FALLUJAH, Iraq (AFP) — The tall iron bridge spanning the Al-Furat river that runs through the city of Fallujah is still the symbol of the raging anti-US insurgency that once engulfed Iraq’s Sunni enclave.
In March 2004, four security guards of US-based Blackwater security company were brutally killed by Sunni rebels and left hanging from the bridge for three days.
The gruesome murders came a year after the March 2003 US-led war on Iraq that toppled the regime of Saddam Hussein.
The killings triggered one of the biggest assaults by US forces in Iraq.
Fallujah was virtually razed to the ground before US forces took control of the city in the western Anbar province, also known for its dozens of mosques.
Nearly five years later the streets of Fallujah are bustling with traffic while it is business as usual in the markets where women in black hijabs haggle with vegetable vendors for cheap bargains.
But anti-US sentiment is still palpable: American troops are not wanted here.
“US forces should leave Iraq quickly or they will be kicked out,” said Sami al-Awad, a doctor with a flourishing practice in central Fallujah.
Many of Fallujah’s 400,000 people have not yet forgotten the harshness of the US crackdown on the city and to them the US presidential election holds no significance.
“How does it matter whether it is (Barack) Obama or (John) McCain,” who wins the election, said Diyauddin Abdullah, a dealer in electronics goods.
“The American troops killed my mother in the middle of the night as we were fleeing the assault in 2004.
“American policy is fixed. Obama also can’t change it. America has its own agenda,” he added.
Abdullah’s shop on the main Al-Abbas street of Fallujah bears the signs of two major battles that broke out between rebels and US forces in April and in November 2004.
The shop’s metal shutter and the ceiling are peppered with bullet holes and the floor above the shop which was pounded by the military has caved in.
In fact, every other building on that street bears similar scars: walls riddled with bullets, caved-in roofs and some four-storey blocks have been totally razed to the ground with debris still waiting to be cleared.
Piles of garbage and pools of clogged water are seen at every corner.
However, part of Abbas street is being repaved and Fallujah also has a new hospital, a pink building under construction a few metres from a new public garden.
But that is not enough for the residents who are still healing their wounds.
“What we need is electricity, water, hospitals and jobs for our young men,” said Abu Mustafa, a 59-year-old Sunni, as he stood in a queue with an application for new telephone connection.
“And I don’t think the Iraqi government which runs an Iranian agenda or Obama or McCain can do this,” he added.
Nearby, unemployed youngsters and labourers waiting for a job bide their time amidst the ruins of what used to be a four-storey apartment building.
Anti-American sentiment and distrust for Washington runs deep even among senior Iraqi officials in Fallujah.
“I want to see the Americans leave as early as possible,” said Mayor Saad Awwad Rashid, a man well respected in Fallujah for his pro-active approach to ease the daily problems of his constituents.
“People hate Americans, especially when they come to arbitrary arrests, including of women. I want the Americans to go out of Iraq. It does not matter who wins US elections. It is of no interest to us.”
The Sunnis of Fallujah, who have to carry special identity cards to move in and out of the city, also have no patience towards Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki or the security deal he is negotiating with Washington.
“We don’t need Americans for three more years. We don’t need SOFA (Status of Forces Agreement),” said Abdullah, referring to the security pact that will determine the presence of US forces in Iraq after 2008.
“Iraqi forces are now ready and can secure the country.”
A draft SOFA agreement stipulates that American forces would withdraw from Iraq by December 2011.
Doctor Awad shares Abdullah’s views.
“I don’t trust Obama or McCain. Even Obama’s promises of withdrawing the forces will remain only a promise,” he said.
“Americans cause destruction wherever they go. The sooner they leave the better.”