By Andy Mosher
Washington Post Foreign Service
Friday, August 4, 2006
BAGHDAD, Aug. 3 -- Posting proclamations in mosques and schools, the insurgent group al-Qaeda in Iraq vowed Thursday to take back the volatile western city of Fallujah, declaring that it had united local armed factions into a cohesive force to fight the U.S. and Iraqi troops who now control its streets.
The declaration came as U.S. military commanders in Washington testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee that Iraq's relentless sectarian violence, if unstopped, could push the country into civil war. Meanwhile, Baghdad was rocked by more violence Thursday, as a motorcycle bomb killed a dozen people in a central shopping district of the capital. The U.S. military also reported that two Marines were killed in separate incidents in the western province of Anbar, where Fallujah is located.
In Fallujah, police said they were taking the al-Qaeda warning seriously. It followed the recent killings of several religious and tribal leaders whom insurgents had accused of collaborating with U.S. forces and the Iraqi government.
Located about 35 miles west of Baghdad, Fallujah was a stronghold of both Iraqi and foreign insurgents until November 2004, when a major U.S. military offensive drove the bulk of the guerrillas from the city. Since then, the insurgent presence in the city has been vastly reduced, while in nearby Ramadi there have been daily scenes of fighting between U.S. troops and insurgents.
The printed statement posted around Fallujah vowed that "your brothers in the al-Qaeda organization" would restore the city to the "glory and dignity" it enjoyed before the U.S. offensive.
Al-Qaeda would "strike with an iron fist at the hands of the Crusaders and the apostates among the police and army, and cut the hands of the traitors from the sons of the city who worked with the occupation," the statement read.
Capt. Rasheed Hamid of the Fallujah police told a Washington Post special correspondent that, while armed groups have made similar threats in the past, this one "carries great and dangerous significance" because of the recent slayings. Al-Qaeda in Iraq asserted responsibility for killing two local religious leaders, Abdul Alim and Abdul Sattar al-Jumaili, who Hamid said had promoted reconciliation in the shattered city after the November 2004 assault.
In addition, Hamid said, a prominent tribal leader, Ahmed Faihan, was killed by al-Qaeda in Iraq on Wednesday "because of his cooperation with the American forces." Hamid added, "Actually, he was one of those who were calling for peace and for turning one of the black pages in the history of the city."
Residents interviewed in Fallujah on Thursday said the U.S. and Iraqi troop presence had increased noticeably in several neighborhoods. But Iraqi army Maj. Khuder Muhammed said that stepped-up patrols had nothing to do with al-Qaeda in Iraq's proclamations.
"We are used to it," Muhammed said of the statements posted around the city. "It's mainly a media propaganda storm aimed at drawing attention after they've been marginalized."
When he saw the proclamation, Maisam Monthir, 32, an electrical worker, said: "But I don't care, because there are now more than 5,000 American and Iraqi soldiers" in the city. "I consider it nonsense. Fallujah cannot be a captive again in their hands as it used to be."
Special correspondent Saad Sarhan in Najaf and other Washington Post staff in Iraq contributed to this report.