Foreign fighters

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"Peace in Iraq will happen when citizens realise that they can express their ideas and views more effectively... than with violence"

JBernar5, Toledo, US

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Clues to what has happened in Hit are everywhere, we drove by armoured convoy through a devastated town, deserted by its residents, in parts drowning in sewage, its infrastructure shattered.

Sheikh Hikmat Al Gaood, the mayor of Hit, said: "Hit was an open town, with no security. No one was in charge so they [the Americans] came here and took control over the city."

Hit became a safe heaven for several armed groups, its strategic position made it a main hub for foreign fighters and a launching pad for al-Qaeda operations.

It's part of the al-Anbar province, an area that represents one third of Iraq, and where opposition to the US-led invasion has been fierce since 2003.

For more than two years US soldiers have tried to pacify the area, conducting several massive military operations.

Iraq's Sunnis are concentrated in the west of the country

But these have not been permanent success, with the US army retreating to their camps after brief incursions into the city.

However, in mid February, in what the Americans are calling a break through, a joint US-Iraqi operation called "police victory" was launched.

It lasted four days and has brought relative peace to the town, a few shops have re-opened and some people now venture out on the streets.

Not welcome

We were able to walk down the streets and feel relatively safe, certainly this is something we have not been able to do in Baghdad.

People here say they are waiting to see what’s going to happen in the next few weeks and they also say they needs lots of help

As we enter the market, people quickly make us understand that the US presence isn’t welcome here.

One vendor says: "I tell you honestly. When americans come in their Humvees and tanks there are always problems. People get scared”

In a friendlier approach, the new US commander in town takes off his helmet and tries to convince his audience his soldiers need their help to track what the colonel calls the bad guys.

He is told no one is willing to cooperate with the Americans, everyone around us seems to agree.

I tell Douglas Crissman, a lieutenant colonel, 'they are a bit worried when you guys walk down the streets, they say that.'

Crissman says: "Because in the past, when coalition forces arrived, it would mean that something bad happened."

Butchered and massacred

Al-Qaeda claim to have established an Islamic state in Iraq's Anbar province 

Saad was an engineer in the former air force, he was imprisoned and tortured for six months under Saddam Hussein.

But now, he tells me, things have only gone bad from to worse.

He says: "Which government? Don't ask me about them? Isn't al-Anbar part of Iraq? Just because there's been resistance to the occupation, they call us all terrorists.

"Yes there is terrorism, everything is available here. But in the name of the fight on terrorism we have been butchered, massacred."

Relations between this Sunni province and the Shia-led government are limited.

Employees have not received their salaries in months and the local bank has not received a penny for the last three years.

Less than an hour after we left the market reports came in that a suspected car bomb and a rigged motorbike were seen in that same areas.

I could not stop thinking of the vendors who asked us to leave their market, because for them, caught in the middle, it meant more killings.