Thursday, November 25, 2004

A Fallujah Mosque

The New York Times' Robert Worth has a fascinating article on the battlefield archaeology of Fallujah centering on the contents of a mosque just to the north of the main east-west road through the city, Highway 10. (Hat tip: FreeRepublic) The murdered Blackwater contractors must have driven just yards from it on their way to the bridge.

The mosque, in a residential area just north of the main east-west artery known as Highway 10, included at least a dozen brick outbuildings packed with bombs, guns, rocket-propelled grenades, and ammunition. The diversity of the weapons surprised the officers here: in the street outside, a ship mine stood in a puddle. Just inside the mosque compound was an aluminum shed full of mortars and TNT. Like many weapons depots in Falluja, it had been wired to explode, and had to be carefully dismantled by an American explosives team. Inside the compound was a document explaining how to destroy tanks using rocket-propelled grenades. General Natonski picked up a white pilot's helmet among the mortars and gazed wonderingly at it. "Did you find any Darth Vader helmets?" he asked the marine captain next to him.

One of the more interesting artifacts was a very special kind of ice-cream truck, probably driven by a laughing, mustachoied gentleman of the sort one would never suspect.

In the back of the compound was an ice cream truck, its sides colorfully decorated with orange, red and blue popsicles. Inside it was packed with rocket-propelled grenades and bomb-making materials. "This was probably a traveling I.E.D. factory," General Natonski said, using the military term for improvised explosive devices, or homemade bombs.

Near the mosque was the empty home of Abdullah Janabi, the insurgent leader of this city's mujahedeen council. Like the archives of some unfamiliar civilization, Janabi's correspondence provided a glimpse into the methods through which the insurgency was controlled, motivated and disciplined.

On a table were stacks of documents, including passports (the only country he had traveled to recently was Syria, a translator who read the document said) and other identification papers for Mr. Janabi and members of his family. There were letters, including one dated Oct. 20 from the clerical council of Baghdad asking him to negotiate the surrender of Falluja. In a box, there was a Bronze Star, an American military decoration awarded for valor - in all likelihood, the general said, stolen from a convoy. There was also Mr. Janabi's personal name stamp, used for letters, and a white hat signifying that he had made the pilgrimage to Mecca that is expected of devout Muslims at least once in a lifetime, if they can afford it.

Also found in the house were files showing the names of people who had been tortured and executed for cooperating with the Americans and their allies, military officials said. There were also more than 500 letters from the families of insurgents who had been killed or wounded, asking for compensation from Mr. Janabi, said a military translator on the scene. They included the families of fighters from Lebanon, Jordan, Yemen, Syria, Algeria, and about 100 native Fallujans.

Here was a man who could offer you paradise, money or excruciating torture, expert in the kind of governance still common in some parts of the world, a minor Saddam Hussein or a royal prince writ small. Robert Worth noted that "a fridge stood open in the kitchen, with a plate of rice visible inside, three yogurt containers, a half-rotten apricot", proof if anything that the evanescent insurgency; the unkillable idea of popular journalism was tangible after all, requiring physical weapons, logistics and money. It ate and drank; wrote and read; could kill and be killed; and knew both triumph and defeat.