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Fallujah Quiet Following Iraqi-US Soldier Clashes - 2003-05-02

The Iraqi town of Falluja was quiet after midday prayers Friday. At least 15 Iraqis have been killed, and seven U.S. soldiers injured, in a series of clashes in the town this week. VOA's Laurie Kassman was there on Friday, and she described the scene for VOA's Al Pessin in London.

PESSIN: Laurie, I know you went to Fallujah because there were concerns of violence and demonstrations after Friday prayers, in the wake of the violence that we've seen there in the last week. But, apparently, it was quiet. What did you see?

KASSMAN: "Yes, it's very quiet. We thought, in fact, there would be a demonstration, but nothing has happened. There have been no protesters marching in front of the compound where the American soldiers are based. They're just some signs hanging on a wall nearby, asking the U.S. to leave Fallujah, the name of the town where we are. But, so far, there have been no protests and no violence. "

PESSIN: I know there are a lot of mosques in the town and you can, obviously, only go to one to monitor the sermon. But what did you hear said during the Friday sermon at the mosque you visited?

KASSMAN: "After the prayers, the sheikh of the mosque, which is located exactly across the street from the compound, called on the worshippers to have patience. And he said don't listen to those who would try to fuel clashes between Iraqis and Americans. But at the same time he said that it was proper to defend the country and he said, if necessary, organize a jihad to defend the country against any foreigners who stay here too long. "

PESSIN: Laurie, that town is known as a stronghold of Saddam Hussein. I understand it is a Sunni town. Has that colored the events of the week and, perhaps, the sermons of today's prayers?

KASSMAN: "It's interesting. The military officers that I spoke with won't address that issue in particular, only to say they know in a general way who might be causing the trouble. As you say, this has been a stronghold of the Baath party and people loyal to Saddam Hussein. And the mayor and others believe that those people may be provoking some of the violence. The mayor says he has asked the U.S. soldiers to pull out to the edge of town to ease tensions. And it's interesting because the American military says that he has not addressed that issue with them directly. They have talked to him about it and he wants them here, he says, for stability and security. So, you have two versions of a situation. And they are still holding more meetings and, I think, both sides are hoping to work something out in a cooperative manner to calm the situation. We have military patrols going through the town for the past week or so with loud speakers on their Humvees, their military vehicles, telling the people the American forces are here for stability and security. They are not here to harm you. They're trying obviously to win the confidence of the people, but it may be harder in a town like this, as you say, because there have been many people loyal to Saddam Hussein."