Originally created 04/10/03

Reporter sees Iraqi joy



The following is an interview that took place between Johnny Edwards and Augusta Chronicle City Editor Steve Crawford on Wednesday morning:

Crawford: Where are you today?

Edwards: I am in the eastern suburbs of Baghdad. I am not in Baghdad itself. I'm with a (Marine) combat service support unit right now.

Q: Are you following the fuel as it makes its way to Baghdad?

A: Right; what I have done is I rode with the 319th as far north as they are going to go, which is to Camp Chesty. It can always change when you are with the Marines, but right now we don't think we're going to go any farther than Camp Chesty.

So I've been hitching rides going beyond Chesty, just trying to follow the fuel all the way to the front lines.

Q: What evidence of fighting have you seen?

A: On my way up from Camp Chesty, there were burned Iraqi tanks, burned artillery guns. I saw only one thing that was definitely American: There was an American tank that was apparently blown up, but most of it is all Iraqi. I saw at least a dozen destroyed Iraqi tanks on the way up here.

Q: What are some of the other things you've seen in the past 24 hours?

A: Well, the Iraqi people seem to just be elated. It's like they've had this rage inside of them that has been pent up ever since Saddam (Hussein) has been in power, and they're just going nuts. Every single one of them, when they see Americans, they cheer, they clap, they give the thumbs-up. If you wave to them, they wave back like they are so excited, like you are Bruce Springsteen or something. They seem really happy.

There's a couple in there that will just stare at you, but if you wave at them they wave right back at you.

Q: What about looting?

A: They are looting like crazy. We're seeing people coming out of the city, and they are with wagons being pulled by donkeys that are full of all kinds of goods. I saw one today that was carrying a bunch of fluorescent lights and another one carrying what appeared to be a load of Sheetrock.

There's a lot of people rolling tires down the road, and they are also rolling the big metal barrels. People are just kicking them down the road. I have no idea what they are doing with them. The Marines have been theorizing that they are using them as building materials.

I tried to talk to a couple of them today, and all I could really gather was there was a burned-out factory. The Marines told me last night that the people had set this factory on fire. They don't know who owned the factory, but it had a big portrait of Saddam outside. Of course, the portrait is now all shot up.

I was trying to take a picture of the portrait when this (Iraqi) man started trying to talk to me. He didn't speak enough English, but he started trying to sign to me. He pointed to the picture of Saddam and made the cutting throat gesture, and another gesture where he was sort of shooing him like he was some nuisance that was no longer a problem.

Q: What's the mood like among the Marines?

A: The Marines are now seeing how the Iraqis are acting and starting to think, "Does this mean we are done with the war?" Because it seems like what they've set out to do has been done, and now there are a lot of feelings of "Let's go home now."

I talked to an artillery unit that was actively firing into Baghdad during the day - very loud - and they've seen so many horrific things, they've come all the way from southern Iraq, they've been involved in An Nasiriyah and other (battles). The impression I got was they are just really tired, they've grown up way more than they should have at their age and they just want to go home.

Today they were watching these Iraqis going up and down the road, and it gave them a feeling of satisfaction because they know that what they've done is appreciated by the people.

We're kind of beyond the feeling that these people are just waving to us to kind of appease us. It seems really genuine at this point.