BAGHDAD, Iraq, April 10 — Moneer Munthir is ready to kill Americans.
For months, he has been struggling to control an explosion of miserable feelings: humiliation, fear, anger, depression.
"But in the last two weeks, these feelings blow up inside me," said Mr. Munthir, a 35-year-old laborer. "The Americans are attacking Shiite and Sunni at the same time. They have crossed a line. I had to get a gun."
Ahmed, a 29-year-old man with elegant fingers and honey-colored eyes, has been planting bombs inside dead dogs and leaving them on the highway. He and a team of helpers have been especially busy recently.
A shopkeeper in Najaf, Iraq, sells perfume, but like an increasing number of Iraqis he is prepared for trouble with a Kalashnikov rifle. (NYT Photo/Warzer Jaff)
"We start work after 11 p.m.," Ahmed said. "Our group is small, just friends, and we don't even have a name."
Khalif Juma, a 26-year-old vegetable seller, said he and his cousins bought a crate of Kalashnikov rifles last week.
"To be honest, we weren't like this before," he said. "But we're religious people, and our leader has been threatened. We would be ashamed to stay in our houses with our wives at a time like this."
A new surge of Iraqi resistance is sweeping up thousands of people, Shiite and Sunni, in a loose coalition united by overwhelming anti-Americanism. On March 31, insurgents in Falluja ambushed four civilian contractors and mutilated their bodies, and the fiery words of Moktada al-Sadr, the young radical Shiite cleric, a few days later prompted violent uprisings in four cities.
In Baghdad, Kufa, Najaf, Baquba and Falluja, interviews with Sunnis and Shiites alike show a new corps of men, and a few women, who have resolved to join the resistance. They also reveal a generation of young people inured to violence and hankering to join in the fighting.
There is no way to estimate the size of the mushrooming insurgent force, but demonstrations in several cities by armed and angry people indicate that it probably runs in the tens of thousands. Many people said they did not consider themselves full-time freedom fighters or mujahedeen; they have jobs in vegetable shops, offices, garages and schools.
But when the time comes, they say, they line up behind their leaders — with guns.
"I'm in my shop right now but if anything happens, I'll close up and take my weapon and join them," Mr. Juma said. "I'm ready."
Several people described a loose command structure. Mr. Juma said he supported Mr. Sadr but is not part of his militia, the Mahdi Army. He said he received instructions from an imam at a mosque near Kufa.
American officials have announced an arrest warrant for Mr. Sadr, who had entrenched himself in his hometown, Kufa, in southern Iraq, last weekend, then disappeared.
Many Iraqis have weapons, in part because the American-led occupiers have often failed to protect them from looters and other criminals. Now, people are taking their guns into the streets.
Ala Muhammad is a 24-year-old mechanic in Baghdad. He likes to work on trucks.
The other day, when trouble broke out in the predominantly Shiite neighborhood of Khadamiya, he dashed home from work, grabbed a clip for his Kalashnikov and took it out front.
"If the Americans come this way, we will fight them," Mr. Muhammad said. "I'm going to defend my house, my street, my land, my religion."
He stood on the sidewalk in sweat pants, without shoes.
"I like to fight barefoot," he said.
Mr. Muhammad said he recently joined the Mahdi Army. And while some of his neighbors watched him admiringly as he strapped on an ammunition belt and gulped down a glass of water before a battle started, others scowled.
"Many of these young men are just criminals," said Adil Hassan, a contractor. "We don't want them. We don't want their guns. The problem is, more and more are coming."
A whole generation of Iraqi youth is coming of age in the bitter heart of the resistance. When the four American security consultants were ambushed and killed in Falluja, it was a mob of boys that set the bodies on fire and dragged two to a bridge where they hung them over the Euphrates River.
Soran Karim, a 16-year-old with thick, man-size hands, said killing Americans was not just a good thing.
"It is the best thing," said Soran, outside a Falluja school. "They are infidels, they are aggressive, they are hunting our people."
His friend spoke up.
"We just want to play football — or marbles," said Omar Hadi, 12. "But the soldiers don't let us go out."
Another boy, Suhail Najim, 13, added: "We may be scared of their weapons. But we're not scared of them."
A few days after the contractors were killed, United States marines invaded Falluja, 35 miles west of Baghdad, in a major offensive to wipe out the insurgents behind the attack. So far, more than 300 people have been killed.
Before the fall of Saddam Hussein a year ago, young men in this city were told they were the vanguard, the elite, top prospects for top jobs because of their tribal connections and Sunni alliances. Now, they are adrift, subject to the most aggressive American tactics and the full brunt of occupation.
Like the angry youth of the West Bank and Gaza, Iraqi children are increasingly surrounded by music, images, leaflets and praise for fighters. "The men of Falluja are men for hard tasks," sings Sabah al-Jenabi, a popular Iraqi performer, in a song that made the rounds even before the killing of the contractors. "They paralyzed America with rocket-propelled grenades. The men of Islam will fight the Americans like leaderless soldiers. We'll drag Bush's corpse through the dirt."
Abdul Razak al-Muaimy, a 32-year-old laborer, said: "I train my son to kill Americans. That is one reason I am grateful to Saddam Hussein. All Iraqis know how to use weapons."
Like so many other parents, Mr. Muaimy said American soldiers had humiliated him in front of his children.
"They searched my house," he said. "They kicked my Koran. They speak to me so poorly in front of my children. It's not that I encourage my son to hate Americans. It's not that I make him want to join the resistance. Americans do that for me."
Mr. Muaimy said his 10-year-old son did not take part in the violence against the contractors. But, because of all the miseries he knew Americans had brought, he would have.
"He said: `Dad, it was exactly like what they did to us. They burned our women, they burned our children, they burned our men.' My son said this time we killed and burned four of their dead but hopefully one day we will kill and burn them all.
"Just imagine, he is only 10, and he says that."
Mr. Muaimy shook his head, more than a little sad.
"My son is just like a piece of white paper, ready for anything to be written on it. He receives everything. It stays in his memory."
Iraqi employees of The Times's Baghdad bureau contributed reporting for this article.
© Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company