KHALDIYA, Iraq — In an austere room with concrete floors and walls adorned with two renderings of Islam’s holiest shrine in Mecca, two brothers of Adnan Fahdawi pulled out a creased and torn green folder stuffed with the memorabilia of martyrdom.
There was a tag from the black body bag in which the 31-year-old Fahdawi’s body had been delivered to the police station. “Multiple GSW,” read the bloodstained card, using a shorthand label for gunshot wounds. Cause of death: “extrusion of brain matter.” Next, a picture of Fahdawi’s hard, bearded face. Smoldering eyes, hinting at determination, stared out over a caption that declared him a martyred hero. After that was a letter he and several others had written before they attacked U.S. forces under a full moon on July 15 near this Euphrates River town.
“Today, we have sacrificed ourselves to defend our honor and pride,” read the typed statement, embossed with traditional religious invocations in floral, Arabic script. “We have sacrificed our souls for the sake of Islam, sacrificed our souls to get rid of the monkeys, pigs, Jews and Christians. To all our brothers and sisters, we prevail on you to be joyful with us.”
In the guerrilla war that grips the provincial towns and weary villages of the Tigris and Euphrates valleys, the U.S. occupation is meeting resistance from those President Bush has described as foreign terrorists and “members of the old Saddam regime who fled the battlefield and now fight in the shadows.” They have a common goal, he said in an address this month: “reclaiming Iraq for tyranny.”
But in this Sunni Muslim town colored in shades of brown and intersected by canals of open sewage, Fahdawi and the others who died are celebrated as heroes. Neighbors and relatives call them defenders of faith, not supporters of former president Saddam Hussein. And in their words, actions and ideas, relatives say, the men represent a homegrown movement, grounded in a militant reading of religion, that augurs a new enemy for the occupation.
Fahdawi and the five others hailed from different families and tribes, their relatives say, but were united by the resurgent piety that followed the collapse of Hussein’s government in April. They were devotees of a militant Syrian preacher, whose once-banned bootleg tapes and videos sell for less than $1 and intersperse calls for jihad with images of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States. They congregated in a small mosque, with a tidy garden of periwinkles and jasmine, whose chalkboard at the entrance reads, “You, the ones who believe, do not take the Jews and Christians as guardians.”
They went into the attack, relatives say, believing that their deaths would serve as a collective example.
“When the neighbors arrived, they said, ‘We didn’t come to give condolences, we came to give congratulations,’ ” said one of Fahdawi’s brothers, Salah, 33. “He was a hero. We wish God would plant the faith in our hearts that He put in Adnan’s.”
As the brother spoke, U.S. helicopters whirred overhead, a familiar sound in a town where guerrillas have repeatedly attacked U.S. forces and where the police chief, considered by many a collaborator, was killed last week. Salah Fahdawi, filled with pride, ignored them.
“Adnan truly believed in God,” he said.