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U.S. forces to hand over hard-won Anbar Province

The Americans are set to transfer control of the once-restive Sunni province to Iraq, but many in Anbar question just how much real power the US is willing to relinquish.

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Inside the city, walls that were once awash with praise for the insurgency and Al Qaeda are now freshly painted with colorful scenes and slogans like: "Knowledge is light and ignorance is darkness."

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At the popular Al-Yarmouk music shop the latest CD of Iraqi artist Hussam al-Rassam with a song praising the chivalry of Anbaris is selling fast. This would have been tantamount to heresy when the city was, until recently, in the grips of Al Qaeda militants, says owner Riad Nouri. "We were told to sell only Koran recitals, sermons, and chants," he says.

Hajji Hussein's kabob restaurant, a local landmark, is back in business after having been demolished in 2004. US Marines coolly patrol on foot under the gaze of residents.

Inside, customers speak about the emerging dynamic in Fallujah and what the transfer of control really means.

"I am very content," says Hussam Ibrahim. "The Americans are much better now, in the past if you drove anywhere near them they would riddle you with bullets."

His friend, Faisal Jamal, disagrees. "I just do not understand what they are still doing here. They need to leave," he says.

Everyone becomes visibly angry as another man, who gives his name as Abu Haitham, recounts how he allegedly witnessed a US soldier beat a Fallujah resident at the city entrance on Wednesday. The same incident is later recounted by a local official.

Muhammad Hussein, the owner of Hajji Hussein's, asserts that the US has wasted plenty of money by cooperating with "men of questionable abilities and integrity."

"With all the money they have spent so far, they could have built a second Fallujah with marble roads and skyscrapers like Dubai," he says.

Inside the local government building, US Marines accompanied by interpreters nip casually in and out of the office of Mr. Abdullah, the city council member. As they leave the room, he ticks off a litany of US-funded projects that have been plagued with corruption and duplicity of effort.

He says a recent project in Numaniyah on the edge of Fallujah should have cost $500,000 but the US military awarded it to a contractor for $2.5 million.

Entire streets in Fallujah have been ripped up again after being fixed with US money because they did not know that the council was planning to carry out sewerage works under the same streets with Iraqi government funds.

"There are a lot of contradictions in our work … the Americans are spending money just to please sheikhs and local officials," says Abdullah.

The conversation is interrupted as his cell phone and those of other officials seated in the room begin to ring one after the other with calls bearing the grim news from Garmah.

"Fallujah is not perfect. We are fully aware of that, but the gains and progress are such now that the Iraqis will very soon be able to manage it on their own," says Lt. Col. Chris Hughes, a spokesman for the US Marines, who are responsible for the city. He was unable to immediately comment on some of the issues raised by this article.

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