Published on Saturday, June 28, 2003 by the New York Times
Once Hailed, Soldiers in Iraq Now Feel Blame at Each Step
by Edmund L. Andrews
BAGHDAD, Iraq, June 28 — After riding into Iraq on a wave of popular euphoria, American and British forces are unexpectedly finding themselves the brunt of criticism for everything that goes wrong these days.
"We are furious about people pointing guns at us," said Hamid Hussein, 33, pushing his broken-down
If the complaint is not about security, then it is about the lack of electricity this week in Baghdad.
"Don't talk to me about Saddam Hussein," snapped Ibrahim Aullaiwi, a 46-year-old shop owner in the poor neighborhood of New Baghdad. "The Americans are in charge of everything here. They could have brought generators in here within 24 hours."
Like Mr. Aullaiwi, many residents of Baghdad seem to ignore the fact that the electricity disruption was caused at least in part by sabotage and looting. Seething in 110-degree heat without air-conditioners, fans or refrigerators, many residents were already furious about chronic power failures over the past two months.
Whether battling saboteurs or snipers, American and British occupation leaders find that the public mood has turned critical, even though countless Iraqis remain pleased that Saddam Hussein is gone and still place considerable hope in the Americans and British to improve things.
The scorn, and the risk to the Western forces, can go together. That was the case when an angry crowd in the southern town of Majar al Kabir killed six British soldiers on Tuesday, and many residents contended that the British set off the disturbance by trying to search Muslim homes, a claim the British dispute.
American soldiers sometimes infuriate Iraqis by running afoul of time-honored tradition. On Thursday, soldiers on patrol in an Army convoy here heard gunshots and rushed into a house from all sides. It turned out there was a wedding party under way, a ceremony that often occurs on Thursday evenings and is celebrated with gunfire. The Americans added to the anger among the revelers by roughly grabbing and arresting a young man who was trying to sneak off in a taxi with his gun, according to a witness.
Earlier this month when thousands of American troops raided what they believed were bases for loyalists to Saddam Hussein, provoking a lengthy firefight that killed four Iraqis, the Shiite newspaper Al Dawa described the deaths as "martyrdom."
The drumbeat of daily attacks on allied soldiers, meanwhile, is forcing military leaders to strike back with measures that often increase anger and fear.
Soldiers in full-body armor, often without translators, show up at houses in the middle of the night and politely but firmly demand to search for weapons. Jittery soldiers in Humvees and tanks point machine guns at Iraqi cars that show the slightest hint of irregular behavior.
The tensions seem certain to increase. Attacks on American soldiers, though they do not endanger the overall military plan, have continued steadily for three weeks.
Today in Baquba, about 60 miles northeast of Baghdad, an unidentified person threw a grenade at American soldiers in a Humvee. The grenade missed the soldiers but wounded two Iraqis who happened to be shopping nearby.
The scene made for grisly images today on Al Jazeera, the Arabic television network based in Qatar: bloodied Iraqis at the sides of American soldiers.
Late Friday night, a grenade attack in the Baghdad district of Thawra left one American soldier dead, four soldiers wounded and one Iraqi interpreter wounded.
In yet another neighborhood of Baghdad that night, residents said someone fired a rocket-propelled grenade at an American armored personnel carrier. Military officials could not confirm the incident as of early this afternoon.
Those were merely the most recent deadly incidents in a week that included sniper attacks on individual soldiers, bombs placed under trucks and rocket-propelled grenades fired at Humvees.
American military commanders have greatly stepped up the pace of house-to-house sweeps, in which hundreds of soldiers temporarily close off neighborhoods and then search each house for weapons or any hints of loyalty to Saddam Hussein.
The searches usually proceed without serious conflicts, but the experiences are jarring for many people. On one recent raid, soldiers handcuffed and detained a man who had posters of Mr. Hussein in several of his rooms. The man went peacefully and was released after questioning.
British commanders, who have prided themselves on their ability to project a friendly image to Iraqis, learned this week just how explosive such searches can be.
Conservative Shiite Muslims in the southern town of Majar al Kabir had demanded that British soldiers refrain from house searches because they were disrespectful.
British commanders said they agreed to the demand, but troops set off a melee on Wednesday simply by showing up in the town. Mobs cornered and then killed several soldiers in a police station, and several more outside. Six soldiers died and eight more had been wounded by the time the dust settled.
Today, British forces returned to Majar al Kabir accompanied by at least five tanks as well as helicopters overhead. To ease tensions, the British have distributed leaflets begging residents to believe in the soldiers' peaceful intentions.
"Do not let rumors and misinformation split us apart," the leaflets say. "We will not return to punish you. That was the tactic of Saddam's regime."
One problem facing both British and American officials is their own limited ability to communicate through mass media. The American-led Coalition Provisional Authority inaugurated radio and television broadcasts last month, but the television broadcasts are only a few hours a night and are mostly devoted to reruns of Arab-language entertainment shows.
Meanwhile, Iraqis listen to television broadcasts from the Iranian network Al Alam, which is overwhelmingly critical of American forces in Iraq and the United States in general. Television sets here can receive Al Alam with the help of a large antenna. For the growing number of Iraqis with satellite dishes, the most influential source of news may be Al Jazeera. It has been critical of the allied forces and has assiduously and quickly reported attacks on American soldiers.
Meanwhile, Iraq has seen a flood of new newspapers. While some are balanced, and one or two are pro-American, many are plainly hostile.
An article on the front page of Al Haqiqa, one of several Shiite newspapers, reported that "unemployment and the chaos of security are the root causes of Iraqis clashing with Americans."
And in a separate front-page headline, the newspaper quoted a prominent Shiite leader as saying, "No Dialogue with the Occupier."
Copyright 2003 The New York Times Company