FALLUJAH, Iraq, Nov. 15 -- Even the dogs have started to die, their corpses strewn among twisted metal and shattered concrete in a city that looks like it forgot to breathe.
The aluminum shutters of shops on the main highway through town have been transformed by the force of war into mangled accordion shapes, flat, sharp, jarring slices of metal that no longer obscure the stacks of silver pots, the plastic-wrapped office furniture, the rolls of carpet. These things would be for sale, except there are no traders, no customers, hardly any people at all in the center of Fallujah.
A U.S. Marine picks his way through bombed-out western Fallujah. U.S. commanders say they now control the city except for a few pockets of resistance.
(Anja Niedringhaus -- The AP)
U.S. Marines searching for insurgents in the Jolan neighborhood in the northwestern side of the city on Monday did see two elderly men emerge from a pile of rock. The men, who looked too old to fight, pointed to their stomachs. They were hungry. They were given brown, plastic pouches of military rations and disappeared back into the rocks, the Marines recounted.
Black smoke rose from buildings across the city as U.S. artillery continued to bombard insurgent positions and weapons bunkers a day after commanders declared that the city had been liberated.
On a cinderblock wall near the Othman bin Afan mosque on the main east-west highway that divides the city, someone had scrawled: "Islam came back again." But there was no one to welcome right now, and no one to receive it.
And if the brave holy warriors are living long lives, as another graffiti scrawl proclaimed, they were not doing it at the deserted Arch of Victory Square, its metal monument arch and painting of Saddam Hussein crumpled months ago by a roadside bomb aimed at a U.S. convoy.
Eight days ago, U.S. and Iraqi forces barreled through a defensive mud wall thrown up around the city. Using tanks and Bradley Fighting Vehicles, they charged through the center and sides of the insurgent-controlled city. Most of the 250,000 residents had fled in anticipation of the attack, the largest operation since the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in March last year.
U.S. commanders say they now control the city except for a few pockets of resistance, mostly in the southernmost part. There, the crack of gunfire could still be heard on Monday, as American forces battled the last of the fighters.
Elsewhere in the city, it was mostly quiet.
"Everything is calming down," said Lance Cpl. Joshua Williams, 21, of Sherman, N.Y., who was cleaning his M-16 rifle on a cot in a warehouse the Marines had taken over.
Artillery was very important in this battle, and the central highway through town bears the singed, pockmark evidence. To minimize danger to ground troops, artillery batteries struck suspected insurgent targets before the infantry went in. Airstrikes and mortar fire added to the pressure.
Whole blocks were battered this way. Broken glass, furniture, pipes and other debris are piled up on the sidewalks.
Iraq's Red Crescent Society sent seven truckloads of food and medicine to the city, but U.S. forces stopped the convoy at the main hospital, the Reuters news agency reported. Marine commanders said there was no need for humanitarian relief inside the city because so few people remained.
Fallujah looks like a city from which everyone has walked away.