Iraqis fighting US seen as 'martyrs'

The Iraqi forces battling US troops west of Baghdad do not consider themselves as terrorists or even supporters of Saddam Hussein, but as 'martyrs' fighting foreign 'infidels'.

    Mourners pray at the burial of another Iraqi killed by US forces

    "Each attack against the Americans is a celebration," says Ali Ilhabi, 48, echoing the words of most residents of Anbar, Qaldiya, Fallujah and al-Ramadi. Ilhabi belongs to the Gortani tribe.

    Anti-US sentiment prevails in the area, and attacks against US troops have occurred almost daily since the ousting of Saddam Hussein in April. Retaliation by troops often results in deaths among Iraqi civilians.

    On Monday, as soldiers in the distance battled with fighters
    hiding in fields, the men gathered to vent their anger and set the record straight on why attacking American troops is fair.
    For more than four hours, US soldiers and Iraqi fighters waged
    pitched battles after an American convoy came under rocket-propelled grenade (RPG) and bomb attack in a farming area between Qaldiya and al-Ramadi.

    The American troops used tanks, helicopters and an F-16 jet to fight their way out of the ambush. 

    'In God's name'

    "First of all, we are fighting in the name of Allah (God) because
    we are Muslims and cannot let infidels occupy our country and confiscate our wealth," said Ahmad Ali, a 33-year-old accountant. 

    "We are also fighting for the return of Saddam Hussein because we realise that we were better off with him than with the Americans who open fire indiscriminately on civilians," Ali added. 

    Muhsin Abid Farhain, a professor of Islamic theology, insists
    that Anbar province is one of the most religiously conservative regions around and home to 80 mosques. 

    "It is a religious duty to defend ourselves against the occupiers"

    Resident of Anbar

    "Fallujah is a traditional Islamic city. So it is a religious duty to expel infidels from Muslim land and defend ourselves against the occupiers," said Farhain.

    "Most of the tribal chiefs and the imams tell the people not to
    resist. All the fatwas (Islamic religious decrees) say we must wait. But you cannot control the people. If the Americans do not respect their promises, everyone will encourage resistance", Farhain added.

    Loss of dignity

    The men of the Gortani tribe say Iraqi fighters from Anbar are
    fighting US troops "first and foremost to become martyrs".

    "Saddam Hussein taught us never to be afraid of anything," said Tabil Arak, a 36-year-old farmer, to explain the men's readiness to pay with their lives.

    Their willingness to take up arms against the US forces is also
    fuelled by what many here consider the loss of personal dignity, and the feeling that they no longer belong in post-war Iraq, now that their leader has been ousted.

    "We are defending our dignity as well as our homeland," said
    Ilhabi, bitter at having lost his job as an employee of the fallen regime.  

    As he speaks, Iraqi fighters and US troops are closing in on them and their battle is threatening the homes of many members of the Gortani tribe.

    But rather than show fear, the Gortani men are cheering the Iraqi fighters and warn that plans by Washington to enrol foreign troops in Iraq will fail because they too will be considered the enemy.



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