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Last Updated: Tuesday, 1 July, 2003, 18:34 GMT 19:34 UK
Falluja blast fuels anti-US feeling
By Peter Greste
BBC correspondent in Falluja

On a large concrete forecourt beneath the shade of an awning of woven reeds, about 400 men sit before six wooden coffins praying for the souls of those lying inside.

They are martyrs according to the imam, men who died a glorious death in a battle for Islam.

burial
One of the dead is buried in Falluja
On the opposite side of the mosque is the place were the six perished.

About the only thing anyone can say with any certainty is that there is a tremendous amount of devastation caused by some kind of explosion.

There is an old low stone breeze block building just next to the mosque and that's been smashed to pieces.

There are concrete shards all over the place, there are beds and bits of cloth, bits of timber and all sorts of paperwork lying around on the ground and a huge hole in the side of the mosque itself.

Beyond that it is almost impossible to say what actually caused this. For the Iraqis here though, there is no doubt.

'No operations'

Sheikh Abu Amar says it was the Americans who launched an air strike against the ten theological students and their imam in the middle of a class. He waved a fragment of twisted metal to prove his point.

"The real story is that this is great evidence to condemn the Americans," he said. "It is the shell from a missile."

If we have any time, we'll kill all Americans. Tell this to all the West
Falluja villager

But what about the American response? Impossible, they say.

There were no operations in the area, no recorded strikes against anything in Falluja and, says spokesman Major Sean Gibson, no physical evidence of this on the ground.

"We don't yet know the cause of the explosion," he said. "There have been rumours and speculation that it was some type of a coalition-launched missile.

"Our experts have been through the wreckage and it could not possibly have been so."

In truth it hardly matters what caused the explosion. Falluja has seen more clashes since the end of the war than just about any other town here. And the coalition troops are despised.

Enemy occupiers

Standing behind the row of coffins, the mosque's imam calls on God to bless the souls of the dead. He tells his audience that the explosion simply underlines what they already know.

"America proved today that it is an occupying country. But it did not stop at this. It also violated the sanctity of the imams."

An Iraqi theological student walks through the debris
An Iraqi theological student walks through the debris
Another villager told me exactly what that means.

"Everyone here in Falluja don't like to see Americans here, and this means all Iraq, not just Falluja," he said.

"If we have any time, we'll kill all Americans. Tell this to all the West."

"There is only one God, Allah," chant those at the mosque. And America is his enemy, they say.

This is not the way all Iraqis feel just yet, not even the majority.

But the fact that the people here so readily see the Americans as responsible seems to show that the coalition forces are losing the struggle for hearts and minds.


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