- The Washington Times - Monday, April 5, 2004

On April 28, 2003, just two days before President Bush declared the end of “major hostilities” in Iraq, members of the 101st Airborne Division occupying a school in Fallujah opened fire on about 200 Iraqi demonstrators, killing 15, including at least three schoolboys under the age of 10.

The residents claimed they were demonstrating to get the troops out of the school so that classes could resume. The Pentagon said the soldiers were fired upon and returned fire.

There was another incident two days later in which more Iraqis were killed.

“That set the tone for the occupation in Fallujah,” said Rashid Khalidi, professor of Middle East and Arabic history at Columbia University, yesterday. “It got off on the wrong foot. In Fallujah, there is a degree of bitterness that isn’t seen anywhere else. There haven’t been mutilations elsewhere.”

Fallujah is a dusty city on the banks of the Euphrates River, about 30 miles west of Baghdad, with a population of about 300,000. It is a Sunni Muslim stronghold in the so-called “Sunni Triangle,” an area that makes up 40 percent of Iraq.

Many of its residents are members of the fundamentalist sect known as Wahabbism, the same branch of Islam that dominates Saudi Arabia.

There are also long-standing connections between some Fallujah residents and the Muslim Brotherhood, the Egyptian fundamentalist group that nurtured Ayman al-Zawahri, Osama bin Laden’s No. 2 man.

Fallujah is sometimes called the “City of Mosques” because of its 118 houses of Muslim worship, whose imams compete for power with tribal leaders.

Residents claim the city has no strong love for ousted dictator Saddam Hussein, but it is home to thousands of decommissioned Iraqi soldiers, who now have little to do but brood over their lost jobs.

In addition, many residents believe that coalition forces have trampled over their conservative religious sensibilities.

Because of its Sunni population, the area benefited from the Saddam regime and prospered as a center of smuggling while Iraq was under U.N. sanctions. Smuggling has become less profitable and more dangerous since the war.

The mutilation of one’s enemies, like the dragging, burning and hanging of four American civilians in Fallujah last week, has a long history in Iraq that is unique in the Middle East, experts say.

“This has happened all over Iraq in its modern history,” Mr. Khalidi said. “I don’t know where it comes from. It is forbidden in Islam to mutilate bodies. It may have something to do with the savagery of Iraqi politics,” he said.

In the seventh century, Iraq’s first governor, al-Hajjaj, was known as an able administrator who ruled with bloodthirsty ruthlessness. In an infamous speech he gave in Kufa Mosque as he took over, he proclaimed: “I see heads ripe for the cutting.”

More recently, Iraq’s Hashemite boy-king Faisal II was killed along with his entire family in 1958, when the monarchy was overthrown. The crown prince and a politician named Nuri Pasha al-Said were dragged through the streets, mutilated and their bodies hanged in public.

Five years later, in the U.S.-backed Ba’athist coup that ultimately brought Saddam Hussein to power, communists were killed and hanged and the mutilated, decapitated body of the president was shown on television.

“[Mutilation] seems to be a habit in Iraq,” Mr. Khalidi said.

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