ROMMANA, Iraq – For nearly a week, this dusty farming village near the Syrian border was surrounded by armored troop carriers on the ground and helicopter gunships overhead. Then, suddenly, the fighting stopped.
The U.S. military declared a major offensive against followers of Iraq's (search) most wanted terrorist officially over Saturday, and farmers here went back to tending their potatoes and pistachios.
Flattened homes, bullet-pocked walls and two charred personnel carriers at the entrance to the Sunni Arab (search) village stood as testimony to the violent upheaval. One of the walls of the local mosque had collapsed, and dozens of buildings were damaged by shells and machine-gun fire.
A gaping crater in the bridge linking Rommana and Husaybah reduced traffic to a crawl across the Euphrates River.
The U.S. military said it "neutralized" an insurgent haven in the remote desert region of western Iraq used by supporters of Jordanian-born militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi (search). But residents here remained defiant.
"The village witnessed heavy fighting, but despite that they (the Americans) were not able to enter it," said one man, who gave his name only as Abu Abdullah.
The U.S. military said it killed an estimated 125 insurgents during the campaign through villages along the Euphrates River to the Syrian border. Nine Marines also died, but the civilian toll remains uncounted.
Dr. Hamid al-Alousi, director of the hospital in nearby Qaim, said at least 35 Iraqis were killed and more than 70 wounded in Rommana and nearby Karabilah, where fierce clashes took place. But his claim could not be verified, and it was impossible to tell how many of the victims were fighters.
The U.S. military said insurgents also fought among themselves during the offensive, trading mortar, rocket and gunfire almost nightly in Qaim, the largest town in the region about 200 miles northwest of Baghdad.
Insurgents have been using the region as a staging area where foreign fighters slipping across the border from Syria received weapons and equipment to launch deadly attacks in Iraq's major cities, according to the U.S. military.
But residents insisted there were no foreign fighters here — only Iraqis defending their homes against U.S. forces.
U.S. forces extended a conciliatory hand Sunday, dropping leaflets from a helicopter promising a better future.
"Prosperity will prevail in Rommana and Husaybah," one of them read. "We thank residents for their calls on the local number which helped us capture armed groups," read another.