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US Marines rode in a convoy through Fallujah on Friday. The US military is continuing missions to secure the city.
US Marines rode in a convoy through Fallujah on Friday. The US military is continuing missions to secure the city. (AFP Photo / Mehdi Fedouach)

Returning Fallujans will face clampdown

Page 2 of 3 -- To accomplish those goals, they think they will have to use coercive measures allowed under martial law imposed last month by Prime Minister Iyad Allawi.

"It's the Iraqi interim government that's coming up with all these ideas," Major General Richard Natonski, who commanded the Fallujah assault and oversees its reconstruction, said of the plans for identity badges and work brigades.

But US officers in Fallujah say that the Iraqi government's involvement has been less than hoped for, and that determining how to bring the city safely back to life falls largely on their shoulders.

"I think our expectations have been too high for a nascent government to be perfectly organized" and ready for such a complex task, Colonel Mike Shupp, the regimental commander, said at his headquarters in downtown Fallujah.

While one senior Marine said he fantasized last month that Allawi would ride a bulldozer into Fallujah, the prime minister has come no closer than the US military base outside the city.

The Iraqi Interior Ministry has not delivered the 1,200 police officers it had promised, although the Defense Ministry has provided troops on schedule, US officials said. Iraqi ministry officials have visited the city, but delegations have often failed to show up. US officials say that is partly out of fear of ongoing fighting that sends tank and machine-gun fire echoing through the streets.

Meanwhile, the large-scale return of residents to a city where only Humvees and dogs travel freely will make military operations as well as reconstruction a lot harder. The military must start letting people in, one neighborhood at a time, within weeks if Fallujans are to register for national elections before the end of January. The government insists the elections will proceed as scheduled despite widespread violence.

The Marines say several hundred civilians are hunkered down in houses or at a few mosques being used as humanitarian centers. In the western half of the city, civilians have not been allowed to move about unescorted. In the eastern half, controlled by another regiment, they were allowed out a few hours a day until men waving a white flag shot and killed two Marines.

"The clock is ticking. Civilians are coming soon," Lieutenant Colonel Leonard DiFrancisci told his men one recent evening as they warmed themselves by a kerosene heater in the ramshackle building they commandeered as a headquarters. "It's going to get a lot more difficult. We've had a little honeymoon period."

A tall order If DiFrancisci's experience dealing with a small delegation of Iraqi aid workers is any indication, sorting out civilians from insurgents in large numbers will be overwhelming.

One afternoon last week, DiFrancisci, a reservist from Melbourne, Fla., and a mechanical engineer, was ordered to escort workers from the Iraqi Red Crescent Society out of the city on their way back to Baghdad. The Red Crescent, an equivalent to the Red Cross, had been butting heads for days with Marines who initially denied the aid organization entry to the city, insisting the military was taking care of civilians' needs. The society finally won a Marine escort in and refused to leave, setting up in an abandoned house.   Continued...

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