Thousands of people in the Iraqi city of Fallujah have taken to the streets to celebrate the impending withdrawal of US troops from the country.
Demonstrators rallied across the city on Wednesday, shouting slogans in support of the “resistance”, a reference to the campaign by Iraqi fighters in Fallujah that was a bastion of opposition against the US-led invasion.
Some protesters burned US and Israeli flags while others held up banners and placards inscribed with phrases such as “Now we are free” and “Fallujah is the flame of the resistance”.
In the centre of the city surrounded by the Iraqi army, protesters carried posters bearing photos of apparent fighters, faces covered and carrying weapons.
They also held up pictures of US soldiers killed and military vehicles destroyed in the two major offensives against the city in 2004.
The demonstration was dubbed the first annual “festival to celebrate the role of the resistance”.
The US is due to withdraw the last of its troops from Iraq by the end of the year, more than eight years after the invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein, the former leader who was executed after a controversial trial in Baghdad.
Two major offensives
Fallujah, home to about a half a million people 60km west of Baghdad, was home to some of the first anti-US protests in the aftermath of the 2003 invasion, in May of that year.
When the protests began, residents were content to throw only their shoes at US soldiers, an Arab gesture that signifies anger and disrespect.
But in March 2004, four US employees of a US private security firm, Blackwater, since renamed Xe and later Academi, were killed in the city, leading to two major offensives by US troops against Fallujah.
Signs of the attacks are still visible today in collapsed buildings and bullet holes in walls.
Widespread fighting in Fallujah against the occupation begun in 2003, after a controversial event known as the “pupil’s” uprising.
The US military had turned a primary school into their city headquarters in April 2003. When 200 demonstrators gathered outside asking for the school to be reopened, US forces opened fire, killing at least 13 civilians and injuring dozens.
The US military said they had shot at armed men after being fired upon from nearby rooftops, but marchers insisted their demonstration had been unarmed and peaceful.
In November, a second campaign was launched against the Sunni rebellion, just months before legislative elections in January 2005. Around 2,000 civilians and 140 Americans died, and the battle is considered one of the fiercest for the US since the Vietnam war.