Sunday, November 07, 2004

Inside Looking Out

FALLUJAH, Iraq - Rebels dressed as Iraqi police manned checkpoints in this insurgent-controlled city Monday as U.S. forces continued to mass outside in preparation for an assault everyone is certain will come soon.

Merchants shuttered their shops. Residents fled. Medical workers set up a field clinic in case clashes sever the ambulance route to the main hospital.

The message was the same from mosque loudspeakers, photocopied pamphlets and whispers on street corners: The Americans are coming for a showdown.
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"If the government insists on having a war, then we will fight," said a young cleric known only as Sheik Mohamed, the imam of the popular al Badawi mosque. "This city has seen lots of battles, lots of bombings, and we don't want more. There are conditions, however, that we cannot meet."
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A militant group called Mohammed's Army claimed to have ambushed and killed 11 Marines trying to enter Fallujah and vowed to post photos of the dead on the Internet. Another, the Lions of God and Victorious Ali, claimed that one of its fighters shot down an American helicopter with a surface-to-air missile, and added that the rebel was "martyred" by return fire. U.S. military spokesmen dismissed both claims.

"We will show the Americans new and innovative suicide operations," the Lions of God statement warned. "It's not a car bombing. It's not the usual attack. The Americans can expect a variety of new operations."

Suhail al Abdali, a Fallujah fighter in his 30s who wouldn't identify the group he'd joined, said there "absolutely" were foreign Islamic extremists joining the fight. However, he emphasized, most Fallujah militants are Iraqis who are wary of the foreign extremist elements but bound by custom to accept offers of battlefield help from men they consider brothers in Islam.

"Didn't the Americans bring with them the British and the Italians? Well, we have multinational forces, too," al Abdali said with a laugh. "The Americans themselves resisted the British when they tried to control them, so how dare anyone ask us why we fight? Resistance is legal."

Al Abdali, sporting the de facto guerrilla uniform of a bushy beard and long traditional gown, sat with other rebels in a mosque in north Fallujah. Many of the men said they started attending the mosque this week based on rumors that U.S. forces would invade from the north. They said they wanted to be in place, and prepared.

"They might enter the city, but that would be just one battle, not the end of the war," al Abdali said. "They will pay the price with the blood of American sons who came to occupy Iraq. They won't take Fallujah unless they fight street to street, house to house."

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