Captain Abdel Hadi was driving home from a long day's work as an officer in Iraq's new security force when gunmen pulled him over. Two white Oldsmobiles screeched around his Nissan pickup, and four men armed with AK-47 machine guns grabbed Hadi, blindfolded him and stuffed him into the trunk of a car. They drove him to a safe house in Fallujah, where, for five days in early August, he was tortured and interrogated by some of the insurgents who control the town. His captors, he says, beat his feet and legs with a pipe until he could no longer feel them, thrashed his back and tied his genitals before forcing him to drink three bottles of water. At one point, Hadi says, he heard a knife being sharpened next to his ear. His interrogator threatened to chop off his head unless he confessed to collecting information for the U.S. forces. Hadi refused.
Fortunately for him, a cousin had witnessed the abduction and recognized one of Hadi's kidnappers. The next day, armed tribesmen surrounded the kidnapper's home and threatened to kill all his family members unless Hadi was released within four days. On the fifth day, at sunset, Hadi was set free. He could barely walk, but he was alive. "This is a dirty way to treat people," says Hadi of his captors. "They don't have any ethics. They are criminals."
In Fallujah right now, the criminals are in control. Since April, when U.S. Marines pulled back from a planned assault to seize the city, which lies 35 miles west of Baghdad, Fallujah has fallen under the sway of an assortment of hard-line insurgents--including, the U.S. believes, Abu Mousab al-Zarqawi, al-Qaeda's chief operative in Iraq. The U.S. has tried to find Iraqis willing to root out the militants who are imposing Taliban-style rule in the city, bringing miscreants before a strict Islamic court. The Fallujah Brigade, a group of former Baathist officers whom the Marines armed and outfitted after the April standoff, has collapsed. Marine commanders say the unit is aiding the same rebels it was formed to fight. As a result, the city has become the country's most conspicuous "no go" zone for U.S. troops. American commanders can do little more than target the insurgent strongholds with air strikes, which tend also to kill civilians.
The U.S.'s best hope now is to train and deploy a new Iraqi army with enough firepower to regain control of rebel-held areas. The U.S. says some 145,000 Iraqi soldiers will be fully trained and battle ready by year's end. But in places like Fallujah, the goal of creating a viable indigenous army is a long way off. Hundreds of Iraqi recruits have deserted the ranks for fear of being killed by anti-U.S. militants. Others have shown reluctance to fight their countrymen. But U.S. commanders don't have many other options. "Until we have trained soldiers," says Major Kevin Collins, who runs India Base, a dusty boot camp on the outskirts of Fallujah, "the situation is not going to get much better."