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thedrifter
04-10-03, 06:55 AM
'America No. 1,' Iraqis tell Marines


By Jim Landers, The Dallas Morning News
European edition, Thursday, April 10, 2003



KAZIM AL HAJJ, Iraq First Lt. Kevin Cleary of Philadelphia stood on one side of the canal, addressing hundreds of Iraqis on the other.

"We are the United States Marines, and we are here to free you from Saddam Hussein," he said.

The crowd roared. Even though many could not understand Lt. Cleary, they cheered and clapped, waved and smiled, laughed and hugged each other.

For the next two hours Wednesday, the Iraqis pressed close to the Marines and their line of tanks. They shook hands, posed for pictures, offered cigarettes and exchanged money at rates that made suckers of the happy Marines.

The Marines came to Kazim al Hajj, about six miles northwest of Baghdad, to destroy dozens of Iraqi T-72 tanks abandoned beneath the palm trees along a street. They stopped to await further orders when they reached its outskirts.

Soon, what seemed like the whole town was at the canal to see the Marines. After Lt. Cleary's greeting put the Iraqis at ease, they crossed the bridges over the canal, crowding up to the Marines and their nervous officers.

"These people are happier than (expletive)," said Maj. Andrew Bianca, executive officer of the 2nd Tank Battalion and native of Huntsville, Ala. "It's good that we are finally getting to see it. I wish all the naysayers could see it."

Several of the townsfolk who spoke a smattering of English worked their way to the front of the crowd.

"America No. 1. Thanks God, America," said Ghanim Hafoul, a middle-aged Iraqi wearing a Calvin Klein polo shirt.

"Saddam Hussein, bad, bad," he said, pounding his fists in the air like hammers.

A young girl and her father beckoned to Staff Sgt. Brian Wright of Houston. He bent over her, and she kissed him on a cheek. "I've got a 4-year-old daughter," Staff Sgt. Wright said. "That was great."

The Marines had difficulty keeping the Iraqis from crowding into the street. After picking up the Arabic word for "get back!" the Marines found the Iraqis chanting it back to them in a clapping dance.

"Michael Jackson!" one Iraqi shouted. "Madonna!" shouted another.

A large group sat on the edge of the canal and began another chant.

"George Bush! George Bush! George Bush!"

The people of Kazim al Hajj had many questions.

"We have no fresh water and no electricity for two weeks. When will it come?" asked one Iraqi.

"I have pressure in my blood. I have no medicine. Do you have doctor?" asked another man.

Maj. Bianca, the senior Marine on the scene, had no firm answers.

"Eventually, I imagine, we will turn on the power and the water," he said. "This is going to be an awesome country one of these days."

The Marines asked to see the mayor. He sent word back that he could not meet with the Americans because he was a representative of the Iraqi government. The town's senior Shiite imam arrived, thanking the Marines and praising America. When Bianca tried to get him to move the crowds back, however, they ignored the imam.

"The people of Iraq love you!" an Iraqi shouted from the canal.

A young Iraqi woman and her mother approached a Marine corporal. The mother pressed the daughter forward, indicating that she might make a suitable wife.

The Iraqis were also looking for news. Were the Marines going to Baghdad? Was Saddam finished? Was he dead in a bombing? What happened in Basra?

The townspeople said that the Iraqi army had left Kazim al Hajj and that they were glad to be rid of Saddam.

"It was a good day," Bianca said. The Marines had destroyed more than 30 tanks and artillery pieces. They had made a slew of friends.

"And nobody got hurt," Bianca said.

Sempers,

Roger