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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Lebanon Beats With Pulse of Insurgency

TRIPOLI, Lebanon -- Abu Haritha still carries traces of the battles he fought in Iraq, 800 kilometers away.

On his hand is a black ring, a gift from a fellow insurgent after he was wounded in the torso in Fallujah by shrapnel. "For the memories," Abu Haritha said. Under his black hair, peppered with gray, is a scar where, he recalled, a bullet had grazed his head.

But for Abu Haritha, that battle is over. As he sits in this northern city, Lebanon's second-largest, he waits for what he believes will be a more expansive war beyond Iraq, a struggle he casts in the most cataclysmic of terms.

"It's an open battle, in any place, at any time," he said. "History has to record that there was resistance."

Abu Haritha's home, Tripoli, is one of the most visible manifestations of the war, a rough-and-tumble city being transformed by growing radicalism and religious fervor that may long outlast the death of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and the U.S. presence in Iraq. Here, and elsewhere, that militancy may prove to be the inheritance of both the war and U.S. President George W. Bush's administration's professed aim of bringing democracy to the region.

No one is quite sure of the number of fighters from Iraq who have returned to Tripoli, its cheap concrete buildings sprawling up hills along the Mediterranean.

Abu Haritha said hundreds went to Iraq during the U.S. invasion in 2003, when the mobilization was so casual that organizers would walk into cafes and openly recruit among jobless Lebanese Sunnis gathered there. He estimates that dozens more have gone since; 50 to 60 of them have died there, he said.

"We couldn't go to Palestine, we couldn't go to Kosovo, we couldn't go to Chechnya," said Abu Haritha, a name he uses as a nom de guerre. "There was no other obstacle before Bush except Iraq."

At a cafe in the old city of Tripoli last week, Bilal Shaaban, the leader of the Islamic Unity Movement, a Sunni group, reclined on a sofa. Overhead was a television showing al-Jazeera's coverage of Zarqawi's death. Shaaban ticked off what he called the successes of Islamic activists like him in Egypt, the Palestinian territories and now Somalia.

"In every place, why does the Islamic current reach its goals?" he asked. "Because it expresses the people's sentiments against the Americans. It's a reaction to American policy. They are planting the seed of hatred that is going to last generations."

Even longtime residents are struck by the shift in social mores over the past few years: the proliferation of women's veils and men's beards, the flourishing of religion classes and the number of youths joining groups like Shaaban's. On balconies, interspersed among flags for residents' favorite World Cup soccer teams, are black banners with religious inscriptions usually associated with holy war.

Along one street, graffiti reads: "Liberation is coming."

"Tripoli resembles Fallujah, in everything," said Fathi Yakan, 73, a founder of the Islamic Association and head of an umbrella group known as the Islamic Action Forces.

But these men's reading of the war has grown more complicated, as even the most radical voices try to make sense of the spectacular carnage there, the killing of civilians and the prospect of civil strife. Some supporters of the insurgency say they fear the conflict will unleash a civil war, the country's partition and the spillover of tension between Sunni and Shiite Muslims to the rest of the Arab world. That fear is particularly pronounced in Lebanon, where Shiites make up the single largest community.

"The smoke from the fire in Iraq is drifting over Lebanon," Shaaban said darkly.