Hundreds of protesters condemned the killing of civilians by US warplanes, calling US air raids a cowardly action and calling on US soldiers to fight them on the battlefield.

"Air strikes are cowardly. Get down and face us on the battlefield," the crowd chanted.

Shaikh Abd Allah al-Janabi, head of the Shura Council of the Falluja Mujahidin, addressed the crowd, warning that if war erupted again it would likely last until the last man standing.

"This war will be over, only with their dead bodies or ours, and, if they want it like this, welcome to death," he said.

On Wednesday, a US aerial assault targeted what the department of defence said was a Falluja safehouse for "wanted terrorists". However, Falluja hospital sources said 20 people, including women and children, were killed in their homes.

The US military has persistently said it is targeting hideouts of the Jordanian Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, whom the Americans hold responsible for dozens of attacks across Iraq.

Human sense

Al-Janabi and other speakers also condemned Iraqi government and US attempts to dismantle Falluja's security forces which were formed according to the agreement reached by US forces and Falluja notables following last April's confrontations.

Abd Allah al-Janabi warns of 
renewed war in Falluja

"If they [interim Iraqi government] still enjoy the least of human sense they must decide immediately, either they stand by their people's rights, or they submit their collective resignation," said al-Janabi, who enjoys a great base of support in the war-torn city.

Colonel Sabbar al-Janabi, who led the Falluja Brigade formed last April, attended the gathering and criticised US and Iraqi officials for violating the agreement with Fallujans.

"[The] US military wants us to disperse Falluja police which keeps stability in the city," he said.

He asked why a successful police force would be disbanded and open the way for criminals to re-emerge.

"Were there any reports about explosions or crimes in Falluja? They want us to follow their orders or they threaten to dissolve us."

No-go zone

The Falluja Brigade is believed to be comprised mostly of native Fallujans - some belonging to the ousted government's military and others derived from local fighters.

"Falluja security forces know the city and its people very well, it is a key factor behind their success"

Abd al-Qadir Muhammad, 
journalist from Falluja

The native composition of the brigade is believed to be the leading factor for its security success in the city, Fallujan residents say.

"Falluja security forces know the city and its people very well, it is a key factor behind their success," said Abd al-Qadir Muhammad, a journalist from the city.

Sources told that Colonel al-Janabi was dismissed and many of his men were suspended. 

The US military had no immediate comment, but it is believed they have struggled to find allies across the Sunni belt, west of the capital.

Falluja has become a no-go zone for US-led forces since an April offensive in the city ended with an agreement for Iraqis to police themselves and bring to justice hardcore members of Iraqi armed factions.