View Full Version : Iraqi Neighborhood Hails U.S. Marines

04-12-03, 02:06 PM
Apr 12, 2:45 PM EDT

Iraqi Neighborhood Hails U.S. Marines

Associated Press Writer

BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) -- U.S. troops in Iraq have been greeted any number of ways - with gunfire, with jubilation, with apprehension. In one middle-class Baghdad neighborhood Saturday, Marines got a warm welcome, complete with breakfast and offers of warm baths, and a barrage of questions and complaints from frightened residents.

The members of Weapons Company of the 3rd Battalion, 7th Marines, arrived in the middle-class Zayuna neighborhood Friday afternoon and began chatting with the locals, trying to put them at ease.

The residents offered to let them take baths in their houses, which the Marines refused for security reasons, but that didn't end the hospitality.

When the Marines, who slept in their Humvees, awoke Saturday morning, they were greeted by their new neighbors pouring out of their large houses to offer fresh bread and pastries, packages of dates and cheese and trays of hot tea.

Curious children milled around, trying out some English phrases and asking for the Marines' autographs or addresses. One gave Sgt. Paul Coughlin of Boston a red flower that he nestled in his grenade pouch; another played marbles with medic Brent Cook, 23, of Houston.

It was the first heart-to-heart contact these Marines had had with Iraqis. The neighborhood residents needed the friendly gestures just as much, or even more, as reassurance amid the fear.

On Thursday, another group of Marines discovered 50 vests filled with explosives and ball bearings, intended for use by suicide bombers, in a school in the neighborhood. A nearby school had hundreds of crates of weapons stored in the classrooms.

Adding to the shock of that find, Zayuna residents have been wracked by fears of the looting that has plagued Baghdad since the disintegration of President Saddam Hussein's regime. They cut down a palm tree to barricade one neighborhood street.

As Lt. Buster O'Brien of Boston walked through the neighborhood looking for explosives Saturday morning, he was quickly surrounded by a group of curious men - a few of whom spoke a little English - and decided to hold an impromptu town meeting.

He pulled out a list of directives for the Iraqi people from the U.S. military.

The U.S. will respect Iraq's institutions, he said first. Iraqis need to go back to work, he continued.

"But the shops, we have no material," said Blend Sherwan, 40.

"What about the salaries for employees?" asked Hayder Abdul Kareem, 32.

O'Brien had no answers.

He read another directive: "We don't harm prisoners. If you shoot at us, different story. If you see someone who wants to shoot Marines, you need to tell us. If you find weapons, you need to tell us."

"Yes, yes," Kareem said.

Other questions came.

"What about the thieves? Can you stop them?" Kareem asked.

"We don't have the forces yet," O'Brien said. "But if you see strange people, you need to tell us."

Can the Marines keep out the poor people from nearby Saddam City who keep scoping out Zayuna for looting? Kareem asked.

"We're not taking sides. We want peace," O'Brien said.

What about electricity? When will it come back?

As soon as possible, O'Brien said.

The men said they were concerned their money, which has Saddam Hussein's face on it, was no longer good.

It is good, O'Brien said.

They wanted the United States to set up an Iraqi government quickly.

"The people are afraid, maybe Saddam comes back," Kareem said.

"Not while I'm here. He's never coming back," O'Brien said.

The men became most excited when O'Brien told them to take their satellite dishes out of hiding.

"You want a satellite? You can have 50 satellites," he said. "You have freedom, do what you want."

"We want American satellite. HBO," said Sherwan, who said he was jailed by Saddam's regime for six months for using a satellite dish.

O'Brien explained that the U.S. would probably be here for a while and the Iraqis needed to work with them to get their nation back up and running.

"This isn't going to be quick and it's not going to be easy," O'Brien said. "It takes time, but it's worth it. Freedom's worth it."

With a huge array of tasks in the troubled city, the Marines didn't have the chance to stick around Zayuna very long. They moved on Saturday afternoon, many with a strong tug of regret.

"It's the first place I had looked forward to staying in since I got here," said Sgt. Ian Hogg of Birmingham, Ala. "Being with those people actually made me feel like I was doing something - not killing, not fighting, just being a person."