Vanquished villagers

"Vanquished villagers" Continued...

Issue: "Judicial filibuster deal," June 4, 2005

The men here who greeted Lt. Col. McCauley all said they voted in January's election despite reports of low voter participation by Sunni Arabs across Iraq. Now stuck living in poverty far from Baghdad, they want the government's aid. "The new government is good enough for us if it helps give us back our rights," said one Sunni Arab villager.

Here the people do not debate national controversies about how Sunni Arabs claim they are unfairly represented in the new government and how such disenfranchisement among the Sunnis is driving the insurgency. "We don't care about that. We just want to live in peace and that's it," Mr. Muamed said.

Before a convoy of seven U.S. military Humvees, the men condemned the insurgency and its weapon of choice: the roadside bomb. "People say [Sunni Arabs] are anti-American," said Lt. Col. McCauley. "But they sure don't act that way."

The only creatures hostile to the Americans here May 20 were a few barking sheepdogs protecting their flock. Sheep herding is the sole industry in this makeshift village. Residents keep their sheep separate from one another using crude fences and by painting different colors on the back of the animals.

Not taking sides in area land battles does not mean the U.S. soldiers can't help. After meeting with the tribal leaders, soldiers in Lt. Col. McCauley's unit handed out truckloads of food, water, medical supplies, and toys to the villagers. Besides basic charity, U.S. forces hope the charity will drive a wedge between the insurgents and their recruitment base among poor, displaced locals. One boy amassed such a bounty of flip-flops, stuffed animals, bouncing balls, and school supplies he could not pick up the cardboard box a soldier gave him to carry home his new possessions. So the boy stood guard over the box and waited for help from his family. Other children fought over soccer balls, while one U.S. soldier chased the laughing children around with a super-soaker water gun.

Meanwhile the Sunni Arab fathers unloaded six pallets of milk, trail mix, beef jerky, and fruit juices off of a truck-dividing the food and drinks in even stacks for each of the tribe's families. One man kept track using a pad and pencil. Another man used a stick to swat away children who wandered too close to the stacks. Other men carted off the empty wooden pallets for use in their sparse huts.

Women carried buckets to a water buffalo brought by the Americans and bulging with 400 gallons of water. "This is the first group I've ever seen share," said Staff Sgt. Jeffrey Webb. "For the rest of them it is just a free-for-all."

Children here have learned enough English to shout two popular phrases to get the attention of the Americans-"Mister! Mister" and "Baby! Baby," the latter of which is an attempt to tell the soldiers there is a baby back in the hut.

In the midst of this pleading, Capt. Don Spradlin, the National Guard unit's surgeon, attended to the village's medical needs. Capt. Spradlin treated Iraqis with arthritis, ear infections, hip displacement, allergies, and typhoid. "I've seen diseases here I've only read about in medical journals," Capt. Spradlin said.

As the convoy left after the soldiers' two-hour visit, the Sunni men waved goodbye to the passing Humvees. The village women walked back to their huts loaded down with boxes of drinks and food.

-Edward Lee Pitts is military affairs correspondent for the Chattanooga Times Free Press, currently embedded with the Tennessee National Guard 278th Regimental Combat Team in Iraq

Edward Lee Pitts
Edward Lee Pitts

Lee teaches journalism at Dordt College in Sioux Center, Iowa, and is the associate dean of the World Journalism Institute.


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