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Fallujah Battered And Mostly Quiet After the Battle

A fruit and vegetable stand near the Arch of Victory Square was abandoned, but it still had brown woven baskets neatly arranged on a rack of shelves. The city smelled like dust, ash -- and death.

A few blocks from the fruit stand, the decaying, burned corpse of a bearded man in a black tribal robe lay on the street, the arms extended.

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)

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U.S. armored vehicles took up position at the end of some city blocks, while soldiers and Marines on foot skirted booby-trapped buildings and unexploded bombs and mines to search every house, every building, looking for insurgents.

As Brig. Gen. Dennis J. Hejlik, deputy commander of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force, was touring a western neighborhood near the neck of a bridge that crosses the Euphrates River, a firefight erupted between Marines conducting the house sweep and insurgents hiding on a narrow street.

The sound of the skirmish intensified, and Hejlik walked toward the crack of guns and bang of mortars. His security detail and aides followed behind him, guns at the ready. Hejlik watched for a while and then returned to his vehicle.

Asked how the battle was going, Hejlik looked out at the deserted street. "This is what we do," he said. "This is what we do well."

Later, as the sun set and he prepared to return to a military outpost outside the city, Hejlik said he was pleased with the outcome of the battle and the way American troops were taking care of the city until its residents could return.

"What I saw out here is a bunch of professional Marines and soldiers who were protecting the property of the Iraqi people," Hejlik said. "But they continue to whack the bad guys."

In the distance, an artillery shell whizzed through the air and landed with a bang, a sound that honking vehicles might have drowned out had there been any traffic. Instead, there was only silence. After the sun set on the purple horizon, there was nothing to see at all.

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