An explosion at a mosque in the Iraqi city of Fallujah has increased tensions between residents of the city and American forces. Many residents believe the blast was caused by a U.S. airstrike, and the American military is trying to convince them that is not true.
Monday, the people of the al-Askari neighborhood were burying five of the people who died in the mosque blast. Chanted refrains of "There is no God but God" give way to the rattle of gunfire as many men in the crowd began firing AK-47s into the air.
The people are angry, angry at the American soldiers they hold responsible for the explosion that destroyed a small building in the Al-Hassan mosque compound, and damaged the mosque.
The Americans have denied having anything to do with the blast, but the people at the funeral either have not heard those denials or just do not believe them.
Hundreds of people escorted the five coffins to the cemetery more than a kilometer away. The prayers for the dead have turned into rage against the Americans, and they vow to kill every American soldier they see.
"Now the war begins between the people of Iraq in Fallujah and the soldiers of America," said one man. "Now the war begins. You understand?"
The people at the funeral believe an American F-16 warplane struck the mosque complex with a missile.
Colonel Joseph DiSalvo, commander of the Army forces in the area, denied any U.S. involvement in the explosion.
"I can assure you there were no U.S. warplanes involved," said Colonel DiSalvo. "There was no American attack on this mosque. There was no artillery fire. It simply was an explosion from a building inside the mosque compound, adjacent to the mosque."
Colonel DiSalvo said an examination of the blast site shows there is no impact crater, which would have been left behind by a missile or artillery.
The colonel refused to speculate on what might have caused the explosion. He said local Iraqi police will conduct a full investigation into the incident and should have a report within a few days.
The colonel downplayed the significance of the rage on the streets. He said U.S. troops are taking their normal security precautions in the area, which even before the blast was considered a hotspot for resistance attacks against American forces.
Fallujah residents are predominantly Sunni Muslim, the religious group closely associated with the regime of Saddam Hussein.
Colonel DiSalvo said he is working with the mayor of Fallujah and local religious leaders to try to calm the population down.
"We are focusing on informing them of what the real facts are," said the American officer. "A majority of the people know it was an explosion and not an American attack, which again was a false rumor. And we will just work on informing the people with the right information."
In the meantime, the mood in Fallujah is even more tense than normal, and some residents are predicting an upsurge in anti-American attacks in the city.