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After bombs fall, laws of nature take over

NEAR AN NAJAF, Iraq—Iraqi soldiers were here when the bombs came. It doesn't look like they knew what hit them.

Journals remain spread on tables. Bread and dates are in the cabinets. A rat leaps from a vat of rice in the dining hall—the last meal that was never eaten at the Iraqi 35th Regiment Training School.

Water and food supplies indicate that about 300 students and 20 to 30 staff members occupied the school.

The bodies have been removed. The number of dead was not available. Five small puppies are the only signs of life in the rubble.

They wag their tails at visitors but are hesitant to approach. They are cute and appear—for the moment, at least—well fed.

But something's not quite right about them. There's a dullness in their eyes. And maybe something else.

Soldiers follow them as they crawl over blasted rock, past the anti-aircraft guns blown to bits, past the stores of flour, noodles, lard and oil. They pass the flowered wall paper of one office, cluttered with personnel files. A tea set is in the sleeping quarters. A poster of a tranquil mountain river scene hangs on the wall. There's a roomful of boots and uniforms in another.

The puppies are hungry. War has come.

The soldiers continue to follow. They find 200 chemical masks and other bio-chemical protective gear in another room. Army Col. Dan Allyn later says nothing should be read into this. He says Iraqi prisoners of war have told their captors that Saddam Hussein told them that the United States was going to use chemical weapons on Iraqi soldiers.

The soldiers groan with disgust as the puppies arrive at their food source. They rip muscle from a leg, exposing the bone. Baring their teeth, the cute puppies fight among themselves for the meat of their dead mother.

Uncomfortable U.S. soldiers make dark humor of it.

"That must be what someone meant when they said it was a dog-eat-dog world," one says.

"Those are the real dogs of war," another says.


(c) 2003, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

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