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More Former Fallujah Residents Are Returning Home

By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Jan. 18, 2005 – Almost half of Fallujah's pre-war population has returned to that battered city almost four weeks after Iraq's interim prime minister gave the green light for citizens to return, a top military official said today.

Insurgents had used the city, located about 40 miles west of Baghdad, as an operations base until U.S. and Iraqi forces pushed them out during an offensive that began early last November. The city, which had about 300,000 inhabitants during the now-defunct Saddam Hussein regime, lost population as citizens departed to avoid the fighting.

These days, however, increasing numbers of former Fallujah residents are returning home, U.S. Marine Lt. Gen. John F. Sattler noted from Camp Fallujah during a teleconference with Pentagon reporters.

Sattler said Fallujah's citizens "have become more comfortable, more confident in the security environment within the town." On Dec. 23, he noted, 921 citizens returned to their city through five checkpoints, and on Jan. 17,more than 10 times that many returned through the same five checkpoints.

The general said this brings Fallujah's returnee population to about 140,000. Each returnee, he noted, is vetted by Iraqi security forces to ensure no one brings weapons or explosives back into Fallujah.

Local and Iraqi government offices have been reopened, the general noted, while Fallujah returnees have been picking up needed food, blankets, water, heaters and other items at humanitarian assistance sites. And, Sattler said, each person in Fallujah who heads a household is receiving about $200 "so they can go ahead and buy the necessities as they move back in."

Fallujah's "essential services are coming back up on line," Sattler reported. The city's main power stations, he said, are back in operation, as well as a series of pumping stations that move excess city water to the Euphrates River.

Yet, it will take "a number of months" to provide electricity to all of Fallujah's homes, Sattler acknowledged. Loose power lines, he explained, still pose a danger to residents and their families. But the city's water treatment plants are now functioning, he reported, noting that running water should become available to all districts within Fallujah by the first week in February.

The past week has been "fairly quiet" in Fallujah, Sattler said, as U.S. and Iraqi troops continue proactive, citywide patrols. "They're not sitting back waiting to react" to potential insurgent activity, the general emphasized.

There are now six battalions of Iraqi troops and two battalions of police stationed inside the city, Sattler said. The Iraqi forces, he pointed out, work side by side with three U.S. Marine battalions and a regimental combat team headquarters that are stationed in Fallujah.

Yet, "when it comes time to provide security for the polling sites" during Jan. 30 voting throughout Anbar province, which includes Fallujah, Sattler noted that Iraqi security forces "will take the lead." However, Sattler said U.S. troops will be positioned in and around Fallujah "where we need to be, in the strength we need to be" to provide backup, if required.

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Marine Lt. Gen. John F. Sattler, Commander, 1st Marine Expeditionary Force

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