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Soldiers weary of war perform a good deed

AR RUHAWMAN, Iraq—They were sick of the killing and sick of the shelling, and they decided the best remedy might be doing a good deed.

So five soldiers from the Army's V Corps 7th Combat Support Group filled a 500-gallon tank of water and drove past the ravages of war: toppled mud-brick homes; abandoned croplands; shattered quarries; and burned-out cars.

They parked in nearby Ar Ruhawman, a settlement of about 100 where shelling had knocked out the village water pump.

Curious Iraqis approached from all directions, young men in crocheted prayer caps and checkered headpieces, little girls in brightly colored dresses and barrettes in their hair, women with heads shrouded by black chardars.

Finally, Salm Huddah, 30, clutching her three small girls to her skirt, stepped forward from the uneasy crowd and spoke: "We are afraid of this war," she said in English.

"We are afraid of Hussein. We are afraid of you."

The soldiers motioned for her and the rest of the villagers to get containers. They dispersed and returned with empty olive oil cans, buckets, skillets, rubber bins, garbage cans.

They stood in lines at the three water spigots on the tank. Those without containers opened their mouths under the running water.

Then, they used whatever leftover containers they had to accept rice the soldiers had brought.

When it was gone, a man describing himself as the town elder invited the soldiers into a mud-brick building with a dirt floor.

The five soldiers sat down with dozens of villagers in a room with a red rug and drank cup after cup of hot black tea, sweetened with liberal dollops of sugar.

The villagers gave them homemade bread, hot, fresh pita with cinnamon. The soldiers ate and drank, their gas masks, helmets and M16s on the rug.

One of the soldiers spoke enough Arabic to translate what the village elder read to them from the Quran: "God is the only one to listen to. He watches over us—those who have and those who have not.

In God's eyes we are all the same and deserve his love and protection."

As they returned to their two trucks, the soldiers put their hands over their hearts and bowed—an Islamic gesture of respect.

"Now, I feel good," said Staff Sgt. Alberto Vassallo of Long Island, N.Y. "You don't feel good when you're killing people."


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

PHOTOS (from KRT Photo Service, 202-383-6099): dispatches+laughlin