Last November, when US casualties in the area had become an almost daily occurrence, the American military withdrew outside the city limits. The only security provided there now is by the hard-pressed, newly constituted Iraqi police force and military.
A few nights ago, four Iraqi soldiers were wounded in Falluja when their headquarters came under attack by rocket-propelled grenades. Shortly after our car had passed by the shell-pocked bunkers of the army’s headquarters, we became bogged down in a traffic jam.
Suddenly, the driver of the car next to ours got out of his vehicle and came to my window. In Arabic, he angrily demanded to see some identification. When I hesitated at handing this stranger my passport, he patted the pistol holstered on his hip.
He climbed back into his car and drove away with our identification as three armed Iraqi men climbed into our backseat. “They say they are police and I pray to Allah that they are telling the truth,” said Anmar, my driver-translator.
Following the instructions of the man in the backseat, we drove down several back alleys before arriving at concrete barricades at the rear of the Falluja police station.
A little more relaxed once inside this protected compound, the Iraqi police introduced themselves and explained to Anmar that this was a “very dangerous city”.
The graffiti says: No life no dignity
Not wanting to reveal our intention of meeting the resistance leaders, we asked for a guided tour of Falluja, which is predominantly populated by Sunni Muslims. After some hesitation, Abdul, the man who had taken our passports, agreed and an escort was assembled.
Following a pick-up truck loaded with heavily armed Iraqi police, we slowly cruised the narrow back streets of Falluja. Despite the presence of our escorts, many of the residents shouted insults at us and pointed to the numerous graffiti slogans that urge resistance fighters to “kill Americans” and “bring back Saddam”.
After taking time to explain to a group of young men that I was a Canadian not an American, Abdul advised us that it was “too dangerous” for his men to provide us with any further protection.
Sticking close to the group of men Abdul had just addressed, and within view of some local traffic police, we entered a restaurant in the hope of getting an introduction to the leaders of the resistance.
Although initially wary of our presence, several Iraqi men approached our table to inquire about our intentions. Although none admitted to having any direct link with the resistance, all of them were immensely proud that the resistance forces had completely ousted the Americans from Falluja.
“There is no need for the resistance now,” said one young man who seemed to be the leader of those assembled at our table. “The problems now are not with the Americans, but with Shia fighters coming to make trouble with the Sunnis.”
Realising that we would not be able to interview any of the leaders, we returned to the police station where we were quickly granted a meeting with Police Chief Abud.
“My police force has only suffered eight men killed – and they were killed by the Americans by mistake”
Falluja Police Chief Abud
Like Abdul – and the majority of the Falluja police force – the 55-year-old veteran police officer had previously served Saddam Hussein either in the police or with the Mukhabarrat secret service.
“What we need to stop the problems is power,” said Abud. “Not judicial power, but heavy weaponry.” Although the Iraqi civilian police force can call upon US military forces stationed outside the city limits if necessary, Abud admits he is reluctant to do so.
“So far my police force has only suffered eight men killed – and they were killed by the Americans by mistake,” said Chief Abud. “We don’t have very good communications with them.”
In addition, as former members of Saddam’s security forces, not all of the Falluja police welcome the presence of the American soldiers.
“We are to fight the Ali Babas (thieves) on behalf of the Americans,” said Abud. “But it is George Bush and the Americans who are the real Ali Babas.”