Wed, Nov 17, 2004 - Page 7 News List

US military faces urgent task of rebuilding Fallujah

NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , Fallujah, Iraq

US Marines from Bravo company, 1st Battalion, 8th Regiment 1st Marine Division run past a minaret of a mosque that was later destroyed in a US bombing run, after a Marine was killed by an insurgent in the staircase, in Fallujah Monday. Marines pushed through the last part of southern Fallujah as they encountered insurgents who fought in what is seen by US commanders as the insurgents' last stand.

PHOTO: NY TIMES

When the owners of one house near the farthest southern boundary of this city return, they will find a crater 12.2m across and 2.4m deep, with one wall still standing and recognizable pieces of a ceiling strewn beside it. A broken kebab stand, its canopy collapsed, its two wheels exposed, leans over crazily into one lip of the crater.

The entire street in this district looks about the same. On Monday morning, after they had seemingly been crushed the day before, insurgents began firing from windows, bunkers and piles of rubble, setting off a five-hour gun battle. The street, once flat, has been hit with so many 500-pound bombs that it looks like a zone of collision between oceanic ice sheets, with huge dips and shelves of pavement and soil.

Now the US military faces the urgent but almost paradoxical imperative of rebuilding the city it just destroyed in order to defeat the rebels who had held it for so long. The devastation that the battle has wrought will not be easy to repair. The human and political effects of that devastation could rapidly spread far beyond Fallujah.

Military engineers are already starting to deploy throughout the city with tens of millions of dollars at their disposal to fix some of the damage. If the engineers do not succeed, then the outrage that is likely to be generated among returning residents at the sight of obliterated mosques, cratered houses and ground-up streets will spread.

Either way, the results will deeply mark the US-backed Iraqi government's ability to gain the trust of the people here and carry out elections in late January.

The radio code name for the artillery crews who bring in many of the big shells is "steel rain." That is what came down when the battle started here at 7am Monday. The day before, tanks and fighting vehicles had come roaring through here shooting at anything that moved, but dozens of the insurgents apparently lay low.

As always in this battle, at the center of the fight was one of the mosques the insurgents have surrounded with ramparts and firing positions, and where they have placed weapons caches. At one point the fighting swirled on all sides of the mosque, and Marine companies became confused about exactly where friendly troops were.

"We've got a back-alley gunfight going on," said Captain Read Omohundro, commander of Company B of the 1st Battalion, 8th Marines. "So watch where you fire into the mosque!"

A tank fired a round at an insurgent sniper in the minaret and punched a hole straight through the middle of it -- and scored a direct hit on the insurgent. "We turned a guy into rubble," a Marine said.

But the minaret, smoking like a chimney, stood there with the daylight showing through it, and later a marine in Company B was killed while climbing stairs inside, shot by an insurgent who had somehow remained above. After two other Marines retrieved his body, a pair of 500-pound bombs were called in and the mosque was no more.

The insurgents killed at least one other Marine on Monday -- he looked into a room where half a dozen were waiting, and they shot him before dragging off his body and his gun.

Despite what appeared to be the collapse of the insurgency here, Lieutenant Colonel Gareth Brandl cautioned: "This is not won yet. Now we have to rebuild the city."

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