The safe house lies on the outskirts of Fallujah in a neighborhood where no Americans have ventured. Inside, a group of Arab sheiks has gathered to discuss the jihad they and their followers are waging against the U.S. The men wear white robes and long beards and greet each other solemnly. They are all Iraqi, but their beliefs are those of the strict Wahhabi strain of Islam repressed under Saddam Hussein. Unlike most Iraqi sitting rooms, this one has no pictures adorning its walls or a television or radio nestled in a corner. Such luxuries are forbidden, just as they were under the Taliban in Afghanistan. At the back of the room are a few men from Saudi Arabia, who stand silently as one of the sheiks, the group's leader, addresses me in Arabic and stilted English. The war in Iraq, he says, is one of liberation, not just of a country but of Muslim lands, Muslim people, Islam itself. There is no room for negotiation with the enemy, no common ground. What he and his men offer is endless, righteous resistance. "Maybe this war will take a long time," he says. "Maybe this is a world war."
After the meeting, they adjourn to the garden and drink sweet black tea in the twilight. As they lecture me on Islam, a roar cuts across the conversation. From the other side of the farmhouse, less than 50 yds. away, a missile soars over us with a thunderous screech--bound for a nearby encampment housing U.S. Marines. "Allahu akbar," they all mutterGod is great. Minutes later, the imam makes the evening call to prayer. The 50 militants gathered at the safe house form tight lines behind one of the imams and bow reverently in prayer. Then some leave to get ready to try to kill more Americans.
While the U.S. hopes that the fighting and dying in Iraq will begin to dissipate after the hand-off of power to an interim Iraqi government this week, militants like these sheltered outside Fallujah are just as determined to wreak more carnage. The ruthlessness of the insurgents was evident across Iraq last week, as guerrillas launched a wave of attacks that were stunning in their scale and coordination. In a single day, insurgents attacked in six cities, blowing up police stations, seizing government buildings, ambushing U.S. forces and killing more than 100 people, including three American soldiers. Though U.S. commanders continue to say they can contain the insurgency, Iyad Allawi, the incoming Iraqi Prime Minister, said he may impose martial law once he takes office, a move that would at least temporarily suspend many of the liberties the U.S. ostensibly intended to bring to Iraq. "We were expecting such an escalation, and we will witness more in the next few weeks," Allawi said. "We will deal with it, and we will crush it."