Sunni triangle's point of most resistance, 40 miles west of Baghdad, where hit-and-run guerrilla attacks, roadside bombs, rocket-propelled grenades, car bombs and civil unrest have bloodied American forces and Iraqi civilians repeatedly in the seven months since the fall of Saddam Hussein.
The sentiments expressed by Mohammed and other Falluja residents who were willing to speak to the Guardian yesterday may not reflect the population as a whole, but they underline just how dangerous and hostile this town remains for coalition forces and those Iraqis who are perceived as collaborators with the US-led administration.
In the face of relentless attacks from an elusive array of domestic and foreign foes - variously described by a senior coalition official yesterday as "bitter-ender" Ba'athist loyalists, or "Wahhabists driven by Islamic fanaticism", or just "plain old criminals" - one thing is clear. There is no simple solution to the increasingly organised and lethal resistance in this arc north and west of Baghdad. Because there is no single enemy.
"Solve the security riddle of Falluja and you'll solve the country," the coalition official said.
In the wake of the regime change, US forces viewed the areas in and around Falluja, with a majority population of Sunni Arabs, as a testbed for their much vaunted bid to win the hearts and minds of those Iraqis who had been favoured under the previous regime, and who were most anxious about their status in the new Iraq.
But Falluja residents quickly complained of heavy-handed tactics by US soldiers searching homes, "and stealing our belongings".
Increased US military operations in the area appeared to be drawing more attacks. "That's our purpose out there", to "engage," Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez, the commander of ground forces in Iraq, said. But the perceived failure of the US forces controlling the town to provide basic services and jobs appears to have hardened hearts, and turned at least some minds to violent resistance.
Falluja is not particularly poor, its plusher neighbourhoods are said to host several multi-millionaires. Neither is it particularly ideological, said a sergeant with the 82nd Airborne Division which is active in the area. And locals say the number of foreign fighters is limited, "and they are not very bright".
"What holds sway here is the tribe," the sergeant said, admitting: "We have failed to bridge that gap."
Last week, a roadside bomb exploded outside the mayor's office. A neighbour emerged to see what the noise was and was shot dead by nervous Iraqi police. The resulting riot and attack on the mayor's office "was tribal revenge", not pro-Saddam or Islamic, the sergeant said.
But other attacks are conducted in return for money, added the sergeant, who asked not to be identified. "It's a pay scale: $700 for an attack on a tank, $200-$300 for a Humvee, but $1,000 for a helicopter. That's a lot of money here."
Abdul Hamid al-Jumailly was at his tyre workshop when he witnessed yesterday's attack on a US convoy in Falluja.
"It was a roadside bomb. I think all who were inside must have been killed, but I and my friends ran away, because when these things happen the US always start shooting at random."
He said: "After that all the dead bodies were taken away and the people came out to dance and celebrate because they were happy. This was the 8th operation here. And we were already happy at the helicopter strike."
His face half-scabbed by a recent burn - the result of a mishap with some TNT - Adnan al-Doleme suggested: "Stay with us, and we'll show you another attack. Ramadan has been Allah's gift to us. The streets are empty then, so we can attack the Americans without the possibility of killing our people."
He added: "The reason for the resistance is that people don't agree with the occupation. If Allah wills it, Bush and Bremer will not last until the Eid [the holy holiday at the end of Ramadan.]"
As he left, a companion whispered that Doleme had been a senior officer in the Fedayeen, but was now "fighting for Allah."
Sheikh Farhan Jumeilly, a local tribal leader, said the people of Falluja could see through the Americans and the "traitors who came in their tanks" - a reference to the exiles on the Iraqi governing council and who fill posts in the coalition provisional authority.
"After each attack they come to my house to question me or to ask for my help with the tribe. But I'll never let them in or grant them our hospitality. Because they are occupiers. They want to rob us of our dignity and our wealth. Resistance will not stop in this town until the last one of us is dead," he said.