American advance slowed by surrender of Iraqis

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The Independent Online

US soldiers south of Baghdad advanced 10 miles through the Iraqi desert yesterday, having their first face-to-face meeting with civilians and detaining dozens of prisoners.

US soldiers south of Baghdad advanced 10 miles through the Iraqi desert yesterday, having their first face-to-face meeting with civilians and detaining dozens of prisoners.

The 1st and 2nd Brigades of the 3rd Infantry Division moved forward in the vicinity of Karbala, 50 miles south-west of Baghdad. One battalion, conducting a sweep on the US troops eastern flank, near the Euphrates river was slowed by the surrender of dozens of Iraqi soldiers.

The men of A Company, 3rd Battalion, 7th Infantry Regiment advanced with almost no contact until they came to an abandoned mine they had planned to use as their camp.

The mine was no longer abandoned. A dozen Iraqi Bedouins had taken over the old quartz mine and had dug a well, which they used to irrigate a meagre onion crop in the desert sands. As the armoured vehicles approached, the Iraqi farmers waved white flags.

Captain Chris Carter, the commanding officer, informed his battalion commander that he would need to pull his troops back a few hundred metres to avoid the farmers' dilapidated shanties. Lieutenant-Colonel Philip DeCamp agreed.

Once his perimeter was set, Capt Carter sent a military intelligence officer, fluent in Arabic, to speak with the farmers.

The officer, accompanied by an assistant, brought sweets for the children. The Iraqi men at first stood back, with their hands behind their heads, struggling to hold up the sticks on which they had tied flour bags in a sign of surrender.

The Iraqis relaxed when the officer told them that they could drop their hands. The Iraqis walked up to the officer, shaking his hand and offering greetings. The officer's message to the Iraqis was simple, the US forces would not hurt them, but they needed to stay away from the American soldiers.The officer said the men had offered the soldiers tea, but the officer could not bring himself to take anything from the families.

The soldiers came away with pity for the poverty of the farmers. Their paranoia after reports of suicide attacks was softened by what appeared to be sincere Iraqi smiles and ordinary people trying to eke out an existence in the harsh desert. "What a miserable way to live," the officer said.

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