The Marines of Charlie Company had a long night, hitting houses in the largest series of raids through the city since they've been here. They came back to their base Thursday morning with some success stories, but the news that awaited them was much bigger: Al-Zarqawi was dead.
While the Marines busted through doors and captured insurgent suspects in the city, a U.S. airstrike, perhaps 70 miles away, hit the most prominent insurgent in the country. Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who cultivated violence in Iraq for years, was killed along with several of his comrades, Iraqi and U.S. military officials announced.
His was a name heavy in Fallujah's wartime history. Al-Zarqawi was once believed to use this city as his base of operations in Iraq. Foreign fighters were harbored here while they waged a campaign of attacks.
In October 2004, the interim prime minister of Iraq demanded that Fallujah residents hand the terrorist over, but city religious leaders said it was an impossible request. A month later, the Marine Corps led an invasion of the city that cleared it of insurgents, but if al-Zarqawi was in Fallujah at the time, he managed to escape.
As an interpreter for Connecticut's Charlie Company recalled, the people of Fallujah once celebrated him. But al-Zarqawi wore out his welcome, said Sammy, who has worked here with U.S. forces for almost three years and uses only his nickname.
Sammy said his Shia family and friends back home near Baghdad are almost certainly rejoicing at the news. ``He killed thousands of Shias.''
Al-Zarqawi was the most infamous, but Fallujah has struggled in recent years with outsiders coming in to fight. Right now, it's unclear to the Marines here how much of their insurgent troubles come from foreigners. They don't know, from day to day, who is shooting at them. When the smoke clears on firefights, it's impossible to ask the dead where they are from.
Most of those captured in Fallujah seem to be locals, though one insurgent wounded in a gun battle last week was from Lebanon.
On Wednesday night's operation, about 750 Marines with 1st Battalion, 25th Marines -- ``New England's Own'' -- hit sites all over the city, working beside Iraqi soldiers. ``Simultaneously, the doors were being kicked in,'' said Maj. Vaughn Ward, commander of Charlie Company.
They grabbed more than two dozen suspected insurgents, with Charlie Company raking in nine of them from its five target houses. Two of their houses were ``dry holes,'' the major said, but the others netted insurgents, weapons and bomb-making materials.
As far as he could tell, those arrested and taken to Abu Ghraib prison were Iraqis, not foreigners. But it was difficult to know, yet, what groups they may be affiliated with. ``There are so many different factions working here,'' Ward said. ``It's hard to tell who's who.''
All day Thursday, Fallujah's streets popped with gunfire. But from inside the defenses of Charlie Company's base, it was guesswork to figure out who was shooting and why. If it was celebration for al-Zarqawi's death, the Marines shared that sentiment.
When he discovered the news, 1st Sgt. Ben Grainger walked through the building knocking on doors, delivering the word, his face lit up like a kid on his way to Disney World. In the company's television lounge -- the only place the Marines get satellite TV -- they watched CNN and laughed at images of the terrorist mastermind.
``Zarqawi ate it, man,'' Staff Sgt. Joey Davis said to another Marine who had just walked into the room. The screen was showing recent video of al-Zarqawi firing a machine gun. ``This is like the Super Bowl. We're watching the post-game analysis.''
Hours later, as Thursday night became Friday, a larger-than-usual crowd gathered on the roof of Charlie Company's building for a 1 a.m. session of Americantology -- the nightly gathering of Grainger's ``religion.'' The Marines kept their eyes on the sky, looking for the night's special guest: a military airplane set to drop 500,000 leaflets over the city.
Grainger had a special song to play for the neighbors tonight. The first notes of ``New York, New York'' began, chosen to accompany the leaflets that would tell Fallujah residents al-Zarqawi was killed.
``Start spreadin' the news,'' it started, at a volume louder than Grainger's usual shows. ``I'm leavin' today.''
The blinking red lights of an aircraft soon began cutting across the night sky.
Reporter Jesse Hamilton and photographer Tom Brown are embedded with Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, 25th Marines, in Fallujah.