Fallujah resistance vows to continue fight

By P. MITCHELL PROTHERO  |  April 12, 2004 at 3:38 PM
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BAGHDAD, April 12 (UPI) -- The young man did not want to leave Fallujah where he has been fighting American troops for a week. But as the oldest son, he was responsible for getting his mother and grandmother out of the besieged city and the current cease-fire offered the chance to get the family's women and children out of harms way and into a relative's home in west Baghdad.

It took the family five hours to cross what is normally a 35-mile trip down a modern highway east to Baghdad because they had to swing wide through the desert. Despite the cease-fire, they had to avoid U.S. military checkpoints because the Americans were not letting men of fighting age out of the city.

And Ahmed, not his real name, is a member of the Army of Mohammed, the Fallujah-based Sunni insurgent group doing battle with U.S. Marines in and around the restive city of about 200,000 people. The siege is a week old and came after the brutal killing and mutilation of four U.S. security contractors.

But Fallujah has always been a problem for U.S. troops and its been long understood that most of the resistance effort in and around Baghdad comes from the Army of Mohammed, which formed from a combination of former Baath Party members and military officials as well as Sunni religious followers who had a shared goal to rid Iraq of American forces.

Ahmed wears a gold silk dishdasha -- or traditional Arabic robe -- that belies the family's wealth. He claims to be unemployed, which might be true but between the garments and the comfortable house that his family has taken refuge in, it's clear that at least under the old regime this family did well.

Ahmed is only 21, his identically dressed younger brother looks five years younger, but both have been fighting the Americans since shortly after the war ended. Their eyes have a tired look more suited to old men, not near adolescents.

Before her son -- appointed as the spokesman for the family -- can even speak, his mother begins wailing. She has been watching her children and husband fight for months and the last week has been even more than she can bear. In the family's perception, the unconfirmed reports of hundreds of dead civilians are more than just reports. They represent neighbors, friends and family.

"Shit on Bush," she screams bordering on hysterical, the emotional release of having escaped the brutal urban fighting -- the worst since Iraq was invaded over a year ago. She and her children are safe now -- at least the four youngest that can bee seen. Her husband is still fighting and both her older sons will return later today to join him.

"Shit on Bush because he made this crisis," she continues. "What does he want? Why have these people come all the way from America to do this to us? Why is he doing it?"

"Did we knock on his door," she asks. "Bush comes and barges in to our house and we're not to fight?"

Ahmed hushes his mother and tells the story of the last week. After Sunday when U.S. forces cut Fallujah off from the rest of the world, the fighting came quickly and seemed to be everywhere.

"There is no place in Fallujah without a fight," he says. "The Americans have snuck snipers all over Fallujah and everyone can be hit anytime. We only can work at night, but during the day, they kill the civilians. I saw them shoot a family just for trying to run to a car to leave part of the fighting."

"Once they blocked the roads, they began throwing bombs anywhere in the city," the mother interrupts. "They came from the towns outside (Fallujah, which is surrounded by small farming towns populated by staunchly anti-American residents) where they had taken one after another, killing all of the towns."

While the coalition military statements deny any targeting of noncombatants, this family and virtually every person that has come out of the city during the siege says that the Americans were treating every resident as an insurgent out of revenge for the killings of the contractors.

"I have seen their snipers kill women and children," Ahmed says.

"The hospital is full of their bodies, all shot in the heart or the head," the mother adds. "The hospital isn't even a hospital, it is mosque where we treat the hurt and tend the dead," the mother adds.

When asked why he started fighting, Ahmed says it is his duty and a desire to return to the previous regime.

"If we didn't have the women, we would have never left. Even the children will fight. When it began, we formed the Army of Mohammed. We didn't care who the leader of Iraq would be, we just wanted the Americans out," he says. "We don't want the American's freedom, we don't want democracy. We prefer a dictator. Now we know what we lost when Saddam was gone. But the Americans said they wanted Saddam. They got Saddam, now why don't they leave?"

Sitting under a picture of the mosque in Mecca, the holiest site in Islam, Ahmed interrupts the conversation and points to the television, which is on Al-Jazeera, the Arabic news channel. On the screen is a montage of President George Bush with the leaders of various Arab leaders and with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

"All of them are Jews, spies and traitors," he rails. When asked which is which on the screen, he replies he was only talking about the leaders of the Arab countries, not Bush and Sharon.

He's angry that the other Arab countries have not come to the support of the insurgents. But there are foreign fighters in Fallujah from around the Muslim world, and Ahmed won't talk about them.

In another interview the previous day, a wounded fighter told United Press International about the role of the foreigners: He was wounded helping them and had to be evacuated to a friend's house in Baghdad.

Calling himself "Abu Freedom" or "Father of Freedom" -- a wry joke pointed at the Americans -- the 20-year old fighter was hit while trying to save two Syrians that had been fighting with his men, also in the Army of Mohammed.

Surrounded by 15 of his brothers in a house used as a safe house by the resistance, Abu Freedom is wounded in his torso and legs.

"We were sitting in a house waiting to be given an operation," he explains. "Then orders from our chief came that we had two Syrian Fedayeen fighters in a house, one wounded and one dead. We were sent to rescue them."

"Nearby the house, an American sniper was using (a) minaret of a mosque to shoot people," he says. "When the commanders issued the code word, someone killed the sniper, then it was my job to hit the minaret with my (rocket propelled grenade) so the Americans couldn't use it again."

"Nearby we found the Syrians," he continues. "The dead one, the Americans had desecrated his body. They cut off his hands, head and took his eyes out and left him in a bag. So we helped the wounded guy and took the bag with us to bury him."

"As we ran out of the house, someone said they saw a tank," he says. "I heard a tank and a boom and was injured. Two others I was with got wounded; two were dead."

When asked why he fought, Abu Freedom is clear.

"Because I hate the Americans and hate the invaders," he says. "I don't want to see Americans in charge of my country."

In the other house on Monday, Ahmed is more eloquent on how the fighting can end and peace can come to Iraq.

"God willing Bush will fall down by the hands of Fallujah," he says, combining military and political rhetoric. "If John Kerry wins the election and withdraws the Americans troops from Iraq, and maybe just leaves a few in bases, then we will not fight. But Bush we will always fight."

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