But people in Falluja, 50km west of Baghdad, say the men firing rocket-propelled grenades at occupation forces are just ordinary taxi drivers, labourers and professionals avenging the deaths of relatives.

With all its high-tech weapons, the US military has overlooked what rules the gritty streets of this town where it
has faced many of the most deadly attacks against its troops - the tribal code of revenge.

"Saddam's people have nothing to do with Americans killed in Falluja. If you want to know why we hate the Americans so much in Falluja, look at this," said Muthanna Salih, pulling up the flowing robe covering his stump as he balanced on crutches.

"If I see an American I will definitely kill him if I can."

Abu Taha,
Falluja resident

"I was in my house when the Americans started shooting. They hit my leg, they killed my brother and they left me jobless with eight children."

Sixteen other people were also killed in that incident in April, when US troops fired into crowds of protesters just outside Salih's house.

Tribal revenge

Hot-blooded  residents avenge
the killings 
 of their people

American soldiers have been entangled in Falluja's tribal quest for revenge since then.

Every time they kill someone in the crackdown on suspected Saddam supporters, they invite the wrath of tribes who can spend decades seeking revenge.

"The Americans hit a roadside bomb and then instead of catching the culprits they just open fire on everyone in sight," said policeman Haitham Abd al-Wahab. "That's why Falluja is boiling."
 
It is a vicious cycle that is never mentioned by politicians
in Washingto who always blame remnants of Saddam's Baath Party or foreign Islamic militants for killing American troops.
On the ground, Falluja's hard-nosed people describe the
bloodshed in simple terms. 

"The Americans killed innocent people. Remember this is a place where two people who get in a little argument over a plant in a field that lies between them, they pull out the guns and shoot each other," said Abu Taha. "If I see an American I will definitely kill him if I can."

On Sunday, 15 American soldiers were killed when their
Chinook helicopter was shot down over a village near Falluja.

Worse than Saddam

"Saddam's people were terrible but they never humiliated us
like this"

Hamid Kasim, shop employee



In this conservative Sunni Muslim city of cement block houses and a turquoise-domed mosque, people only respect the elders of dozens of tribes who look down on US troops and their only allies - Iraqi policemen tainted by past corruption. It is not just deaths of civilians that enrage Falluja.

American soldiers conduct humiliating house searches, breaking furniture, frisking men and women and stealing cash and jewellery, Iraqis said. "Saddam's people were terrible but they never humiliated us like this. We are a tribal society. We are hot blooded. What do you expect?" said Hamid Kasim, a shop employee.