U.S. Marines battle persistent rumor mill in isolated western Iraq

U.S. Marines battle persistent rumor mill in isolated western Iraq
October 4th, 2006  
Team Infidel

Topic: U.S. Marines battle persistent rumor mill in isolated western Iraq

U.S. Marines battle persistent rumor mill in isolated western Iraq
Media: The Associated Press
Date: 04 October 2006

HADITHA, Iraq_Word spread quickly: A Marine search dog had escaped and was
roaming the streets attacking children. But the Marines didn't have any dogs
here at the time. Nor would they let any escape without a massive search.

Nevertheless, Marines found themselves dealing with yet another of the
baseless rumors that often sweep this isolated city of about 50,000 people,
most of them Sunni Arabs already wary of U.S. intentions in Iraq.

Rumors _ most of them maligning U.S. troops _ are a staple of life in the
embattled, isolated cities of Anbar province, where telephones don't work
and newspapers rarely appear.

Many residents are afraid to visit other parts of the country such as
Baghdad, 220 kilometers (140 miles) to the southeast, for fear they'll run
afoul of Shiite death squads.

In their isolation, most people here rely on Arab television networks such
as Al-Jazeera for news of the outside world.

For local news, the main medium is word of mouth.

No one is sure how the dog rumor started but soon terrified residents were
complaining to their tribal leaders about a violent animal on the loose.

The director of the city hospital even told reporters that seven children
had been bitten. The Americans must be to blame, many people concluded.

"We heard this from the people about dogs roaming the street, the market,
that have bitten 20 people," one tribal leader complained to a Marine

"Well, they're not our dogs. We'd know if they were ours," replied Capt.
Andy Lynch of Chicago, a company commander in the 3rd Battalion, 3rd

That's didn't satisfy the sheik.

"Our dogs don't bite," the sheik responded.

Lynch eventually convinced the sheik that if there were any dogs on the
prowl, they were probably packs of strays that regularly roam the city. He
joked that U.S. military search dogs "cost more to train than a Marine."

Half-truths are often the source of many rumors.

Earlier this year, Marines accidentally started fires in two fields in
Haditha by shooting warning flares at approaching cars. But insurgents or
skeptical residents inflated the story into something much different.

"The people were talking about how the Marines were going and setting
people's crops on fire," Lynch said. "Then we had to go out and explain the
whole thing."

The city's sectarian makeup makes it a fertile ground for anti-American

Haditha and most of Anbar is dominated by Sunni Arabs who fell from power
with the toppling of Saddam Hussein. Now their longtime rivals in the Shiite
community lead the government and military.

Some of the hostility may also stem from the Marines' own actions. Marines
based in the city last year allegedly killed 24 civilians after one of their
comrades died in a roadside bombing.

The Marine Corps has yet to press charges against the accused.

Local residents are more likely to believe their fellow Sunnis _ even those
in the insurgency _ than strangers like the Marines.

"I think there's definitely more of a burden (on Marines) that we're telling
the truth compared to the guy who's on the street spreading rumors because
we're not from here," said Lynch.

Regardless of the reasons, rumors and misinformation make it harder for the
Marines to win the trust and cooperation of Sunni civilians here.

Last summer, Marines launched a recruiting drive to recruit members of a new
city police force. A number of residents told reporters that Marines were
forcing men to sign up.

"The only thing we can do is go out and speak the truth," Lynch said. "We
can dispel a lot of rumors just by our actions."

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