Uninvited U.S. Marines become part of life for Iraqis

Team Infidel

Forum Spin Doctor
By ANTONIO CASTANEDA - Associated Press Writer
HADITHA, Iraq - (AP) The Marines call it a necessary evil _
taking over houses and buildings for military use. For the Iraqis who become
unwilling hosts to the Americans, it can be anything from a mild
inconvenience to a disruption that tears apart lives.
In a recent offensive in Haditha, the headmaster of one school where
Marines were based pressed them for a departure date so he could resume
classes. At another school, Marines fortified the building with blast walls
and sandbags for long-term use.
A trembling woman wept when Marines tried to requisition her home to
set up an observation post with a view of a nearby road where a bomb had
been planted. The Marines quickly left, using her neighbor's rooftop
"We try to be respectful and not destroy anything in their homes,"
said Cpl. Joseph Dudley, with the 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment. "We
just borrow their house and try to complete our missions."
Requisitioning homes or other buildings has been widespread in Iraq
for U.S. troops on missions who stay far away from bases, sometimes for
several days or weeks. During major offensives, the temporary bases deep
inside cities allow troops to send out more patrols and respond quickly to
attacks rather than going all the way back to bases on the outskirts of
Some homeowners politely treat the Marines as welcome guests. During
an offensive in May, one man whose home was being used served rounds of tea
to the Marines while his wife remained discreetly out of sight. He let the
tired troops catch naps on his living room couch and floor, then waved
goodbye to them from his front doorsteps when they left to search more
But the Marines also run the risk of alienating residents.
Dhiya Hamid al-Karbuli, a truck driver from a village near the
Syrian border, said he fled with his wife, six children, his brother, sister
and mother after U.S. troops commandeered their home last month.
"They broke into my house before Ramadan and they are still there,"
he told The Associated Press by telephone from his brother's home in
Baghdad. "We were not able to tolerate seeing them damage our house in front
of our very eyes.... I was afraid to ask them to leave."
"They were eating our food. They took all the food from the
refrigerator, and used all our stored junk food too. The major gave me $20
so we could shop for ourselves and for them. It was not enough."
Sometimes the Iraqis are allowed to stay in one room in their home;
other times they have to move in with relatives or neighbors until the
forces leave.
"You see that place up there," one Marine said to his platoon leader
during a recent offensive in Haditha, pointing to a two-story hilltop house
with columns.
"Yeah, that looks good. I've been looking at that," replied his
captain, before trudging up the hill to explain to the owners that the
platoon would be camping inside for several hours.
In a school courtyard, a handful of Marines sang gospel hymns in
unison as they filled sand bags. In another building, Marines rested on
dusty tile floors, their heads leaning against the walls. Some read
paperbacks while others flipped through magazines with unclad women splashed
on the covers. Johnny Cash's rendition of "Sunday Morning Coming Down"
resonated from small speakers a Marine had brought along.
Most U.S. troops in Iraq live in air-conditioned, relatively
comfortable bases with such luxuries as Internet access and widescreen
televisions. But others have to rough it, particularly when patrolling
western Iraq, a turbulent area the size of Ireland where few bases are
within city centers.
Running water and electricity are prized but unreliable amenities in
these temporary homes. A shower is usually a bottle of water dumped over
someone's head and baby wipes to scrub off layers of dirt. Crude toilets are
fashioned from wooden pallets and benches.
"That will go down as one of the more unpleasant memories of my
life," said one Marine leaving a latrine with walls of camouflage netting.
Marines often are packed into small rooms, sleeping in rows with
their weapons and backpacks brimming with gear alongside them and eating an
endless series of prepackaged meals. A Marine suffering with a cough can
keep his entire unit awake through the night.
Some Marines seem to relish the difficult conditions, boasting that
they are better than other harsh deployments in Somalia or Afghanistan. For
others, the rough accommodations evoke fond memories of childhood camping
For the Iraqis, the intrusion can be disruptive, especially when
troops conduct nighttime drills with loud but harmless explosions and
armored vehicles pass through at all hours of the day.
Many Iraqis also fear the makeshift barracks in their neighborhoods
will attract insurgent attacks, possibly putting them in the crossfire.
Checkpoints can also make it difficult to travel to local markets.
Some Marines buy the Iraqi families sodas, or purchase snacks and
other goods for their fellow troops from local merchants, injecting a little
money into poor neighborhoods.
Lounging in new quarters, the troops reminisce about other places
they've used, from air-conditioned luxury to bare shelters.
Talk of the "pink hotel," a home in the city of Hit, brought smiles
to the faces of some Marines who recalled the soothing flow of the Euphrates
River outside.
Then Capt. Timothy Strabbing, also of the 3rd Battalion, reminded
them of the house near Fallujah where they had set up a checkpoint. "All it
had were dirt floors. It was the nastiest place," he said.