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Long-Awaited Fallujah Rebuilding Shows Promise
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Long-Awaited Fallujah Rebuilding Shows Promise

Iraq

Long-Awaited Fallujah Rebuilding Shows Promise

Long-Awaited Fallujah Rebuilding Shows Promise
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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/18319948/18328138" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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Women walk down a street in Fallujah.

Women walk down a street in Fallujah. There is now a lot more freedom for movement than there has been in recent years. Graham Smith, NPR hide caption

toggle caption Graham Smith, NPR
A market in Fallujah i

A market sells chips, soda and other goods in Fallujah. The Iraqi town has begun to see the effects of reconstruction. Graham Smith, NPR hide caption

toggle caption Graham Smith, NPR
A market in Fallujah

A market sells chips, soda and other goods in Fallujah. The Iraqi town has begun to see the effects of reconstruction.

Graham Smith, NPR
Many schools have reopened i

Many schools have reopened in the past year, according to residents and the U.S. Marines. Graham Smith, NPR hide caption

toggle caption Graham Smith, NPR
Many schools have reopened

Many schools have reopened in the past year, according to residents and the U.S. Marines.

Graham Smith, NPR

In 2004, Fallujah was the big story in Iraq. The Sunni city had been taken over by al-Qaida — and the U.S. Marines invaded in force in that November, succeeding in driving out most of the fighters.

But it came at a huge cost. Many of the al-Qaida militants escaped to fight another day, and Fallujah was largely destroyed.

The United States had promised that reconstruction would begin immediately. It didn't. But it is happening now.

"We were here, the battle part, last time. Now I'm back here fixing it, which is kind of ironic," says Maj. Andy Dietz, a Marine on his second tour in Fallujah.

Fallujah is still an armed fortress — anyone coming in has to show a U.S-issued residency card at checkpoints on the perimeter. While this may be a pain, there hasn't been a car bomb here since last March — and local police are now able to secure the city instead of relying on the unpopular Iraqi army brigade, which had been brought in from the Shiite south.

"Insurgents used to kill anyone working in the police force," says shopkeeper Yassir al Jumeili. "Now we have 1,300 policemen. This provides incomes for people here, and the police are much better than outsiders — Iraqis or Americans."

As many as 40 percent of the city's former residents have not yet returned because of the destruction. The big fight now is rebuilding and improving services.

"Fallujah doesn't have a lot of power right now," says Dietz. "You can't push water if you don't have power at the pumps. You can't move sewage if you don't have power at the lift stations. And it goes on and on."

Children performed at the recent opening of a U.S.-funded business center, their families apparently no longer afraid they would be targeted for supporting a U.S. project.

One little girl says she still wants a return to the way things were before the U.S. invasion and al-Qaida. She wants her old school back — and she wants to see her grandmother who's no longer in Fallujah.

It's not like it was, but Jumeili says contractors feel safe enough to take on projects now, at least.

"Not so long ago people couldn't work here because armed groups extorted money from them, or they were simply killed for taking bids from the Americans," he says.

The Americans are widely seen as the engine behind the rebuilding. Asked if he felt he was still being neglected by the Iraqi government, Sheikh Hamid al-Alwani, the head of the city council, didn't miss a beat. He says "naam" or "yes."

The Iraqi government has spent far less on rebuilding than the U.S. had predicted.

Alwani, a Sunni, thinks the Shiite-led government is deliberately shafting Fallujah for sectarian reasons. He says it claims there are still a lot of bad people around.

But there are a lot fewer bad people than there were — and the sheikh and the Americans argue there would be fewer still if there were more jobs.

Sheikhs like Alwani, who have spearheaded the fight against al-Qaida, remain vulnerable, especially outside the city. This week, a 12-year-old managed to get through guards. The boy was supposed to be coming to pay respects — instead he blew himself up. He missed his target, but killed five others.

The youngster was a relative of the sheikh. Successful attacks like this are often inside jobs, which poses a problem for tribal leaders who want to reintegrate former al-Qaida members. Marine Gen. John Allen says tribes demand the former fighters make amends for killings in the past in a very specific way.

"You must commit yourself in public, and in the light of day, to opposing al-Qaida — and you must go fight al-Qaida," Allen says. "You must equalize this blood feud. You've got to get al-Qaida blood on your own hands."

But trust is still a problem, and there are some former fighters whom Allen will go after no matter what, he says.

"Each one we treat separately," he says.

Things aren't all better just yet. It's still risky for a foreigner to walk the streets of Fallujah. But some say it may be an option soon.

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