Friday, September 10, 2004

Have You Heard The Latest Gossip?

I know this sounds crazy, but we're still at war.

Can you believe it?

FALLUJAH, Iraq - Searching for victims or survivors, the young man in a black T-shirt swung a sledgehammer into a slab of concrete perched atop debris - all that was left of a house blasted by U.S. warplanes. Nine people, two of them children, died in the ruins.

About 100 people watched as the young man labored under a blazing sun Thursday to clear the damage from the U.S. airstrike, which the Americans said targeted a suspected terrorist safehouse. Religious books, including "Three Theses on Jihad," were scattered amid the debris.
There was no evidence that the attack got its target. Instead, locals said, it only whipped up new anger in Fallujah, which is among a handful of Sunni cities that have fallen under insurgent control. On Friday, U.S. jets again fired missiles into targets in the city for a fourth successive day. Doctors said one man was killed in Friday's strike.

The reaction of Fallujah's residents to the strikes suggests that the city may well prove the toughest to take back.

"Our faith has been strengthened by the fight against the Americans," said Abu Mohammed, a 40-year-old cleric who refused to give his full name. "We feel in danger. This is an infidel occupation that wants to destroy Islam. We must fight."

U.S. Marines lost the city last spring when they lifted a three-week siege and handed over security to the U.S.-sanctioned Fallujah Brigade, commanded by former officers in Saddam Hussein's army.

But the city quickly fell under the control of hardline Muslim clerics and the mujahedeen gunmen who fought - and many Iraqis would say defeated - the vaunted United States Marines.

Over the past five months, the new masters of Fallujah have been consolidating their grip, building their Islamic society - and preparing for a new showdown with the Americans.


With the clerics in charge, and with their mujahedeen fighters hailed heroes for fighting the Marines to a standstill, the religious establishment has promoted tales of the April siege into something approaching mythology.

That has bolstered the prestige of the clerical hierarchy among the city's 300,000 people, who consider their "victory" over the Marines an example of "divine intervention." Residents insist that the city has become virtually crime free thanks to the leadership of God-fearing men.
Residents keenly swap tales of supernatural forces at work. Reports of visions of the Prophet Muhammad appearing in Fallujah and leading the warriors are taken seriously, even drawing mention in Friday sermons in the city's mosques.

Accounts of giant desert spiders attacking American troops, white pigeons protecting the mujahedeen in battle and "heavenly" scents emanating from the bodies of martyrs spread through the city.

The fact that such stories are taken seriously in Fallujah reflects the strong and mystical Sufi traditions among the city's population, something that separates them from others within the so-called Sunni Triangle, a large swath of land to the north and west of Baghdad where resistance to the Americans is fiercest.

There is another side to Fallujah's religious revival. Some people have been flogged in public for drinking alcohol. At least 30 have been executed for allegedly spying for the Americans, according to residents closely associated with the mujahedeen.

If I recieved a flogging for each time I got drunk and saw giant desert spiders, I'd be one battered son of a bitch by now.