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Odd, intriguing and strange on a lot of levels...(7 posts)

Odd, intriguing and strange on a lot of levels...sn69
Apr 14, 2003 7:39 AM
GIs, Human Shields Talk War And Peace

Six Baghdad Engineers Kept Water Running As They Played Host to Group of Protesters

By Michael M. Phillips, Staff Reporter Of The Wall Street Journal

BAGHDAD -- Bob Dylan was on the boom box. The handwritten sign at the entrance said, "Bombing this site is a war crime." A vegetarian feast simmered on the stove. And the mouths of several Marines were watering as they prepared to enjoy their first home-cooked food in almost three months.

It was an unusual setting for a meal of reconciliation: the Sabanissan Water Treatment Project in north Baghdad. Seven human shields and six Iraqi engineers spent the conflict together at the water-purification plant. The first group was hoping to keep it from being bombed. The latter was hoping to keep water flowing to 3.5 million residents in the eastern half of the city.

Then on Saturday the First Division Marines of Lima Company (Third Battalion, Seventh Regiment) dropped by. About 150 strong, they were on a mission to search a suspected chemical laboratory nearby. The result was a scene from post-regime-change Iraq, where tensions are beginning to wind down and the conquerors are intermingling with the conquered in a myriad of peculiar ways. The immediate aftermath of war in Baghdad -- the jubilant welcome that greeted American invaders, the orgy of looting, and the sporadic resistance of Saddam Hussein's loyal backers -- is starting to give way to a wary, but mostly peaceful, coexistence.

When the Marines arrived at the plant, they figured they would need to persuade somebody to get it working again, given that there was no running water where they were bivouacked at the Oil Ministry building to the southeast.

They quickly discovered that the plant had never stopped functioning. The determined team of Iraqi water engineers braved the American military machine's bombs and bullets to keep the water gushing through its giant filters. On a tour of the facility by the engineers, the Marine commander and four of his troops also found an equally determined team of human-shield protesters who stood against everything the Marines have done in this country.

"This is our country," Safaa Al Kinany, the plant's acting assistant director, told Lima Company's commander, Capt. George Schreffler, shortly after the Marines pulled up to the plant in armored-assault vehicles. "These are our people. This is our duty."

In normal times, as many as 20 technicians worked at the plant. But once the bombing of Baghdad began, most fled to the countryside, and just six usually showed up each day. Mr. Kinany, 44, and Hashim Hassan, 42, the plant's director, alternated nights sleeping on cots at the plant so the other could check on his family. Outside the office where Mr. Kinany sleeps, a sign in Arabic reads: "We are happy our nightmare has ended."

Though the pressure isn't terrific, water does reach some residents. The engineers haven't seen a paycheck since the war started. But they've seen a lot of the war. They watched U.S. Warthog antitank planes machine-gun vehicles. They saw Iraqi army troops and Fedayeen irregulars take cover in one of the pumping stations connected to the plant, firing rocket-propelled grenades at U.S. tanks crossing the Tigris River bridge. The Americans responded by attacking the pumping station, disabling it. Digging through the wreckage later, Mr. Kinany discovered a man's severed legs.

"We saw the whole movie," he said.

Finding the eager-to-work engineers was a lucky stroke. Much of the capital has no basic services, so the Americans are using broadcasts, leaflets and word-of-mouth to persuade the war-shocked populace to get back to life as usual, minus Mr. Hussein. Still, most civil servants remain off the job.

"We took down all of Saddam's pictures and destroyed them -- when we knew he had left," Mr. Kinany told Capt. Schreffler, gesturing at the bare yellow and cream walls in the com
re: Odd, intriguing and strange on a lot of levels...part 2sn69
Apr 14, 2003 7:41 AM
"We took down all of Saddam's pictures and destroyed them -- when we knew he had left," Mr. Kinany told Capt. Schreffler, gesturing at the bare yellow and cream walls in the computerized control room.

"Is he dead or alive?" asked Capt. Schreffler, 31, from Harrisburg, Pa.

"You'd know better than me," replied Mr. Kinany, who said he is glad to be rid of Mr. Hussein and pointed out that the U.S. supported his regime for years.

As they walked the halls, a rattle of gunfire intruded from across the filtration ponds. The Marines crouched at the windows and wondered who was doing the shooting. "Don't you have contact with your people?" Mr. Kinany asked, with some astonishment. Yes, the captain said, but admitted it could take a while.

"There are no hostiles in this area," a staff sergeant warned over the radio. (Later they learned that Marines from another company had opened fire on a car they mistakenly thought was hostile, wounding seven civilians; all survived and were treated by Navy medics.)

The human shields, mostly Western antiwar activists who placed themselves in harm's way to discourage the U.S. from bombing civilian sites, added to Mr. Kinany's wartime headaches. The five men and two women from the U.S., England, Japan, Norway and Australia arrived at the end of February, accompanied by Iraqi intelligence agents, and promptly set up a commune of sorts in the top managers' office suite. It fell to the engineers to provide them with food and water. "To be frank, we hated them in the beginning," Mr. Kinany said.

He got to know the group and grew to like them, especially after the invasion of Baghdad began and looters started prowling around the plant. Thursday night, Marc Eubanks, 41, an American peace activist who spent four years each in the U.S. Army and the Air Force, and another shield agreed to patrol the grounds with an AK-47 assault rifle taken from a stash the engineers kept. On Friday, Mr. Kinany and Mr. Eubanks confronted looters, with the former G.I. speaking English and leaving the impression that perhaps he was an American soldier.

"Go and tell your partners the Americans are here, and they will destroy your houses" if you don't leave, Mr. Kinany yelled at the looters in Arabic.

"It was rather an ironic situation -- first we wanted to protect them from the Americans and then from [Iraqi] looters," said Geir Angell Oygarden, a 35-year-old Norwegian shield and social scientist.

When Mr. Kinany took Capt. Schreffler and his men to see where the shields lived, the four Marines stayed behind. After some initial awkwardness, the peaceniks and the warriors talked about the politics of the war and the downfall of Mr. Hussein.

"Do you think the Iraqis could have done this on their own?" asked Cpl. Jonathan Talbott, 21, from Anchorage, Alaska, who had seen smiling, waving Iraqis as the Marines drove into the capital.

"Who knows?" Mr. Eubanks responded. "They never had the chance. The soft method was never tried."

He told the Marines that U.S.-led economic sanctions had kept sick Iraqi children from getting medicines. And he talked about civilians caught in the deadly crossfire during U.S. attacks.

"There has been a lot of death here, and people aren't going to forget that very easily," said Mr. Eubanks, who lives in Greece.

"We're just trying to help," said Cpl. Bryon Adcox, 21, from Knoxville, Tenn.

Before the invasion, as the Marines had discussed among themselves the rules of engagement dictating whom they could or could not kill, more than one had joked that he wouldn't mind taking out a human shield or two.

That said, the Marines of Lima Company hadn't had anything even resembling a home-cooked meal since January, when they arrived at base camp in Kuwait.

So when Mr. Eubanks offered dinner, three Marines couldn't refuse. Yukiko Muragishi, a 31-year-old Tokyo woman in a tie-dyed t-shirt, whipped up vegetable omelets
re: Odd, intriguing and strange on a lot of levels...part 3sn69
Apr 14, 2003 7:42 AM
So when Mr. Eubanks offered dinner, three Marines couldn't refuse. Yukiko Muragishi, a 31-year-old Tokyo woman in a tie-dyed t-shirt, whipped up vegetable omelets for the troops. Only Cpl. Talbott, a mortarman, declined, politely explaining that his stomach just wasn't ready for real food. In reality, he wasn't comfortable breaking bread with the shields. "I'm not sure if I want to eat in their house," he said later.

The other three Marines crowded around two plates, loaded with rice, cucumber slices, tomato and omelet. "These people just became my heroes," said Lance Cpl. Thomas Rudkin, 21, from Moberly, Mo., a half-hour from where Mr. Eubanks went to high school in Warrenton, Mo. The Marines didn't know when they'd get another meal like that. The shields began heading home Sunday, via Jordan.

As the Marines left, Lance Cpl. Rudkin turned to Ms. Muragishi and thanked her in Japanese, with a phrase he had picked up while posted at the Marine base in Okinawa: "Domo arigato."
The best war stories always have elements of this.OldEdScott
Apr 14, 2003 7:51 AM
Because war is a much more complex, deeply human endeavor than that straight-ahead John Wayne crap we're fed as kids.
The best war stories always have elements of this.sn69
Apr 14, 2003 8:02 AM
There's a lot more on the Early Bird this morning, but my server is moving too slowly to try to post more. Sorry 'bout that...we're in the middle of a migration to a new, supposedly better Navy/Marine Corps Intranet.

Suffice it to say that there are a great many articles detailing the looting and the efforts taken to stop it as well as the tremendous efforts underway to get the infrastructure returned to normalcy (many of our folks are enduring water and food rationing to assist with that effort).

One of the most intruging was a peak into Uday's persona based upon articles/stuff found in his palace. It's a bizarre look into the mind of someone who strikes me as being extremely sad and extremely tormented by his upbringing. Much like some abused children go on to abuse others or to hurt animals, this guy used his power to amerliorate his failing sense of self worth. Wacky....
thanks for posting thatgtx
Apr 14, 2003 2:09 PM
crazy stuff.
if the stinkin' server is working tomorrowsn69
Apr 14, 2003 4:15 PM
I'll try to cut 'n paste some of the stuff about the palaces and Udai's diaries. Really weird stuff...very Melrose Place-esque.