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Insurgent Alliance Is Fraying In Fallujah

President Bush, he said, "knows that and so does the government, but they purposely group all three under the tag of 'terrorism.' "

Barra and other insurgent leaders said the "genuine resistance" is a disciplined force that restricts its attacks to military targets, chiefly U.S. forces. It is motivated, they say, by Iraqi nationalism and humiliation over what it regards as a foreign occupation.


Residents of Fallujah, Iraq, search through the rubble of a building in the city center destroyed by a U.S. airstrike. (Bilal Hussein -- AP)

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"The others," Barra said, "are Arab Salafis who claim that any Iraqi or Muslim not willing to carry arms is an infidel. They are the crux of our ailment. Most of them are Saudis, Syrians" and North Africans. Salafism is a strain of Islam that seeks to restore the faith to the way it was in the days of the prophet Muhammad, 14 centuries ago.

"It is the Zarqawis and his Salafi group who are going to lead Fallujah, Samarra, Baqubah, Mosul and even some parts of Baghdad to disaster and death," Barra said.

Such worries are encouraged by U.S. and Iraqi officials, who together have mounted offensives in recent weeks to reclaim areas held by insurgents. U.S. forces have led battles to take Najaf, Tall Afar, Samarra and, last week, a string of towns southwest of Baghdad. The operations are intended to establish government control over the entire country before nationwide elections promised for January.

But they also serve, officials say, as a psychological lever on Fallujah, long considered the toughest insurgent outpost.

"The pressure is certainly going up, both as a result of our airstrikes and as a result of their seeing Najaf, Tall Afar, Samarra giving a sense this whole thing is serious," a senior U.S. official in Baghdad said. "There's a lot of fear in Fallujah."

Many residents say the same. A delegation of six prominent Fallujans began negotiating with Iraq's interim government late last month. But senior government officials said it was only after the Oct. 1 assault on Samarra that the Fallujah delegation approached the task with new zeal.

The proposal the delegation took back to Fallujah calls for surrendering control of the city to the Iraqi National Guard. U.S. forces would remain outside the city unless the lightly armed government forces were attacked.

But first, all foreign fighters must leave the city, and the foreigners are adamantly and publicly opposing the plan. Their representative voted against it in a meeting last week of the city's ruling mujaheddin shura, or council of holy warriors, which supported the peace proposal, 10 to 2. The local insurgent who cast the other negative vote was later persuaded to change his mind, residents say.

Foreign fighters already are blamed for violating a cease-fire in April and prompting a Marine offensive that killed hundreds. Dulaimy said a Syrian was slain by local insurgents "after he fired on American forces during the last truce." In remarks broadcast from one of the city's main mosques on Thursday, an insurgent negotiator, Khalid Hamoud Jumaili, said a city of several hundred thousand should not be sacrificed for a handful of foreign fighters.

Meanwhile, U.S. forces kept up military pressure Tuesday in several nearby cities. Marines raided eight mosques allegedly used as armed bases in Ramadi, a provincial capital about 25 miles west of Fallujah, and called in airstrikes in the town of Hit, about 60 miles to the northwest.

"I think there is unquestionably a fissure and there are probably several different splits based on different groups," said the U.S. official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because his remarks were not cleared by Washington. But "whether any of the townspeople have enough force to make this fissure into something that changes the complexion of things" remains to be seen, the official said.

The assault on Samarra was mounted after a more unified local establishment headed by tribal leaders failed in a similar bid to eject a far smaller band of insurgents and foreign fighters than are holding Fallujah, the official noted.


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