Wall Street Journal: "US Troops Aren't Welcomed"

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Mon Mar 24 10:33:31 MST 2003


Wall Street Journal - March 24, 2003

U.S. Troops Aren't Welcomed By Everyone in Southern Iraq Relief Effort,
Aimed at Easing Defiance, Faces Obstacles to Delivering Supplies

By YAROSLAV TROFIMOV and NEIL KING JR. Staff Reporters of THE WALL
STREET JOURNAL

Far from being hailed immediately as liberators, invading U.S. and
British forces in southern Iraq are facing deep hostility and gunfire
from some residents who are often desperate for food and water and
sometimes furious about the continuing military assault against their
country.

The coalition is now rushing to get relief supplies into the region
through the seized port of Umm Qasr, hoping that food will ease the
bitterness.

Even after supplies enter the country, however, distributing them in
large cities such as Basra could be difficult if many residents remain
hostile to the invasion and fighting persists, which isn't clear will
happen. The military, facing not only Iraqi troops but also defiant
civilian guerrillas, also may have to run separate supply routes into
the south as most coalition forces follow the latest military planning
and move further north toward Baghdad, bypassing other cities along the
way.

In the dusty town of Az Zubayr, just south of Basra, some Iraqis in
civilian clothes fired rocket-propelled grenades and machine guns at
British and American troops. "The Americans are destroying our country.
There will be a fight," said Ismail Hantush, an engineer at the
state-run Iraqi oil company. Nearby, a local tailor cradled his baby boy
and said with a smile: "We hate you. You are all criminals."

Portraits of Saddam Hussein still lined the streets, and a lone British
unit camped under a red banner: "Every last droplet of blood we'll give
you, O Saddam."

Schoolteacher Majid Kaddoum stood amid a group of farmers as coalition
tanks rumbled past, his voice shaking with anger: "We are Iraqis, and we
will defend our country and defeat the aggressors." The farmers, in
dirty Bedouin dress, nodded in assent as Mr. Kaddoum, in a tattered
leather jacket, added with pride that he belongs to Mr. Hussein's Baath
Party. "Saddam is our leader, and we will fight for him," he said.

U.S. officials now hope that a massive relief effort will help change
the thinking of local Iraqis, who remain fearful and feel threatened as
long as Mr. Hussein remains in power. One key to doing that is reopening
Umm Qasr, a crucial gateway for supplies, as the U.S. and other
countries race to get food, water and medicine into Iraq. Any delay will
risk deepening the animosity.

President Bush, returning to the White House after a weekend at Camp
David, vowed that "massive amounts of humanitarian aid should be moving
within the next 36 hours, and that's going to be very positive news for
people who have suffered a long time under Saddam Hussein." The initial
relief shipments are expected to follow military convoys overland from
neighboring Kuwait.

All relief work will fall to military forces until areas are secure
enough to permit civilian groups to enter. That could take weeks.

Dashed Expectations

The early indications of hostility to the coalition invasion in southern
Iraq, the heartland of the Shiite community that rose up against Mr.
Hussein's rule in 1991, sharply contrasts with expectations among some
U.S. military commanders of being greeted there as liberators. Just a
few weeks ago, coalition officers in Kuwait were making plans to fly TV
crews to film cheering crowds in southern Iraq.

Many here remember all too well the harsh reprisals against those who
listened to American promises and took up arms in 1991, only to be
crushed by the Iraqi military.

Further south, residents in the quiet Iraqi town of Safwan, right on the
Kuwaiti border, were scrounging for food and water, with only little
assistance from coalition forces.

On the highway outside Safwan, near burning oil leaking from a pipeline,
U.S. Marine Staff Sgt. Brian Koenig's amphibious vehicle kept control of
an intersection. The crew had brought humanitarian rations from Kuwait,
but these were long gone, and villagers demanded the Marines' own food.
"They just keep coming," Sgt. Koenig said. "Little kids, moms. ... How
can you say no?"

As the Army's own supply lines are stretched, there is only so much that
even the most good-natured soldiers can do. "There is no water, no food,
no electricity, nothing left here. We want the world to help Iraq,"
implored Ali al Zubaidi, a jobless 35-year-old in Az Zubayr.

U.S. and British forces seized the port of Umm Qasr after a daylong
firefight Saturday, but U.S. Marines continued to face fierce Iraqi
resistance in pockets of the city Sunday, at one point ordering in U.S.
airstrikes. But even as fighting continued around the city, British
naval units began to sweep the port for mines and to search for booby
traps. They are now racing to reopen the port by midweek for the
delivery of humanitarian supplies.

Massive Dredging

The U.S. Agency for International Development hopes as early as Monday
to award a contract to a company that would administer the port, which
is now under British military command. The agency will then pick a U.S.
contractor to oversee a massive dredging and rebuilding effort intended
to make Umm Qasr ready to handle large cargo ships bringing in thousands
of tons a day of relief supplies. The port can now handle only smaller
ships, and has limited ability to unload them quickly.

Even before the port is fully operating, humanitarian supplies
stockpiled in Kuwait are slated to be loaded onto a British landing ship
and ferried for unloading nearby. Six merchant vessels that carried
military supplies from Britain are anchored in the southern Persian Gulf
and will be loaded with food and other supplies in Dubai and other
nearby ports for delivery through Umm Qasr, said Rear Adm. David
Snelson, commander of Britain's naval forces in the Gulf.

But it isn't clear whether fresh food and water will be enough to pacify
the local populace.

In Safwan, a border town where Iraq surrendered in 1991 and where the
U.S. provided massive humanitarian assistance during the first Persian
Gulf War, the initial muted welcome is turning to open hostility as
civilian casualties keep rising.

"How can we be happy? They are killing our people here," said farmer
Majid Simsim, pointing to a mosque in the center of town where an
ambulance had just brought the bodies of two other farmers killed by
U.S. aircraft in the fields nearby. "We want our country to be
independent again and the Americans to leave."

On a highway south of Basra, Iraq's second-largest city, Sapper Robert
MacLeod of the British Seventh Air Assault Brigade stood with his
submachine gun at the ready. "These people still have a lot of guns --
and we don't know whether it's the army or the civilians picking up guns
and firing at us," he said.

In the descending chaos, looters took advantage of the only sketchy
military presence in most populated areas in the south. Motorists
siphoned gasoline from a shabby service station in Safwan, just across
the road from a British outpost.

In Az Zubayr, hungry crowds looted the local food depot, stealing a
supply that would normally last 30 days, said the depot's manager,
Mohsen Galban. "We ask the Army for help, but nobody helps us," he said.

Some Iraqis react with scorn to the American radio broadcasts promising
a massive rebuilding. "All this talk about bringing us freedom, it's
just talk. All we have seen here so far is destruction," says Najib al
Zubairi, a local government employee.

U.S. military officials said Umm Qasr and its harbor are likely to be
the first Iraqi territory put under military administration. Authorities
in London are bringing in an army unit that normally handles operations
at the massive British military port near Southhampton, the 17th Port
and Maritime Regiment, to help run the facility until the contracted
administrator is prepared to take over.

Back to Work?

U.S. military officials hope that Iraqi port workers will resume their
duties. Harbor pilots will be needed to guide large merchant ships
carrying aid up the Khor abd Allah waterway, which links the port to the
northern Gulf and is difficult for big ships to navigate due to shoals
and sunken vessels from the 1991 Gulf War. And they will need workers to
unload cargo and operate the blue cranes that stick into the sky around
the docks to meet their ambitious timetables.

The Umm Qasr port complex, with two sets of berths about a mile apart,
has suffered over the past 12 years. Submerged ships hinder traffic,
while much of the port's infrastructure, including the cranes, have
deteriorated during a decade of United Nations sanctions. The port, at
last count, had just one aging dredger, so that accumulation of silt
often forces ships to anchor in deeper water and have their cargo
shuttled in on smaller vessels.

A 2001 U.N. report said that "generally poor port conditions [at Umm
Qasr] continue to contribute to the slow and inefficient offloading of
necessary food."

Two Iraqi boats were found carrying 68 mines over the weekend. Navy
speed boats were operating further up the waterway to intercept merchant
dhows that military officials feared Iraq might use to sneak more mines
down the channel for attacking U.S. vessels.

-- David S. Cloud in Bahrain contributed to this article.



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