SHOMALI, Iraq—Inside a three-story concrete structure, not far from a field of cows, stood the boxes. Hundreds of boxes.
Inside the heavy cardboard containers lay neatly stacked piles of dossiers prepared by Baath Party officials.
The files included allegations of cow snatching and accounts of individuals who reportedly had spoken ill of Saddam Hussein.
It appeared that no one was exempt. Men, women and children had files, said Marine officials at this camp, about 60 miles southeast of Baghdad. An Arabic speaker attached to the unit translated the documents.
"Everything they had on 'em was here," said Maj. Alex Briceno, 34, of the 2nd Force Reconnaissance Company out of Camp Lejeune, N.C.
On Wednesday, the building—once the nerve center for Shomali, a predominately Shiite agricultural town—was deserted.
Left behind were maps of the city, the files, glossy posters and pamphlets of Saddam, Iraqi newspapers and artificial plants on desktops. In one room lay a discarded corsage of cloth orchids, still wrapped in colored plastic and bows. An attached gift card, written in Arabic, included a smiley face.
Marines snapped photos and sat in Baath Party upholstered armchairs and loveseats.
"It's kinda weird that we are sitting here," said Marine Corp. Joshua Hayden, 22, of Fort Worth, Texas, who used the opportunity to read a Ken Follett novel. "It's kinda funny. We are taking over their stuff. I wonder where they are."
On the floor lay a poster ripped into six pieces, a mass-produced glossy sheet that featured a collage of photos from the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and, in the center, a picture of Saddam smiling.
Outside the abandoned Baath Party headquarters, street dogs searched for food and a pair of old men with weathered skin and solemn eyes stood together. One tried to sell military personnel a carton of cigarettes from his roadside hut. The other looked away.
Energetic little boys waved, smiled and pleaded with the Marines as the convoy of Humvees moved out.
"Money, money," one boy cried, flashing Iraqi dinars. He wanted to trade his bills for American dollars.
(c) 2003, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.