The first residents to be allowed in — possibly by Dec. 24 — will be heads of households, according to Lt. Gen. John F. Sattler, who outlined the plan Thursday. They will be permitted to survey damage to their homes during last month's battle to retake the city and to file claims for compensation.
Five checkpoints have been set up into Fallujah, with roads south of the city blocked by sand berms, said Sattler, commander of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force.
All men of military age will be processed using a central database; they will be photographed, fingerprinted and have their iris scans taken before being issued ID cards. The entire process should take about 10 minutes per man, Sattler said.
The system has been in use for several months in Iraq, but until now has only been used to catalog detainees.
No civilian vehicles will be permitted within city limits as a precaution against car bombs, which, along with roadside bombs, are the deadliest weapons in the insurgent arsenal, Sattler said. All cars will be left on the outskirts of Fallujah and residents will be bused to their homes, district by district.
The measures — though likely to be perceived as drastic — are necessary, says Maj. Francis Piccoli.
"Some may see this as a 'Big Brother is watching over you' experiment, but in reality it's a simple security measure to keep the insurgents from coming back," Piccoli said.
November's U.S.-led offensive wrested Fallujah from the insurgents. The U.S. military says 1,200 insurgents were slain and about 2,000 suspects captured in the battle. At least 54 U.S. troops and eight Iraqi soldiers were killed.
But many insurgents, including leaders Omar Hadid, Abdullah al-Janabi and Jordanian Abu Musab al-Zarqawi slipped out ahead of the U.S. ground assault, military officers say.
The security measures are meant to safeguard against insurgents returning along with the estimated 250,000 residents who fled the city ahead of the assault.
Sattler said that by Friday, 97 percent of Fallujah's more than 20,000 buildings would have been cleared of insurgents and weapons caches, although some unexploded ordnance is still left.
Women and children will not be allowed to return until the city 40 miles west of Baghdad is "completely safe," said Rear Adm. Raymond Alexander, of the 1st Naval Construction Division, whose troops are part of military efforts to rebuild Fallujah.
"It would be terrible for us to have Mr. and Mrs. Iraqi back in the city and they go into the house and 'boom' — there is a booby trap in there," Alexander said.
Government and Marine civil affairs teams will be in place to process damage claims, he said.
"Their house may be completely gone, so they will have to make a decision whether they want to rebuild or just take that check," Alexander said.
Fallujah's men will get jobs with local contractors, vetted by intelligence agents, in clearing rubble, repairing water towers, sewage pumps and the city's power lines.
The building of a waste water treatment facility, expected to start in January, could employ up to 2,000 Iraqis, Alexander said.
The U.S. general directing Iraq's reconstruction told reporters in Baghdad on Thursday that the military is working as fast as possible to return Fallujans to their homes.
"We want to make sure conditions are safe, healthy and will allow the people to move back in quickly," said Brig. Gen. Thomas Bostick, commander of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
Commanders appear aware of the shock and anger returning Fallujans are likely to feel when they see their homes cratered by bombs and their city transformed into a cold, desolate landscape of destruction.
"It's all how we explain things and how fast we make good on our promise to help them get back on their feet," Sattler said.
Marines hope speedy claims payments and reconstruction will assuage some of the outrage.
"All the insurgents brought to Fallujah was chaos, death and destruction," Sattler said. "It's up to us now. If we don't turn around Fallujah, then we haven't gone beyond the tactical victory in the town."