FALLUJAH, Iraq — U.S. Marines continue their foot patrols in this Iraqi city. Though major combat here is long over, this is still a hot zone.
"They say complacency kills, so we stay on our toes," says a U.S. Marine who took NBC News around the city.
Fallujah had been the epicenter for terrorist and insurgent operations in Iraq until the Marine assault in November cleared most of them out.
But just last week, the Marines found five roadside bombs made from the stockpiles of explosives believed still hidden here.
That's why Fallujah today is still in almost total lockdown. Traffic backs up for hours as every vehicle is searched before entering the city. And there is still an overnight curfew. All the measures are aimed at keeping Fallujah from falling back into the hands of insurgents.
"By keeping the city under a little tighter control at this point in time, we can prevent those guys from coming back," says Maj. Mark Gurganus.
While security remains a top priority and concern, the biggest challenge now is rebuilding Fallujah after the most devastating urban combat of the war. Fewer than half of the 250,000 people from Fallujah have been able to return since the Marine offensive. In last November's fighting, 9,000 homes were destroyed and thousands more were damaged.
Homeowners line up daily to file for compensation — but out of 32,000 claims, only 2,500 have been paid.
Talib Khalifa lost his home and his daughter. His frustration turned to anger when he found that for now he'd receive only 20 percent in compensation for the claim on his home.
As of today, only half the homes still standing have electricity and there is almost no telephone service.
Sheik Khalid is president of the temporary city council. He warns that the people of Fallujah are growing impatient, but predicts it'll take a year for the city to recover, that is, if security holds.
"The challenge is trying to kick-start an economy that still has its problems with insurgents," says U.S. Marine Maj. Chuck Risio.
After their hard-fought victory last November, the Marines must make sure they don’t lose it now.
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