US Troops Aren't Welcomed in Southern Iraq
walterlx at earthlink.net
Wed Mar 26 22:58:56 MST 2003
(As the old saying goes, people don't like
liberators who come bearing bayonets...
Remember that when the US sent Cuban
exiles back to invade in 1961, they also
believe that the Cuban people would be
welcoming them, too...)
March 24, 2003
WAR IN IRAQ
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
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
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.
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.
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
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
"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
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
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.
Write to Yaroslav Trofimov at yaroslav.trofimov at wsj.com1 and
Neil King Jr. at neil.king at wsj.com2
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