Witnessing Iraq’s Civil War, U.S. Troops Feel Frustrated, Helpless
OUTSIDE SAMAWA, Iraq (AP) _ At his desert outpost, Sgt. Tadhg Kelly’s nights are punctuated by streaking orange tracers and staccato bursts of gunfire. At dawn, Iraqi refugees arrive, begging for help.
Stationed about 150 miles inside Iraq, Kelly and other front-line American troops feel frustrated and helpless as they witness the devastation of the Iraqi civil war, but are not allowed to intervene.
Desperate Iraqi refugees, defecting soldiers and defeated rebels all straggle past Kelly’s temporary home, a Bradley Fighting Vehicle parked behind a 10-foot sand berm four miles outside Samawa, a key southern town bisected by the Euphrates River.
″It’s frustrating to sit here when you know you could take out their army,″ said Kelly, a lanky 31-year-old from Live Oak, Fla. ″You begin to hope (Iraqi troops) will violate the DML (demarcation line) so we could go after them.″
About 100,000 U.S. troops are stationed in Iraq, including soldiers positioned on the edge of several southern Iraqi cities as a reminder to President Saddam Hussein that there is still no formal cease-fire in the Gulf War.
But the proximity of the Americans has been no deterrent to the vicious crackdown by Saddam’s troops on the Shiite Muslim rebellion in the south.
Scores of women and children with gunshot and shrapnel wounds have arrived at U.S. checkpoints, describing thousands of dead in the cities they fled.
More than 50,000 refugees, including several thousand defecting Iraqi troops, have voluntarily entered U.S.-occupied territory in recent weeks, according to American troops.
″We just watched the people stream past, there was nothing we could do except treat some of the injured,″ said Kelly, a member of the 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment’s 3rd Squadron. ″It really eats at you, seeing all the children who are suffering.″
Anti-Saddam resistance in Samawa, one of the last contested southern cities, was crushed several days ago, but there was still sporadic gunfire Thursday, according to the dozen U.S. troops stationed closest to the town.
For some U.S. soldiers, their neutrality in Iraq’s civil strife has taken the shine off the allied success in the Gulf War.
″We want to go home, but I don’t think we finished the job,″ said Staff Sgt. David Guajardo. ″Just ask these Iraqi people. They’re asking us to stay.″
President Bush has vowed that the United States will not be drawn into Iraq’s civil war, and has refused to commit troops or provide military aid to poorly armed insurgents.
″The rebel leaders begged us for weapons,″ said Capt. H.R. McMaster, whose unit is about 15 miles outside the southern city of Nassiriya.
Later the rebels asked the U.S. forces to drive into the city, believing that would scare out the Iraqi forces.
″All we could do was wish them luck,″ McMaster said.
While U.S. soldiers share the rebels’ desire to oust Saddam, troops said the insurgents were a rag-tag group without any defined political aims.
The rebels fought in small groups and there was no evidence of coordinated efforts, even among insurgents fighting in the same town, said Capt. Rhett Scott, an intelligence officer with the 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment.
None of the rebels they spoke to expressed strong allegiance to any specific leader, U.S. soldiers said.
U.S. troops and other observers believe the lack of organization and leadership among the rebels contributed to the U.S. decision not to intervene.
Unable to fight, U.S. forces in Iraq have become primarily a humanitarian organization, providing food, shelter and medical aid. The U.S. Army is caring for 7,000 refugees in Safwan, on the border with Kuwait.
Surrendering Iraqi soldiers sometimes pull out their military identification cards and spit on them, Scott said.
″It makes the point, but I wish they wouldn’t do it,″ he said. ″I have to collect these things.″
Other volunteer prisoners rip off military uniforms down to their underwear and stomp on them to show their distaste for Saddam’s army, Scott said.
Ajel Dhaif, 23, said he turned himself in to the U.S. forces outside Samawa after talking to freed Iraqi POWs who recently returned home.
″They recommended it,″ Dhaif said. ″They told me the Americans were the good guys and would treat me well.″