ALLUJA, Iraq, April 1 – Marine commanders defended their decision today not to send troops into Falluja to quell the macabre disturbances that followed after four American civilians were killed and their bodies dragged through the streets.
More than 4,000 marines are stationed near the restive town in the Sunni Triangle but when the violence broke out on Wednesday and the streets of Falluja exploded in mayhem, Marine commanders decided not to intervene.
“Should we have sent in a tank so we could have gotten, with all due respect, four dead bodies back?” said Col. Michael Walker, a civil affairs commander. “What good would that have done? A mob is a mob. We would have just provoked them. The smart play was to let this thing fade out.”
As the rage cooled and life got back to normal in Falluja today, many townspeople said they felt a mixture of pride and shame. Pride in the attack that killed four American security consultants, who many people in town still think were working for the Central Intelligence Agency. And shame in watching the bodies get ripped apart and mutilated, a grave sin in Islam.
“All the Falluja people accept this incident but they did not accept the dragging of bodies,” said Mohammed Khalifa, a trader of spare parts who closed his shop during the disturbance in a sign of disgust. “All men are creatures of God. The clerics will not tolerate this.”
American officials said they met today with local leaders, including Falluja’s mayor and several clerics. American officials said the clerics committed to issuing a fatwa, or religious edict, at Friday prayers condemning the attack. The clerics also helped American authorities recover three of the four bodies, which were dragged from burning vehicles by a jeering mob and then taken to a bridge over the Euphrates where at least two charred corpses were strung up by a rope and dangled over the water.
American officials said many of Falluja’s elders were embarrassed by the grisly scene and all the publicity it received.
“These people are acutely aware that Falluja now has a reputation as the worst place on earth,” said an occupation official working in the area, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “But they have to be careful what they say. Or they will end up dead.”
Shortly after the meeting with town elders today, a translator for the Marines was shot in the neck. He was in critical condition tonight.
Also today, a Marine Humvee was attacked — twice. First it was disabled by a roadside bomb, which wounded several marines. Then, after the marines left, a crowd set fire to the Humvee in a scene reminiscent of the blaze on Wednesday.
American soldiers have not ventured into downtown Falluja for days. But military commanders said they were not backing off the area, an ongoing flashpoint of anti-American hatred.
“We will be back in Falluja,” said Brig. General Mark Kimmitt, deputy operations director for the occupation forces. “It will be at the time and place of our choosing. We will hunt down the criminals. We will kill them or we will capture them. And we will pacify Falluja.”
“Should we have sent in a tank so we could have gotten, with all due respect, four dead bodies back?”
I’m sure the Rangers and Delta in the Mog would disagree…