|FROM ||Ruben I Safir
|SUBJECT ||Subject: [hangout] War is in question
Cheers and Smiles for U.S. Troops in a Captured City
By JIM DWYER
NAJAF, Iraq, April 2 ? Hundreds of American troops marched into town at
midday today and were greeted by its residents.
The infantry was backed by attack helicopters and bombers, and
immediately destroyed several arms caches and took over a military
training facility to serve as their headquarters.
The occupying forces, from the First and Second brigades of the 101st
Airborne Division, entered from the south and north. They had seized the
perimeter of town on Tuesday.
People rushed to greet them today, crying out repeatedly, "Thank you,
this is beautiful!"
Two questions dominated a crowd that gathered outside a former
ammunition center for the Baath Party. "Will you stay?" asked Kase, a
civil engineer who would not give his last name. Another man, Heider,
said, "Can you tell me what time Saddam is finished?"
Residents also pleaded for water and fuel, saying that supplies had been
cut off for four days. Asked what else the people wanted, residents
pointed to a building from which they said rocket-propelled grenades
were launched, and asked the military to remove them.
A Shiite leader, Ayatollah Ali Alsestani, said to have been under house
arrest for a decade or more, was freed after his guards fled during the
American entry into Najaf.
Lt. Col. Chris Hughes said he had been talking with an emissary of the
imam about governing arrangements for the city now that the Baath Party
had been routed. The cleric said he would give his response on Thursday.
United States Army troops encircled the city last Thursday after seizing
three bridges across the Euphrates River in fierce clashes.
But today the Americans did not yet have control of the entire city.
There were radio reports that paramilitary forces had seized some 20
civilian hostages in another part of town.
Among those entering the city was Kadhim al-Waeli, 30, who said he fled
the city on March 23, 1991, after the first gulf war, when a Shiite
uprising was brutally suppressed by the Hussein regime and after
American encouragement amounted to no more than a pep talk. He is a
member of what he described as the free Iraqi forces attached to a civil
affairs unit of the United States Army.
"I was so glad to come back and see a guy on the street with pita
bread," Mr. al-Waeli said. "I got some from him; he gave it to me and
the other soldiers for free. He said you're one of them."
Mr. al-Waedi said that Ayatollah Alsestani was being cautious about
embracing the Americans because of uncertainty about how they would be
viewed by the local Shiites.
But he also said that the local Shiites were concerned that the
Americans would not secure the peace and wanted to know, "Are you going
to be here or are you going to leave us?"
American troops found that the fleeing Baath Party and paramilitary
forces had set up minefields on roads and bridges leading out of the
city. Late today an American engineering team was clearing the third of
such fields, this one with 30 mines, by detonating them with C4
Lt. Col. Duke Deluca, noting that the mines had been made in Italy,
said, "Europeans are antiwar, but they are pro-commerce."
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