FALLUJAH, Mar 30 (IPS) - Iraqis in the volatile al-Anbar province west of Baghdad are reporting regular killings carried out by U.S. forces that many believe are part of a 'genocidal' strategy.
Since the mysterious explosion at the Shia al-Askari shrine in Samara in February last year, more than 100 Iraqis have been killed daily on average, without any forceful action by the Iraqi government and the U.S. military to stop the killings.
U.S. troops and Iraqi security forces working with them are also executing people seized during home raids and other operations, residents say.
"Seventeen young men were found executed after they were arrested by U.S. troops and Fallujah police," 40-year-old Yassen of Fallujah told IPS. "My two sons have been detained by police, and I am terrified that they will have the same fate. They are only 17 and 18 years old."
Residents of Fallujah say the local police detention centre holds hundreds of men, who have had no legal representation.
Others are killed by random fire that has long become routine for U.S. and Iraqi soldiers. Sa'ad, a 25-year-old from the al-Thubbat area of western Fallujah was killed in such firing.
"The poor guy kept running home every time he saw U.S. soldiers," a man from his neighbourhood, speaking on condition of anonymity, told IPS. "He used to say: Go inside or the Americans will kill you." Sa'ad is said by neighbours to have developed a mental disability.
He was recently shot and killed by U.S. soldiers when they opened fire after their patrol was struck by a roadside bomb.
Last week, U.S. military fire severely damaged the highest minaret in Fallujah after three soldiers were killed in an attack. What was seen as reprisal fire on the minaret has angered residents.
"They hate us because we are Muslims, and no one can argue with that any more," 65- year-old Abu Fayssal who witnessed the event told IPS. "They say they are fighting al- Qeada but they are only capable of killing our sons with their genocidal campaign and destroying our mosques."
Others believe occupation forces have another sinister strategy.
"It is our people killing each other now as planned by the Americans," Abdul Sattar, a 45- year-old lawyer and human rights activist in Fallujah told IPS. "They recruited Saddam's security men to control the situation by well-known methods like hanging people by their legs and electrifying them in order to get information. Now they are executing them without trial."
IPS has obtained photographs of an elderly man who residents say was executed last month by U.S. soldiers.
"Last month was full of horrifying events," a retired police officer from Fallujah told IPS. "Three men were executed by American soldiers in the al-Bu Issa tribal area just outside Fallujah. One of them was 70 years old and known as a very good man, and the others were his relatives. They were asleep when the raid was conducted."
Another three men from the same tribe were executed similarly in ar-Rutba town near the Jordanian border. Their tribe did not carry out the usual burial ceremony for fear that more people would be killed. Instead, a cousin performed a religious ceremony in Amman in Jordan.
"Seven people were executed in al-Qa'im recently, at the Syrian border," Khalid Haleem told IPS on telephone from al-Qa'im. "They were gathering at a friend's place for dinner when Americans surrounded the house, with armoured vehicles with helicopters covering them from the air. Those killed were good men and we believe the Americans were misinformed."
Adding to the violence are U.S.-backed Shia militias which regularly raid Sunni areas under the eyes of the U.S. and Iraqi army. Residents of Fallujah, Ramadi, and especially Baghdad have regularly reported to IPS over the last two years that Shia militiamen are allowed through U.S. military cordons into Sunni neighbourhoods to conduct raids.
Last month, residents report, more than 100 men aged 20 to 40 were executed by Shia militias in Iskandariya 40 km south of Baghdad and Tal Afar 350 km northwest of the capital. Another 50 were detained by the Iraqi Army's fifth division, that many believe is the biggest death squad in the country.
A U.S. military spokesperson in Baghdad told IPS that their troops "use caution and care when conducting home raids" and "in no way support Shi'ite death squads and militias."
In the face of the U.S.-backed violence, most Iraqis now openly support attacks against occupation forces.
"The genocidal Americans are paying for all that," a young man from Fallujah told IPS. "They seem to be in need of another lesson by the lions of Fallujah and Anbar." He was referring to the intensive resistance attacks in and around Fallujah that have killed dozens of U.S. and Iraqi soldiers this month.
According to the U.S. military, at least 1,194 U.S. soldiers have died in al-Anbar province since the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in March 2003. The number is far higher than in any other province in Iraq.
(*Ali, our correspondent in Baghdad, works in close collaboration with Dahr Jamail, our U.S.-based specialist writer on Iraq who travels extensively in the region)