Published July 16, 2004
CAIRO, Egypt – Through Web sites, headlines and graffiti, the Arab world is celebrating the people of Fallujah as victors over a superpower.
This embrace of the Iraqi city has raised fears that it will become a magnet for recruits to Al Qaeda's anti-Western campaign. But many Arabs say Fallujah (search) stands out more as a boost to their self-esteem after witnessing the Iraqi army barely put up a fight against the U.S. invasion last year.
U.S. Marines besieged the city west of Baghdad in April after four Americans were ambushed and killed there. Ten Marines and hundreds of Iraqis, many of them civilians, died before the Marines pulled out and handed security over to an Iraqi volunteer force.
The three-week siege is inspiring "a literature of resistance and war," said Egyptian novelist Gamal el-Ghitani. "Fallujah is a symbol, in one of the worst eras we have witnessed, that it is not impossible to stand up to America."
He said it also sends a message to Arab dictators about the lesson people may draw about resisting oppression.
"I used to laugh, despite the ghastly daily news, about how a bunch of poor, helpless Iraqis with primitive weapons are forcing the greatest superpower in the world to negotiate. Honestly, the American army was ridiculed," he said.
El-Ghitani, like many Arabs, hadn't even heard of Fallujah until then. Now it is being likened to Beirut under Israeli siege in 1982, to the resistance in Egyptian cities on the Suez Canal against the Anglo-French-Israeli invasion of 1956, and even Napoleon's 1799 siege of Acre.
Ibrahim el-Firjani, a Libyan university professor, said Fallujah has "shown America the real Arabs, not those lining up to surrender."
In Lebanon, the restive Palestinian refugee camp of Ein el-Hilweh renamed a major street Fallujah.
Hamoud al-Heimi, a high school student in San'a, the Yemeni capital, said his neighborhood soccer team now calls itself Fallujah. In the society pages of a Yemeni paper, doctors congratulated a colleague on the birth of his daughter, Fallujah (The name means "the land readied for planting").
Al-Suweidi, a district of the Saudi capital Riyadh known to harbor militant dissidents, has been nicknamed Fallujah. The Al Qaeda-linked Saudi group that beheaded American hostage Paul Johnson called itself the "Fallujah brigade."
"Volcano of Fallujah," a video posted on the Internet and apparently produced by one of the many anti-U.S. groups fighting in Fallujah, included segments on "burning an infidels' Hummer," and "killing and dragging of [Israeli] Mossad and CIA agents." It signed off with an appeal for money and fighters.
In a diary of the siege signed by Abu Anas al-Shami, identified as an adviser to the militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi (search), Internet surfers read of Egyptians, Saudis, Syrians, Jordanians, Yemenis and Libyans coming to Iraq to fight Americans.
"God wanted, in his wisdom, to render Fallujah a haven for the heroes and holy warriors of Iraq, and a favorite in the hearts of the itinerant holy warriors from different parts of the world," al-Shami wrote.
Evan Kohlmann (search), a Washington-based consultant on terrorism and security affairs, said men like al-Shami want to turn Iraq into the next Afghanistan — a rallying point for a full-scale attack on the West.
Saudi columnist Daoud al-Shirian said Fallujah draws disgruntled young Arabs because it is in their midst, not in distant Afghanistan or Chechnya.
Though foreigners are playing a role in Iraq, most of the anti-U.S. fighters are believed to be Iraqis motivated by nationalism, not extremist Islam. Many Arabs who draw pride from Fallujah aren't interested in going to Iraq because they have their own battles to fight, some with guns and bombs, some with words.
Abu Qutadah, an Al Qaeda suspect jailed in Britain, published a poem in an Arab newspaper likening Fallujah to a West Bank town invaded by Israel in 2002 to root out suicide bombers.
Fallujah, he wrote, is "the sister of Jenin (search) in fire and light."