Hundreds of Iraqis set alight US and Israeli flags on Wednesday as they celebrated the impending pullout of American forces from the country in the former insurgent bastion of Fallujah.
Shouting slogans in support of the “resistance,” the demonstrators held up banners and placards inscribed with phrases like, “Now we are free” and “Fallujah is the flame of the resistance.”
Surrounded by the Iraqi army, demonstrators carried posters bearing photos of apparent insurgents, faces covered and carrying weapons.
They also held up pictures of US soldiers killed and military vehicles destroyed in the two major offensives against the city in 2004.
“We are proud to have driven the occupier out of Iraq, at the cost of enormous sacrifice,” said Khalid al-Alwa, the local leader of the Islamic Party, a Sunni Muslim grouping.
“Those who destroyed Iraq paid the price because the people here held them accountable.”
The demonstration, which was held in Al-Khadra Mohammediyah Square in the centre of Fallujah, was dubbed the first annual “festival to celebrate the role of the resistance.”
The United States is due to pull out the last of its troops from Iraq by the end of December, more than eight years after the invasion to topple Saddam Hussein.
Fallujah, a city of about half a million people 60 kilometres (40 miles) west of Baghdad, was home to some of the earliest anti-US protests in the aftermath of the March 2003 invasion.
At the time, Fallujah residents were content to throw only their shoes at US soldiers. But in March 2004, four American employees of the US private security firm Blackwater, since renamed Xe, were brutally killed in the city.
That year, the US military launched two massive offensives against Fallujah, signs of which are still visible today in collapsed buildings and bullet holes in walls.
The first offensive in April aimed to quell the burgeoning Sunni insurgency but was a failure — Fallujah became a fiefdom of Al-Qaeda and its allies, who essentially controlled the city.
In November, a second campaign was launched, just months before legislative elections in January 2005. Around 2,000 civilians and 140 Americans died, and the battle is considered one of the fiercest for the US since the Vietnam war.