Sat, Jul 17, 2004 - Page 7 News List

Fallujah inspires US foes across Arab world

SYMBOL OF RESISTANCE US Marines withdrew from the Iraqi city after a three-week siege failed to restore order, and now it has become an icon from Palestine to Libya

AP , CAIRO

Through Web sites, headlines and graffiti, the Arab world is celebrating the people of Fallujah as victors over a superpower.

This embrace of the Iraqi city has raised fears that it will become a magnet for recruits to al-Qaeda's anti-Western campaign. But many Arabs say Fallujah stands out more as a boost to their self-esteem after witnessing the Iraqi army barely put up a fight against the US invasion last year.

US Marines besieged the city west of Baghdad in April after four Americans were ambushed and killed there. Ten Marines and hundreds of Iraqis, many of them civilians, died before the Marines pulled out and handed security over to an Iraqi volunteer force.

The three-week siege is inspiring "a literature of resistance and war," Egyptian novelist Gamal el-Ghitani said. "Fallujah is a symbol, in one of the worst eras we have witnessed, that it is not impossible to stand up to America."

He said it also sends a message to Arab dictators about the lesson people may draw about resisting oppression.

"I used to laugh, despite the ghastly daily news, about how a bunch of poor, helpless Iraqis with primitive weapons are forcing the greatest superpower in the world to negotiate. Honestly, the American army was ridiculed," he said.

El-Ghitani hadn't even heard of Fallujah until then. Now it is being likened to Beirut under Israeli siege in 1982, to the resistance in Egypt-ian cities on the Suez Canal against the Anglo-French-Israeli invasion of 1956, and even Napoleon's 1799 siege of Acre.

Ibrahim el-Firjani, a Libyan university professor, said Fallujah has "shown America the real Arabs, not those lining up to surrender."

In Lebanon, the Palestinian refugee camp of Ein el-Hilweh renamed a major street Fallujah.

Hamoud al-Heimi, a high-school student in San'a, the Yemeni capital, said his neighborhood soccer team now calls itself Fallujah. In the society pages of a Yemeni paper, doctors congratulated a colleague on the birth of his daughter, Fallujah -- "the land readied for planting."

Al-Suweidi, a district of the Saudi capital Riyadh which is known to harbor militant dissidents, has been nicknamed Fallujah. The al-Qaeda-linked Saudi group that beheaded US hostage Paul Johnson Jr. called itself the "Fallujah brigade."

"Volcano of Fallujah," a video posted on the Internet and apparently produced by one of many anti-US groups fighting in Fallujah, included segments on "burning an infidel's Hummer," and "killing and dragging of [Israeli] Mossad and CIA agents." It signed off with an appeal for money and fighters.

In a diary of the siege signed by Abu Anas al-Shami, identified as an adviser to the militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, Internet surfers read of Egyptians, Saudis, Syrians, Jordanians, Yemenis and Libyans coming to Iraq to fight Americans.

"God wanted, in his wisdom, to render Fallujah a haven for the heroes and holy warriors of Iraq, and a favorite in the hearts of the itinerant holy warriors from different parts of the world," al-Shami wrote.

Evan Kohlmann, a Washington-based consultant on terrorism and security affairs, said men like al-Shami want to turn Iraq into the next Afghanistan -- a rallying point for a full-scale attack on the West.

A Saudi columnist, Daoud al-Shirian, said that Fallujah draws disgruntled young Arabs because it is in their midst, not in distant Afghanistan or Chechnya.

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