AMARAH, Iraq April 10 —
Local leaders were adamant when the U.S. Marines came into this
eastern city: They didn't want to see U.S. flags, didn't want Iraqi
flags torn down and didn't want soldiers interacting with their
women at checkpoints.
"The Americans are not the best at knowing what's good for Iraq.
The Iraqis are," a man identified as the leader of freedom fighters
who liberated this Shiite town from government control told Brig.
Gen. Rich Natonski, commander of Task Force Tarawa, over tea at a
local sheik's house.
Iraqis cheered U.S. troops who rolled tanks into Baghdad and
knocked over a 40-foot statue of President Saddam Hussein on
Wednesday, happy to see their oppressive leader ousted. But they are
also reluctant to give up too much control in the rapidly shifting
political landscape and already wondering how soon the Americans
"Whatever he has done, he is a Muslim, and we are a Muslim
nation," Baghdad store owner Ali Al-Obeidi after watching U.S.
troops help celebrating Iraqis pull down Saddam's statue. Referring
to coalition troops, he said: "We will never allow them to
The fight to liberate this southeastern Iraqi city began Sunday,
when local Iraqis rose up against Saddam's 10th Armored Division in
a battle supported by heavy U.S.-led airstrikes. When Marines
arrived Tuesday, they had no one left to fight, finding abandoned
tanks littered across this barren, muddy landscape in freshly dug
On the main highway through town, which leads to Baghdad, a
government building was still smoldering, documents and file
cabinets littering the front yard. Armored vehicles and artillery
pieces littered the street, lined by sandbag bunkers.
Sheik Ali Shalan al-Faisal, hosting a meeting Wednesday at his
house in a village about security and a new administration, bragged
that residents had killed the division's commanding general.
Al-Faisal, sitting under a picture of himself, said the largest
problem the city now faced was a lack of electricity because the
power lines from Nasiriyah had been cut and looters had taken all
the repair equipment.
Despite that, the local leader said his own men wanted to be in
charge of controlling the chaos that has followed the fall of
"We don't have to have American security. We can have our own
security if the U.S. allows us," he said.
Foreign troops in other conflicts have often worn out an initial
Shiite Muslims showered the Israeli army with rice when it
entered Lebanon in 1982 to root out guerrillas. Many Roman Catholics
welcomed British troops into Northern Ireland in 1969.
"But when they began to put up checkpoints, barbed-wire
perimeters and limited population movements, attitudes began to
change," said Sandra Mitchell, an International Rescue Committee
lawyer who has worked missions in Kosovo and Bosnia. Mitchell
Some Iraqis are already expressing anger at the British troops
controlling the southern city of Basra, accusing them of being
ill-prepared and failing to halt widespread looting and
"We thought when they entered the city, they would prepare an
administration to take control," said Dr. Janan Peter al-Sabah,
chief of surgery at a local hospital. "We don't need food or water.
What we lack is safety and protection. Our message to the coalition
troops is to take responsibility for the security of the people, of
the homes, of the facilities."
In Amarah, it wasn't entirely clear if the situation was as calm
as locals insisted. Gunfire could be heard throughout the afternoon
and large cloud of black smoke rose into the sky just before
Natonski said his medics treated a 12-year-old girl shot in the
head, and had evacuated her by helicopter.
At a military base the Marines visited near Amarah on Wednesday,
the local leader insisted his men could control the site and see
that the weapons didn't fall into the wrong hands.
"We want to go home also to our families," Natonski reassured the
"Inshallah," they all heartily replied, Arabic for "God
|Residents wave at U.S. Marines
of India Company, 3rd Battalion, 5th Regiment as they drive by
while clearing an area of potential threats, about ten miles
east of downtown Baghdad on Wednesday, April 9, 2003. (AP
Photo/The Baltimore Sun, John
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