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Marines in Fallujah have started a pilot program under which they pay Iraqis for any homes or property that were or are “occupied by coalition forces.”

In what the military has dubbed the Property Lease Program, the Marine Corps’ 5th Civil Affairs Group and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers are drawing up “leases” for residents whose property has been used by military forces.

“Lump-sum payments were also made to eligible homeowners for the total time their houses were being used,” read a statement from Multi-National Force-Iraq. “The payment will include the amount of rent owed through Sept. 30, 2005.”

According to the release, the II Marine Expeditionary Force has set aside $125,000 for three series of payments. The first was to have been made on June 13.

“About 94 leases are expected to be signed and completed during the first phase. On the first day of the program, about 40 were completed,” the military said.

The use and destruction of private property have riled Iraqi residents since the U.S. invasion in March 2003. During the January 2005 elections, thousands of homes and other buildings around the country were occupied by U.S. and Iraqi forces securing polling stations. Some of those residents were reimbursed; some were not.

During the battle of Fallujah last year, the city’s residents were moved en-masse out of their homes and businesses. Street-to-street fighting decimated many quarters of the city, and residents moved to either nearby towns or refugee camps. When some residents returned, they found their homes used as military command posts.

The payment program expands on U.S. restitution systems already in place throughout the country. Military officials run an extensive program in which civilians can be reimbursed for injuries to family members or damage to property which results from military operations.

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