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FALLUJAH, Iraq - Some 30 Sunni refugees seeking a safe haven from Baghdad sit under the shade of a camouflage net on the outskirts of Fallujah, waiting at a makeshift U.S. facility for city IDs.
skinny young man with a red and white scarf wound around his head pulls a reporter aside and lifts his right pant leg, exposing a shin with marks where Shiite militiamen had bored into the bone with an electric drill — the current tool of choice for Baghdad torture specialists.
Security is tight and snipers abound, but Fallujah — once an extremely violent Sunni insurgent bastion where the charred bodies of four Blackwater security men were hung on a bridge — has become a refuge from the death squads and mortar battles in Baghdad. U.S. Marines say about 150 Iraqis flee here each week from the capital, 40 miles to the east.
Unlike Baghdad, which houses large numbers of both Muslim sects, Fallujah's population is overwhelmingly Sunni Arab. As a result, Fallujah has not experienced the raging sectarian warfare that has the capital teetering on the brink of civil war. The migration is part of a larger exodus out of Baghdad, where entire neighborhoods have been uprooted.
Population figures in Iraq are little more than estimates, but Fallujah was said to have about 450,000 residents before U.S. forces stormed the city in November 2004 to drive out the insurgents. As the assault gained force nearly 400,000 of that number had fled, but the Americans say there are about 300,000 living in the city now.