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After Fallujah, Son Is Gone but Fervor Remains

"Last April, they had specific targets. In this attack, there was nothing specific," he said. "They attacked randomly."

Abu Mohammed said he was one of a group of 60 fighters, part of a guerrilla force that he said numbered between 2,000 and 2,500. Of those, he put a specific number on foreign fighters with them: 416. He said most of them wore blue or black tracksuits.

During fighting in Fallujah in mid-November, forces from the 1st Marine Division moved toward the bridge in the western part of the city where the bodies of two American contractors killed by militants were strung up in March. (Anja Niedringhaus -- AP)

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In the four days he fought, he said, he saw nine of his colleagues killed. Throughout the fight, he said, they were well armed from ample stockpiles, but they were overmatched. U.S. air support and shelling overwhelmed them, he said, coming from "above, the side and in front of us."

"You could hide easier from the rain than from the shelling we saw," he said.

On one night, he said, the fighters were surprised by a tank that no one heard until it was 50 yards away. Two of his men were killed before he and six others managed to retreat.

"We never heard it," he said. "In a fight you leave your ears open, but we didn't hear anything."

He shook his head. "What kind of tank was that?" he asked.

In the propaganda that surrounds the insurgency, much of it on video CDs that can be bought for 50 cents in Baghdad, the images celebrate the technological divide. Footage of blasts from a tank barrel and fire from helicopter gunships shifts seamlessly to pictures of bloodied corpses and women in black, yelling.

The Americans, Abu Mohammed said, are "strong in their technology, but I've never seen cowards like them."

A hint of anger flashed across his usually calm demeanor. "Fifteen thousand Americans against 2,000 mujaheddin, with their technology and their firepower? They say they were victorious, but what kind of victory was that?"

"We have a principle: defending our country," he said. "Why are they coming here? For what?"

A Long, Fearful Crossing

The night of Nov. 11 marked Abu Mohammed's flight.

Some of the insurgent leaders, he said, decided to smuggle out families still in Shuhada, the last stronghold of the fighters in the southern part of Fallujah. U.S. forces had surrounded the city, blocking traffic in and out, leaving the Euphrates River that meanders alongside the western edge of the city as one of the few means of escape.

At every turn in the journey, time seemed to slow.

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