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March 27, 2003
 
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(AP Photo)
Marine in Iraq Worries About Civilians
Marine in Iraq Worries About Endangering Civilians Amid Fighting Resistance

The Associated Press


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IN THE IRAQI DESERT March 28

Lance Cpl. Jack Self is killing people for the first time in his life.

In the past week, he has blown down buildings with the grenade launcher he mans atop a Humvee and has seen bodies in the rubble.

The 24-year-old Marine has no qualms about what he's done. But because of the many civilians on the battlefield and the difficulty in telling friend from foe he is a little worried about what he may have to do before the war is over.

Besides doing battle with uniformed Iraqi soldiers, Marines have been shot at by Iraqis in civilian clothes hiding in buildings. U.S. troops were further infuriated by reports that some American servicemen were killed by Iraqis who were waving a white flag and pretending to surrender.

U.S. officials have blamed irregular forces like Saddam's Fedayeen for much of the resistance that has hampered the American-led advance through Iraq, accusing them of faking surrender or posing as civilians, only to shoot Americans.

As a result, the Marines of the 3rd Battalion, 7th Marine Infantry have become far more suspicious of the Iraqi people, looking at each one as a possible attacker.

"I didn't expect the whole civilian thing," Self said. "And that bothers me."

The Bentonville, Ark., native sat in the turret of his tan Humvee, from where he mans his Mark-19 rapid-fire grenade launcher, which he has fixed up with a CD player and speakers that are invariably blasting country music.

As he spoke, he was providing cover for scores of Marines searching lone stone houses to make sure there were no snipers inside.

A few minutes before, a woman with two heavily weighed down donkeys had walked out of one house and into the desert. Self assumed he would be ordered to blast the house to pieces, as he has done to several other building in recent days.

"I hope there's nobody in that building when I destroy it," he said. "Unless they are soldiers. Then I'll kill them. That's what I am here for."

In the end, the building was left standing.

When the 3rd Battalion, 7th Marine Infantry first rode into Iraq last week, an Iraqi soldier with a Kalashnikov opened fire on the Marines from a building. Self, with his Mark-19, and another Marine with a .50-caliber gun opened up on the building, destroying it.

The next day, Self saw Iraqis pulling the bodies of people in civilian clothes out of the rubble.

"I look at it as if he killed them," he said referring to the Iraqi sniper. "Not me."

Later, the Marines were shot at from a military barracks. In Az Zubayar, Self responded by shooting at least 60 grenades into the building. Then he saw people running out with white flags. "There's got to be people dead in that building," he said.

Self joined the Marines last year at age 23, after three years of college followed by manual labor jobs. Before he enlisted, he had never been on an airplane or gone anywhere much beyond his Arkansas town.

"I wanted to do something that I could look back on and be proud of," he said.

He strongly believes Saddam Hussein was involved in the Sept. 11 terrorist acts and believes the fight here is just.

Self sometimes speaks with bravado about killing Iraqis. ("Part of me wants to kill everything I see.") But in more contemplative moods, he is deeply disturbed by how many Iraqi civilians seem to be around the battlefield.

"I'm not heartless," he said.

However, he insisted he would not hesitate for an instant to kill an Iraqi soldier even if that soldier were shooting at him from a crowded schoolyard.

"I'm going to do what I am told, without any doubt," he said.

As the Marines drive through the Iraqi countryside, the self-described farm boy is reminded of farm families back home and wonders what it would be like for his family to be confronted suddenly by an enormous column of foreign troops.

He recalled that on his first day in Iraq, he saw a father, mother, two little boys and a little girl at their front door, giving him a tentative wave as he drove by.

He wanted to wave back. But then he worried that maybe they were trying to distract him, make him take his finger off the trigger for just a second

"You just can't trust anybody," he said. "But at the same time, it feels good to be a hero."


photo credit and caption:
A U.S. Marine of the 3rd Batallion, 4th Regiment, secures the road to Baghdad near the city of Ad Diwaniyah, central Iraq, Friday, March 28, 2003. (AP Photo/Laurent Rebours)

Copyright 2003 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

 
 
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