By Steven Ehrenberg
Tuesday, April 13As the June 30 deadline to hand governing power back to Iraqis draws closer, the fighting in Iraq grows worse.
The violence is centered in Fallujah, a town just west of the Iraqi capital of Baghdad. Fallujah lies on the edge of a desert. Farmers make up most of the population, and they live in low, sand-colored buildings. The residents are mostly Sunni, one of two main branches of Islam in Iraq, and many were loyal to Saddam Hussein, the former Iraqi leader.
Two weeks ago, Iraqi insurgents, or rebels opposed to American troops in Iraq, attacked and killed four Americans in Fallujah. The Americans were not soldiersthey were security guards working for a company helping to rebuild the country.
U.S. troops launched an offensive to crack down on the rebellion. Since the beginning of April, 70 U.S. troops and about 700 Iraqi insurgents have been killed.
"It was a tough week last week," said President Bush. "My prayers and thoughts are with those who pay the ultimate price for our security."
Many residents of Fallujah were critical of the American response and they think it turned some of their neighbors into rebels. "When they got here, there were only 50 [insurgents]," said resident Nada Rabee. "By the end of the week there were thousands."
On Sunday, U.S. and insurgents in Fallujah agreed to a cease-fire, or a temporary stop to fighting. But the rebellion has spread outside Fallujah. More attacks were reported on Monday in Latifiya, 20 miles south of Baghdad, and in Baghdad itself.
Who Is Fighting?
American troops don't always know who the insurgents are. Some insurgents never wanted to be ruled by Americans at all. Others were inspired by a fiery young preacher, Muqtada al-Sadr, who has vowed to fight Americans. Many insurgents are poor; many are angry.
One thing is clear: The violence prevents Iraq from being rebuilt. Private companies dedicated to repairing buildings and providing supplies have stopped work until the danger passes.
U.S. officials are still prepared to turn over ruling power to Iraqis on June 30. L. Paul Bremer, the American administrator in charge of running the country, believes that the latest violence is a symbol of the Iraq's growing pains.
"It's got to come out," said Bremer. "And, frankly, it's better that it comes out now rather than later."