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Next Fallujah battle: hearts, minds

Marines converted a mosque into a food and medical distribution center for residents Monday.

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In the opening days of the week-old assault on Fallujah, the Hadra Mohamadiya mosque was a major battleground. The rocket-propelled grenades used by insurgents holed up here are still kept in a corner; the minaret has been hit by US forces repeatedly.

But Monday the mosque became a food and medical distribution center - the first tentative step by US and Iraqi forces to move this broken ghost town from war to peace.

Some 88 families sent men on foot to collect food and water, handed out by Iraqi National Guard units after US civil affairs teams broadcast news of the distribution.

The danger of the rebels remains: One man was carried dead to the mosque, after being shot while on his way by what his friends described as a foreign insurgent sniper. Elsewhere in Fallujah, a US marine was also killed by a sniper.

"People were so happy [when they came], because they need water and food for so many days," says Dr. Adnan Naji, a medical doctor and captain in the Iraqi armed forces, who set up a clinic inside the mosque Monday that treated nearly 20 cases.

"This is a very important day for us, and for Iraqi and American soldiers, because we let the people go out," says Dr. Naji.

Senior American commanders speak of a race against time in which they must begin to restore services and the faith of the people of Fallujah. After making rapid progress toward ridding the city of radical Islamist fighters loyal to Al Qaeda, the challenge now for the US Marines is to turn military control into political progress.

"The clock is ticking before civilians start to come back into the city," Lt. Col. Michael Ramos, chief of the 1st Battalion 3rd Marines that occupy northeast Fallujah, told his company commanders. "Let's get these programs rolling. We're going to exploit some of those [military] actions with hearts and minds."

Widespread damage
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