Abdul-Karim Shahin Shaiti and his crew began burying the dead on Friday, the bloated corpses that had been rotting in the streets.
The dogs and cats had started to eat the bodies, and the Marines and soldiers had to shoot the animals to get them to stop. In parts of the city, the smell of death was so overpowering that it was almost impossible to sense anything else.
Shaiti emerged from hiding two days ago after waiting at home for 10 days while U.S. warplanes, tanks and artillery batteries pounded the city. He showed up at the Hadhra Muhammediya mosque in central Fallujah looking for food and shelter. The Iraqi Army fed Shaiti, gave him a place to sleep and then put him to work removing the bodies.
A private security guard before the battle, Shaiti, 48, rounded up 60 men, residents who also rode out the U.S.-led offensive in hiding. They were to be paid $5 a day for one of the first tasks that will prepare the city for the eventual return of its 250,000 citizens, most of whom fled before the Nov. 8 ground assault.
"We want to get rid of the terrorists," said Shaiti, whose hands were tested for gun powder before he was allowed to stay at the mosque. "We are peaceful people. We want to teach our children and live in peace. We are waiting to get our normal life back."
Shaiti was among dozens of civilians who have been living at the mosque, where they sought shelter after running out of food and water at home. Many of them said they felt trapped at the mosque. Others were grateful to have a place to go.
Col. Craig Tucker, commander of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force, Regimental Combat Team 7, visited the mosque on Friday. Shaiti asked him when the fighting would stop so his family could return.
"We want first to make sure it is safe for people to return to their houses," Tucker told him. "We have to find the weapon caches, explosives in the streets and then make sure there is power and water for people when they come back."
"How long do you think this will take?" Shaiti asked.
"Every day that ends without shooting," Tucker said, "it means we approach the end."
The fighting continued on Friday. U.S. troops exchanged gunfire with rebel fighters in pockets around the city. Soldiers said insurgents had been moving from the south back to northern neighborhoods that had already been searched and cleared. In some cases, insurgents hid in buildings, waiting to throw grenades and shoot at the troops when they came searching for fighters and weapons.
U.S. troops said they had found few civilians in the city. Anyone who remained was a suspect.
"One of the good things about not finding many civilians is that at this point, we assume they are bad guys," said Army Sgt. 1st Class William Hight, 30, of Philadelphia, a member of the 1st Infantry Division Task Force 2-2.
But some of the civilians who remained during the battle said they had simply been caught up in a sweep for insurgents that unfairly targeted all military-age males.
Muhammed Oda, 36, a grocer who is married and has six children, said he was wrongfully detained when he came to the mosque two days ago to get food.
"I thought the war ended. I didn't know if we came here we would be detained," he said. "They detained us here to force us to clean up the city. . . . They don't give us food because we are civilians, but because we are slaves."
He considers the fight between U.S. forces and insurgents to be "a fight between Islam and blasphemy."
Hamid Humood, 38, who was working to clean up the city, said the Iraqi government and U.S. forces lied to the residents.
"The mujaheddin didn't hurt us," he said, referring to the insurgents as holy warriors. "They helped us. They didn't want anything to go wrong in the city. They didn't come to my house and destroy it like what the U.S. forces did," he said. "My house was hit by an aircraft missile. Why? There was no one in the house, not even me. I was out looking for water to drink. We didn't ask them to come and destroy the city."
Ammar Ahmed, 19, a biology student at Anbar University, said he no longer knew who his friends and enemies were.
"When the insurgents were here, we felt safe," he said. "I lived the worst days in my life during the fighting. I feared to go out then because the U.S. forces would think I was an insurgent and the insurgents would think I was a spy. Is this the life a young man should live? If it is, I prefer to die."
Othman Adel, 20, who lives in the Nazal neighborhood, stayed in the city during the fighting. He said the cost of the battle was too high.
"The city is all destroyed, " he said. "Fallujah is not a place where people can live. They say they will reconstruct it, but this is not a city that could be reconstructed in one or two years. Fallujah doesn't exist on the map of Iraq anymore."
Special correspondent Omar Fekeiki contributed to this report.