Mosques as bunkers


Geraldine Sealey
April 7, 2004 10:32PM (UTC)

The Washington Post reporter in Fallujah, Pam Constable, has a lot of up-close details in this article about the situation in Fallujah. There were actually two mosques involved in fighting there today, Constable reports, as insurgents have taken to using them as bunkers.

She writes: "The tactic in Fallujah is to advance, deliberately drawing fire from insurgents, so they can be pursued, encircled and subdued or killed. It's dangerous work and the U.S. Marines step warily. They squat, fire, dart a few feet and then squat and fire again. Squat, fire, squat and dart. It makes for a lot of shooting. Mortars and rockets fly. Black smoke rises in the air. And through the din, chants echo from the minarets of Fallujah telling the people to pray 'that the fight will be over.' Calling upon Allah for help and reading from the Koran, the chanters urge residents to be patient. 'Please let the fighting end soon,' they say. On the whole, say the commanders of the 1st Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Expeditionary Force, the operation has gone well."

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"But sometimes the resistance stops them. That is what happened at two mosques here on Wednesday, officers say. Both mosques, they say, were being used as bunkers by the insurgents. At the first mosque, said Maj. James Farnum, deputy commanding officer, 'there were groups of maybe 20 to 30 people who engaged us' with small arms, rocket-propelled-grenades and machine guns. 'We flanked them,' he said. 'We closed on them and we defeated them.' The second mosque was tougher. Firing came from the mosque for several hours."

U.S. commanders told the Post that attacking mosques is not the optimal choice, but if they have to do it, they will.

"There are many, many mosques in Fallujah," Lt. Col. Brennan Byrne, commanding officer of the battalion, said. "Most of them are associated with hostile forces. But each will be treated as a unique case. We will not attack mosques willy nilly, but we will return fire."

"If they run away we'll go after them," division commander Maj. Gen. James N. Mattis said. "If they decide to fight from a mosque, we'll take them out. We have to be precise. We don't want to use any artillery barrages. We don't want to fire into the next block ... But if they profane the mosque by firing from it, the bottom line is if you shoot at us, we're going to get tough with you."


Geraldine Sealey

Geraldine Sealey is senior news editor at Salon.com.

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