Hatred of the Americans is boiling on the streets of Fallujah, where Iraqis lobbed grenades into the US military compound yesterday, wounding seven and damaging vehicles.
All over the town were banners calling on the Americans to go, while local people shook their fists at foreigners, vowing to take revenge.
Outside the mayor's office, which is next to the American compound, staff had hung an uncompromising banner: "Sooner or later, US killers, we will kick you out."
According to the mayor, Taha Bedeiwi, who is recognized by the US forces, 20 people have been shot dead by the Americans so far - 16 in a late-night incident on Monday and four more when a US convoy clashed with stone-throwing demonstrators on Wednesday.
Iraqis display banners on top of the gate of mayor's office after two people were killed Wednesday when US troops opened fire on a crowd protesting their presence in Fallujah, 50 kilometers, 30 miles west of Baghdad, Thursday, May 1, 2003. The new, U.S.-recognized mayor of Fallujah Taha Bedaiwi al-Alwani asked the commanding officers for an investigation and for compensation for the families of the dead and injured. Al-Alwani also asked that U.S. troops be redeployed outside the city center. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)
The Americans insist that gunmen among the demonstrators fired first both times. Iraqis support this in the first incident but all the evidence for Wednesday's shooting is that it came in response only to some stone throwing. Witnesses said that the gunner of a Humvee fired his machinegun at the crowd, while ducking down inside the vehicle.
The Americans now find themselves in a blood feud with much of the city, which under Islamic law can be ended only by the payment of compensation.
"We demand compensation from the Americans, but we also demand our town back," said Sheikh Khalaf Abed el-Shebib, leader of one of the 35 clans that make up the town.
Searching for the ugliest comparison he could find, he said: "Even in Israel they do not shoot children in such numbers when they throw stones in a demonstration."
After appeals from the US military, the tribal and religious leaders ordered a break from demonstrations yesterday, but the town was braced for more trouble after Friday prayers today.
The town has offered peace with the Americans if they pull out of the center and set up a post at the railway station from where they can mount patrols.
But the crisis seems beyond such a simple solution, now that religious and social passions have been inflamed.
The soldiers, in their helmets, body armour and gadgetry slung from neck, belt and thigh, look like warriors from a video game. Unlike the British troops in Basra, they have made no attempt to establish eye contact with the local people or talk to anyone except the mayor and his officials.
The 82nd Airborne - one of the toughest elements in the US military - is ill-equipped to control crowds. The soldiers have no tear gas, and to disperse the first demonstration outside a school they were occupying they fired smoke grenades - a dangerous weapon in a country where everyone knows that the Saddam regime used poison gas.
The 82nd Airborne is now moving out, to be replaced by other units.
It is a deeply confusing situation and nowhere is the split personality of the Iraqis after the fall of Saddam more visible than in the mayor's office.
During a news conference the mayor admitted that there were "bad elements" in the crowds, a phrase his interpreter chose to translate as "patriots". After the mayor had finished speaking, an aide emerged to tell journalists to ignore everything the interpreter had said.
The mayor is a mystery to the Americans. He was chosen by the local tribal and religious leaders after the fall of the Saddam regime, claiming he had been persecuted and driven into exile.
However, local people say that he is a rich man who spent five months in the United Arab Emirates, not a political exile. Getting to the bottom of this will be a learning experience for the Americans.
A British officer commented: "They rely too much on technology and hide behind their defenses. They have to get out and meet the people and really find out what is going on."
© Copyright of Telegraph Group Limited 2003