In every street of the city, there were insurgents, the lieutenant said. In every corner, they were waiting. The fighters would shoot at the Iraqi soldiers and then disappear through open doors. Sometimes they would approach the soldiers and detonate explosives wrapped around their bodies.
"We saw insurgents being divided into pieces," said the lieutenant, 24, who gave his last name as Mustafa. "We'd shoot one bullet and they would explode. It is amazing how trained they are. They are not stupid. They had a plan, but we didn't give them time to apply it."
For Mustafa, one of 2,000 Iraqi soldiers fighting alongside U.S. troops for control of this insurgent-occupied city, the battle for Fallujah was personal. If the fighters continue to control Iraqi cities, there will be no future for him, his children or his wife of 10 weeks.
"She has to know I am doing this for her," Mustafa said Sunday from an Iraqi base camp near Fallujah. "I want my wife to go shopping without fear. This is the goal of this operation, to help the Iraqis get rid of fear. It is worth it to be away from home."
Mustafa entered Fallujah from the north, his 1st Battalion following closely behind U.S. forces that broke through a mud wall Nov. 8, launching the biggest military operation in Iraq since the U.S.-led invasion in March 2003. The 1st Battalion was the first Iraqi force to enter the city. Its task was to fight rebels after the Americans plowed through.
Although they were technically in the rear of the advancing troops, Iraqi soldiers who were interviewed Sunday said that in some respects, they had the tougher job of confronting the insurgents on foot without the benefit of the large tanks and other mechanized infantry that the American forces used to move quickly through the center. The Iraqi soldiers came behind more slowly, their job being to meticulously clear the areas where the U.S. Marine and Army units went.
They said they discovered an equally meticulous insurgent force.
The insurgents were positioned on the tops of houses and other buildings, from which they threw hand grenades and fired AK-47s. "The U.S. artillery shaved them all," said an Iraqi sergeant, whose last name was Adnan. "We took care of the insurgents hiding inside the houses."
Many of the insurgents had long beards and wore turbans, the Iraqi soldiers said. They swarmed the small alleys looking for Iraqi soldiers to kill.
"We found a huge amount of weapons," Mustafa said, including rocket-propelled grenades, surface-to-air missiles, AK-47s and hand grenades.
When the Iraqi soldiers entered the city, they found the fighters hiding in houses and other buildings, even in mosques. Like their American counterparts, the soldiers discovered that the insurgents had laid traps for them. "This was new to us," Mustafa said. "Afterwards, we discovered this trick" and started to bomb the houses where the insurgents were found.
But they did not always discover the trick in time.
Mustafa was with his troops raiding a house in the northern Jolan neighborhood four days ago. His friend, a lieutenant, broke into the house and threw a smoke grenade. Two insurgents inside the house ran up the stairs and threw a hand grenade at Mustafa's friend, killing him. "I lost my best friend in that house," Mustafa said. The Iraqi soldiers chased down the insurgents and killed them.
The 1st Battalion of the Iraqi army was established by the U.S.-led occupation in December 2003. Most of its members came from the special forces of the old Iraqi army. Mustafa was one of them, serving in deposed leader Saddam Hussein's army for a year before the U.S. invasion. The resurrected battalion has since served in the southern city of Najaf and in several neighborhoods in Baghdad, including Sadr City.
"In Najaf we were welcomed by people, not like here," Mustafa said "They thought we came to support the U.S. forces. But the Iraqi forces came to liberate Fallujah from insurgents."
After a week of fighting, Mustafa said, Fallujah was in ruins. Houses were destroyed, buildings burned and bodies of insurgents scattered in the streets.
"Nothing in this city is like it was before," he said.
"Don't look to the destruction," a soldier standing next to Mustafa said. "Look at the future of the city without terrorists."
Mustafa's family in Baghdad did not know whether he had survived the battle. On Sunday, a day after Iraq's interim prime minister, Ayad Allawi, declared that Fallujah had been liberated, Mustafa was finally able to call home.
"Two or three more days and I will be among you," Mustafa told his mother. He called her on the first day of Eid, the Islamic feast following Ramadan, one of the holiest months in the Muslim calendar. "I will not celebrate Eid until you come back," his mother told him.
The Iraqi soldiers encountered the heaviest resistance in Jolan, Mustafa said, and that is where the most Iraqi soldiers were killed or wounded. The U.S. military said six Iraqi soldiers were killed and more than 40 were wounded in seven days of fighting. Mustafa said four of those killed were from his battalion, and that they died in Jolan. Earlier, U.S. commanders said more than 1,200 guerrillas had been killed.
The insurgents were both foreign and Iraqi, the soldiers said. The Iraqi army's 1st Battalion captured about 37 insurgents, mostly from Jordan, Egypt, Syria and Saudi Arabia, they said.
"If we could control Fallujah and defeat the terrorists in the city, all Iraq will stabilize," Mustafa said. "I've seen nightmares for the last few days, all about the fighting in Fallujah, but when I think of the results, I feel better."
Mustafa said that after the city is secure, the 1st Battalion will head to the northern city of Mosul, where U.S. and Iraqi forces have been clashing with insurgents for the past several days.
"I think people there are waiting for us," Mustafa said.
He said he would never think about giving up now, not when his country needed him. "If I don't try and others don't, those rats will spread with their diseases," he said. "We have been silent enough."