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But if some of the continuing fire fights in Iraq are the work of those still loyal to Saddam, others seem to result from a slow-burning resentment of the American occupation. That, at least, is the view of Sheik Barakat Alefan, chief of the 100,000-strong al-Boesa tribe, one of whose strongholds is the town of Fallujah, 30 miles west of Baghdad. Alefan insists he saw the Americans as "liberators, not occupiers." But he's starting to revise that view. Fallujah has seen more than its share of bloodshed. In late April, U.S. forces based in a local school opened fire on a demonstration, killing 15 Iraqis. A month later, U.S. soldiers killed two locals after an American tank was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade. A group of Iraqis last week opened fire on U.S. troops at a checkpoint. Two Americans and two Iraqis died in a fire fight that lasted half an hour.
Alefan doesn't believe the Iraqi fighters were holdouts from the old regime. "The Baathists who live here are cowards," he says. He figures, rather, that these are unemployed young men who are angry about the occupation. The Americans, he says, have a "total misunderstanding of this place and our culture. Some people here have been insulted and feel a need to retaliate." Alefan says the Americans are using too much force, shouting commands in English at locals who don't understand and then pointing guns at them when they don't respond. In particular, he complains, the Americans trample on local sensitivities by body-searching women. "We cannot allow this," he says. "You can touch me all you want, but you cannot touch my wife."
And then there are the cases of what at least to Iraqi eyes are just tragic misunderstandings. In Samarra last week three Iraqi teenagers were killed and 10 injured in what the U.S. describes as a fire fight with American troops. But staff members at the local hospital say the Americans responded to innocent firing from a wedding party. (The U.S. military is investigating.) ORHA had already announced plans to ban celebratory firing, but communications in central Iraq are so poor there is effectively no functioning TV or radio that it is doubtful whether anyone in Samarra had heard of them. "Hell," says a senior official at ORHA, "we don't even get copies of Bremer's decrees."
It's an age-old problem. Young men in uniform, eager to get home, dismissive or just plain ignorant of local customs and unable to express themselves with anything more than a vein-popping scream and a brandished machine gun. "You are f_____g around. Just f___ off!" a soldier yelled at an Iraqi who was trying to visit the regional governor's residence in Kirkuk last week. (Every Iraqi, sadly, already knows the F word.) "The American soldier is, please excuse the word, very high-handed," says Abu Mousa, a veteran Iraqi journalist. Much more worrisome: some Iraqis believe the U.S. troops are light-fingered too. "They raid houses and take any money they can find," says Abufawaz Khazal, a former government scientist. "It's clear that [U.S. soldiers] are working with the local black marketeers," says a businessman in Baghdad. "They take guns from people on the streets and pass them to their fences." Sheik Khalid Alefan, cousin of Sheik Barakat Alefan, says that a young American soldier recently took his satellite phone and spent half an hour making calls on it.