Fallujah Tries to Rebuild Amid Turmoil

In the Iraqi city of Fallujah, security is still a major concern as rebuilding efforts begin. U.S. Marines control access to the former Sunni stronghold, while living in a tightly protected compound in the city's center.

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LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Linda Wertheimer.

A year ago, US troops in Iraq could not even enter the insurgent stronghold of Fallujah. It took a full-scale assault and house-to-house fighting last November to free the city from the grip of Sunni militants opposed to the US occupation. Now US Marines move freely around the city, but as NPR's Anne Garrels reports, security remains a major concern for both sides as Fallujah tries to rebuild.

ANNE GARRELS reporting:

US Marines tightly control the roads entering Fallujah. Cars and their occupants are checked several times. At best, the process can take 45 minutes; at worst, several hours, with access to the city sometimes denied. Battalion commander Lieutenant Colonel Joe Latwell(ph) says it's unrealistic to think the Marines can keep out all the insurgents, but he wants to make sure Fallujah never again becomes a base of operations for the likes of Abu Musab Zarqawi.

Lieutenant Colonel JOE LATWELL (Marine Battalion Commander): What we don't want is people that have no business in Fallujah coming into Fallujah without some way of documenting their identity.

GARRELS: To facilitate their movements, residents and those who come to Fallujah to work must get badges, which include a picture, fingerprint and retinal scan.

Mr. NUMAYS SMAL JOSUM(ph) (Fallujah Resident): (Foreign language spoken)

GARRELS: Twenty-year-old Numays Smal Josum agrees there must be tight security, but he says the badge system isn't working. He has to leave Fallujah every day to get to his university, but it's taken him three months to get a badge and he's one of the lucky ones. Lieutenant Colonel Eloy Campos runs the Marine civil affairs office in downtown Fallujah, which is responsible for badging. He doesn't have the staff or the equipment to keep up.

Lieutenant Colonel ELOY CAMPOS (US Marines Civil Affairs Office, Fallujah): I did the math the other day, and at the rate we're doing badges from just this facility, it would take me five years to do the entire city.

GARRELS: Security is still enough of a concern that the small civil affairs team based in town lives in an armed camp, an island in the center of Fallujah surrounded by double-blast walls. Long workdays are matched by long nights. Cutting hair, something the Marines do a lot of, passes for entertainment.

Lt. Col. CAMPOS: We can't leave. We can't go anywhere. We just--I can't send the Marines to Camp Fallujah just to get a haircut. Kind of risky, so...

(Soundbite of bagpipes)

GARRELS: Lieutenant Colonel Pat Carroll, one of the Marines' most talented Arabists, unwinds by playing his bagpipes in the heavily fortified courtyard. He's had a lot of practice here.

(Soundbite of bagpipes)

GARRELS: Every morning Iraqis who want to get badges or need help on other issues amass at the outer gate of the civil affairs compound. Entry is by appointment only, and only 40 Iraqis can be processed in a day.

Unidentified Man #1: ...(Unintelligible) OK, today we are dismissed here.

GARRELS: Fearing suicide bombers, the Marines put each Iraqi through two body checks. Visitors weave through a deliberately circuitous path so a camera can scan their entire bodies for plastic explosives. It takes a long time to process each person.

(Soundbite of humming noise)

Unidentified Man #2: See, from the old palace over there...

GARRELS: There are other civil affairs teams who come in daily from the main base on the outskirts of town. They travel the city in heavily armed convoys to help with reconstruction projects. Most Fallujans seem tired of fighting. They just want to get on with their lives. Many cooperate with the Marines; some even wave. But there are still those who shoot at them. Roadside bombs remain a constant threat. The Marines can't afford to let their guard down.

Captain SCOTT WALTON (US Marines Civil Affairs Office): Somebody along the side of the road was taking pictures of us, and we just never know. You never know why they're--you know, what's their motivation for taking pictures. And then we think from the same location we saw some smoke going up.

GARRELS: Scott Walton, a 33-year-old captain, is concerned militants may have been signaling to each other about the movement of his convoy.

Capt. WALTON: We're going to go ahead and move forward. I mean, we're just planning for any possible contingencies.

GARRELS: He visits a handicapped center to see if repairs there have gone as planned. There still isn't electricity. Contractors working with the civil affairs teams are often threatened and fail to finish the work.

(Soundbite of siren)

GARRELS: It still takes 4,000 Marines to provide security in Fallujah. There are also 5,000 Iraqi troops here. There are tensions between Fallujah's Sunni Arabs and the predominantly Shiite and Kurdish Iraqi forces sent in by the central government.

Unidentified Engineer: (Foreign language spoken)

GARRELS: An engineer who asks his name not be broadcast for fear of retaliation says Iraqi troops use unnecessary violence. He says Fallujans want their own people to patrol the city, but in the past local security forces proved either no match for the militants or defected to them.

Unidentified Man #3: Get 'em up!

Unidentified Man #4: That's right!

Unidentified Man #3: Get 'em up! I don't hear you! I don't hear you!

Group of Men: (In unison) Hut!

Unidentified Man #3: Hut!

GARRELS: Marines are helping to train a new, largely local police force. But uncertain of their loyalty, skills and endurance, American officers are reluctant to give them much power.

Sheik ABDUL WAKED AL-JANABI(ph) (Fallujah Resident): (Foreign language spoken)

GARRELS: So if they have to have outsiders patrolling here, many like Sheik Abdul Waked Al-Janabi prefer the Marines to Baghdad's men. The Marines know they're not loved. They just hope cooperation will continue. Ann Garrels, NPR News.

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