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Inhabitants of Falluja are returning to their homes for the first time since the American-led assault on insurgents left
much of the Iraqi city in ruins.
An initial group of 2,000 is being allowed in to inspect their homes, and decide if they want to stay.
Most of Falluja's population of about 250,000 fled November's fighting.
As residents waited, explosions shook the area followed by a huge plume of smoke. Iraqi authorities say people insist on
returning despite the risks.
There are continuing clashes and unexploded mines in the streets of the city, they say.
At US checkpoints, returning men of military age are being fingerprinted and having their irises scanned to try to
ensure that no insurgents return.
American military officials have acknowledged that returning residents will be shocked by the state of their city.
A spokesman for the US marines said Falluja was not yet ready for what he called comfortable living. As well as the
continuing clashes and remaining mines, there is still no running water or electricity, and the rubble of destroyed
buildings has not yet been cleared.
However, the BBC's Caroline Hawley in the Iraqi capital, Baghdad, says civilians who fled the city to neighbouring areas
are now desperate to return.
Many have been camping out in winter temperatures in tents, or staying in schools and other public buildings.
National Security Minister Kassim Daoud told reporters: "We have told them that there are areas where the debris has not
been removed so far, there are homes that are destroyed, there are mines in some streets, but our people insisted that
they want to return to their city."
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