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PART 7: Radicals in the ashes of democracy

PART 1: Losing it
PART 2: The fighting poets
The Fallujah model
All power to the sheikh
The tongue of the mujahideen

Mean and clean streets

The day two German journalists, Uwe Sauerman and Manya Schodche, nearly experienced sahel, the Iraqi lynching made famous by the death in Fallujah of four American contractors employed by US company Blackwater, the city's Mujahideen Council banned all journalists from the city and warned that those who entered might be killed.

Fallujah was still a safe haven for the mujahideen, including foreign fighters who were supporting the resistance. Video compact discs (VCDs) with footage of Muqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Shi'ite fighters battling Americans in Nasiriyah were sold in Fallujah, alongside propaganda films for Sunni resistance groups based in Fallujah, such as Ansar al-Sunna and the Iraqi Islamic Army, with a cheerful reggae-like beat accompanying victorious Islamic music. Young foreign fighters from Saudi Arabia and other countries were shown giving testimonies before going out on suicide operations. The VCDs depicted various operations conducted by the resistance, primarily against US military targets, as well as various crimes of the occupation, destroyed homes, abusing prisoners, and a lot of bloody dead people accompanied by mournful chanting Islamic music.

The VCDs glorified martyred fighters, claiming they died smiling and smelling sweet - though I did not find that to be the case - they listed operations, and they displayed a lot of captured booty from attacks. One scene depicted a large spread on the carpet of what was clearly a Sunni tribal leader's guest hall or diwan, containing what appeared to be the contents of the two vehicles belonging to the four Blackwater men, many weapons, communication devices, electronic airplane itineraries printed off the Internet, identity cards, supermarket discount cards, plane tickets, anything one would expect to find in the pockets of a high-paid US contractor.

At one point the Ansar al-Sunna production showed the Spanish passports and other belongings of what it claimed were Spanish intelligence agents killed in Mansour last November. I even received two thick monthly newsletters from the Saladin Victory Group, a mujahideen unit, which included articles, poems and lists of all their operations. The mujahideen wanted to continue the battle, even after the June 28 handover of sovereignty. "As long as the Americans are in Iraq we will fight," they said. Radical Fallujan clerics had admitted to a Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) official I spoke to that the Fallujah settlement "is an opportunity to secure themselves and be sovereign and expand the liberation". If the Americans could not quell the rebellion, surely no Iraqi force would be able to, and the victory in Fallujah had only encouraged the resistance throughout Iraq.

Hijackings and kidnappings continued apace. Two trucks with furniture owned by a foreign company that supplied the Americans were hijacked near Fallujah. They were headed to the Americans' al-Fau base. A man from Fallujah came to the company headquarters and told them they could have the trucks back for money, as long as the merchandise was not bound for the Americans. A terrified representative from the company handled the negotiations, which went through the influential Sheikh Abdallah Janabi. Janabi's men were very upset about thieves giving the mujahideen a bad reputation and swore they would kill the thieves, though eventually the trucks were returned for US$4,000.

On June 9, 12 members of the Fallujah Brigade were killed in a mortar attack on their camp at the edge of town. On June 10, a Lebanese worker and two Iraqi colleagues had been captured on the highway near Fallujah. Their bodies were found two days later. Their throats had been slit. Brigadier Mark Kimmitt, the spokesman for the CPA, announced that the CPA was not satisfied with the performance of the Fallujah Brigade and implied that the marines might have to enter the city again. A small patrol did so on June 14. The next day, the marines, who said they had "prepared for a battle reminiscent of Mogadishu", had instead found that Iraqi police and soldiers turned out in full force to ensure the patrol wasn't tampered with as they passed the sand-filled barriers into the city.

Iraqi Civil Defense Corps and police lined the streets as if it were a parade. The marines stayed in town for three hours, while their officers met with city authorities, discussing reparations for the damage caused during the month-long siege and the release of prisoners from CPA prisons. The following day it was reported that six Shi'ite truck drivers carrying supplies to the Fallujah Brigade had been seized by the mujahideen, tortured and murdered, at the behest, so the families claimed, of Janabi, who denied it, adding that the Shi'ites had been working with the Americans and selling them alcohol, and had been warned to stop. Starting June 19, the Americans initiated a policy of bombing Fallujah from the skies every few days, killing scores of civilians, but claiming the strikes were targeting members of Jordanian Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's network.

The following Friday, hundreds of Fallujan men attended a large demonstration after noon prayers. They were angry at being accused of harboring Zarqawi and of murdering the Shi'ite truck drivers. Janabi denied involvement again, blaming it on "those who try to make fitna [sectarian strife] between the Iraqis", but he also said the slain Shi'ites came in on US military vehicles. The crowd and speakers chanted in support of Muqtada in appreciation of his Iraqi nationalism and defiance of the Americans. The crowd denied that Zarqawi was in Fallujah, and a young cleric shouted angrily that "we don't need Zarqawi's help in Fallujah to defend our mosques and homes" because "the people of Fallujah have men that love death like the kafir [infidel] love life", meaning they had plenty of men who seek martyrdom fighting the Americans. The crowd erupted in cheers of "Allahu akbar!" ("God is great"). Huge banners supporting the Association of Islamic Scholars, which led the resistance units, were prominently displayed. The mayor of Fallujah was interviewed on alJazeera television and he denied that the six Shi'ites had even been killed in his city.

Police in Fallujah complained about Janabi's excessive power. He was emerging from behind the scenes where he had previously hidden, no longer merely delegating authority to Sheikh Dhafer al-Ubeidi, but actively involving himself in the city's affairs. A friend of mine met with the Fallujah police. The mujahideen in Fallujah expected the marines, who were massed outside the city, to invade, so Janabi called for a preemptive attack.

After negotiations with the marines, it was Janabi's mosque of Saad bin Waqqas that announced the new truce in May that ended the month-long siege of the city. In an interview for Asia Times Online, Janabi predicted that resistance activities would continue against the new Iraqi government of Iyad Allawi. He expected the new government to take its orders from the Americans and warned of increased resistance attacks and a possible civil war. The Association of Islamic Scholars was at war with the occupation, he said, because the new government rejected Islam. Janabi praised Muqtada for being a nationalist and for fighting the occupation. "We have a good relationship with him," he said.

In late July, the leadership in Fallujah met with foreign fighters in their city and expelled about 25 of them, including Syrians, Jordanians and Saudis. Several resistance groups, including the Army of Mohammed, the Victorious Assad Allah Squadron, Islamic Wrath and others issued a joint declaration that was posted on mosques and in the streets of Fallujah calling for the blood of Zarqawi to be spilled. In the statement, the many groups called for Zarqawi's head to be cut off just as he had cut off the head of his hostages, an act the declaration said was against Islam and the Iraqi resistance. The declaration also declared their friendship with Iraqi Shi'ites and called for cooperation with the new Iraqi government led by Allawi. That same week, demonstrators in Fallujah called for their homes to be rebuilt with money from Iraq's oil revenue. That same day, US planes bombed yet another house allegedly used by Zarqawi's network, killing 14 people.

My interest in the foreign mujahideen, in particular Saudis, finally became too dangerous even for me. My contact in Fallujah, himself a non-Iraqi seeking to join what he described as "al-Qaeda in the northern Anbar", encouraged me to go to the Julan neighborhood, which had been deemed by the local council to be off limits to foreigners, to meet Saudi fighters for al-Qaeda. My contact was to leave me there to go off "on a job". I began to wonder why al-Qaeda would be interested in meeting an American journalist. They are a secretive organization, interested only in reaching out to fellow Muslims for recruitment and in advertising their successes, such as the decapitation of US journalist Daniel Pearl in Pakistan, I recalled. These were the resistance fighters who did not recognize the authority of Dhafer and his associates, and who threatened their lives for releasing the German journalists. An American was much more valuable. That night my contact brought two Iraqis working with the Saudis to meet me in my hotel unannounced. They barely greeted me, but looked me up and down with taciturn interest, as if examining merchandise. My contact's increasingly erratic behavior and confused statements insisting he trusted me and I should trust him convinced me that if I went to Fallujah again I would not return. I had been warned that my contact had turned, and was being pressured to turn over an American to make up for the lost Germans. I knew that the foreign fighters in Fallujah were embittered over the many hostages they had been pressured to release.

I left Iraq, flying out this time to avoid the checkpoints on Highway 10. The Royal Jordanian flight remained within the airport's limits for 15 minutes, circling up in sharp spirals until it reached an altitude at which it could safely fly over Fallujah and avoid being shot down by the resistance. Soon after, an al-Qaeda unit in Saudi Arabia calling itself the Fallujah Squadron began killing foreigners. The US war in Iraq, meant to democratize the region, had instead radicalized it, created a united front, with Fallujans fighting for the honor of Palestine, and Saudis fighting in the name of Fallujah.

(This is the concluding article in this series.)

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Jul 24, 2004

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(Jul 21, '04)

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(Jul 21, '04)

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(Jul 16, '04)


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