They filled their bathtubs and buckets with water. They bought sacks of rice and lentils. They considered that they might soon die.
There is no god but God, and Muhammad is the messenger of God.
In Washington, the reaction to the March 31 killings was exactly what the women of Fallouja had expected: anger. Those inside George W. Bush's White House believed that the atrocity demanded a forceful response, that the United States could not sit still when its citizens were murdered.
President Bush summoned his secretary of Defense, Donald H. Rumsfeld, and the commander of his forces in the Middle East, Army Gen. John P. Abizaid, to ask what they recommended.
Rumsfeld and Abizaid were ready with an answer, one official said: "a specific and overwhelming attack" to seize Fallouja. That was what Bush was hoping to hear, an aide said later.
What the president was not told was that the Marines on the ground sharply disagreed with a full-blown assault on the city.
"We felt that we ought to let the situation settle before we appeared to be attacking out of revenge," the Marines' commander, Lt. Gen. James T. Conway, said later.
Conway passed this up the chain — all the way to Rumsfeld, an official said. But Rumsfeld and his top advisors didn't agree, and didn't present the idea to the president.
"If you're going to threaten the use of force, at some point you're going to have to demonstrate your willingness to actually use force," Pentagon spokesman Lawrence Di Rita said later.
Bush approved the attack immediately.
That was the first of several decisions that turned Fallouja from a troublesome, little-known city on the edge of Iraq's western desert to an embodiment of almost everything that has gone wrong for the United States in Iraq.
Just as they had previously, U.S. policymakers underestimated the hostility in Fallouja toward the American military occupation of their land.
The U.S. assault on the city had the unintended effect of fanning the Sunni Muslim insurgency, precisely the outcome the United States wanted to avoid.
U.S. officials ignored the risk that American military tactics and inevitable civilian casualties would undermine support for the occupation from allies in Iraq and around the world.
Although military and civilian authorities eventually agreed on the Fallouja assault, their consensus quickly broke down, leading to hasty and improvised decisions.
The insurgency in Fallouja was never going to be easy to quash, but disarray among American policymakers contributed to U.S. failure.
This account is based on interviews with more than 40 key figures, many of whom refused to be identified because they still hold military or government jobs.