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[casi] more 'stupid' iraqis,2763,919642,00.html

'You're late. What took you so long? God help you become victorious'

'I want to say hello to Bush, to shake his hand'

James Meek in Safwan
Saturday March 22, 2003
The Guardian

Yesterday afternoon a truck drove down a side road in the Iraqi town of
Safwan, laden with rugs and furniture. Booty or precious possessions? In a
day of death, joy and looting, it was hard to know.

As the passengers spotted European faces, one boy grinned and put his thumb
up. The other nervously waved a white flag. The mixed messages defined the
moment: Thank you. We love you. Please don't kill us.

US marines took Safwan at about 8am yesterday. There was no rose-petal
welcome, no cheering crowd, no stars and stripes.

Afraid that the US and Britain will abandon them, the people of Safwan did
not touch the portraits and murals of Saddam Hussein hanging everywhere. It
was left to the marines to tear them down. It did not mean there was not
heartfelt gladness at the marines' arrival. Ajami Saadoun Khlis, whose son
and brother were executed under the Saddam regime, sobbed like a child on
the shoulder of the Guardian's Egyptian translator. He mopped the tears but
they kept coming.

"You just arrived," he said. "You're late. What took you so long? God help
you become victorious. I want to say hello to Bush, to shake his hand. We
came out of the grave."

"For a long time we've been saying: 'Let them come'," his wife, Zahara,
said. "Last night we were afraid, but we said: 'Never mind, as long as they
get rid of him, as long as they overthrow him, no problem'." Their
29-year-old son was executed in July 2001, accused of harbouring warm
feelings for Iran.

"He was a farmer, he had a car, he sold tomatoes, and we had a life that we
were satis fied with," said Khlis. "He was in prison for a whole year, and I
raised 75m dinars in bribes. It didn't work. The money was gone, and he was
gone. They sent me a telegram. They gave me the body."

The marines rolled into the border town after a bombardment which left up to
a dozen people dead. Residents gave different figures. A farmer, Haider, who
knew one of the men killed, Sharif Badoun, said: "Killing some is worth it,
to end the injustice and suffering." The men around him gave a collective
hysterical laugh.

The injustice of tyranny was merged in their minds with the effects of
sanctions. "Look at the way we're dressed!" said Haider, and scores of men
held up their stained, holed clothes. "We are isolated from the rest of the

The marines took Safwan without loss, although a tank hit a mine. "They had
to clear that route through. They found the way to punch through and about
10 Iraqi soldiers surrendered immediately," said Marine Sergeant Jason
Lewis, from Denver, standing at a checkpoint at the entrance to the town
where, minutes earlier, a comrade had folded a huge portrait of President
Saddam and tucked it into his souvenir box.

The welcome, he admitted, had been cool. "At first they were a little
hesitant," he said. "As you know, Saddam's a dictator, so we've got to
reassure them we're here to stay _ We tore down the Saddam signs to show
them we mean business.

"Hopefully this time we'll do it right, and give these Iraqis a chance of

But the marines' presence was light. They had not brought food, medicines,
or even order. All day hundreds of armoured vehicles poured through the
town. But they did not stop, and the looting continued. Every government
establishment seemed to be fair game. People covered their faces in shame as
they carried books out of a school. Tawfik Mohammed, the headmaster,
initially denied his school had been looted, then admitted it. "This is the
result of your entering," he said. "Whenever any army enters an area it
becomes chaos. We are cautious about the future. We are very afraid."

Safwan yesterday was a place where people were constantly taking you aside
to warn in veiled terms that it was necessary to be careful. Everywhere was
the lingering fear that the revenge killings that swept the area in 1991 - a
product of US encourage ment and then abandonment of the southern Iraqi
revolt - could happen again.

"Now, we are afraid [Saddam's] government will come back," said Haider, as
the Safwan Farmers' Cooperative was being looted behind him. "We don't trust
the Americans any more. People made a revolution, and they didn't help us."

Safwan is a crumbling, dead-end place, full of poor, restless young men, and
reliant on the tomato trade for its income. Farmers were panicking yesterday
as they asked journalists, in lieu of anyone better, how they were supposed
to sell their tomatoes.

A handful of soldiers, mainly US marines but with a few British, are
struggling to cope with the chaos and the lack of health care or aid.

At a checkpoint just north of the town two British military policemen with
paramedical training and a US doctor rushed to treat two Iraqi men brought
in on the back of a beaten-up pick-up truck. Their legs were lacerated by
shrapnel. The military policemen did their conscientious best, and may have
saved their lives.

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