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Close call with Iraqi civilians

Name: Lance Cpl. Daniel C. Rhodes

Age: 22

Hometown: Champaign, Ill.

Role: Combat engineer

Branch: Marines


SOUTHERN IRAQ—For two hours, Lance Cpl. Daniel Rhodes lies on the ground holding an M-16 rifle. His left elbow is aching. Half of his body is numb. Both knees hurt. Two grenades stick in his ribs. And a canteen rubs against his hip.

His Kevlar helmet rides low on his forehead, and he has to push it back to see. He's on a team, spanned across the desert, providing security for combat engineers, who are about to blow up a portion of road in southern Iraq.

Rhodes spots some Iraqi civilians in the distance, about 1,000 meters away, walking toward his position. Rhodes thinks: What are they doing?

He counts three civilians.

He sees a man on a donkey, waving his arms wildly, flailing them up and down, as if he's throwing a grenade. The man wears traditional Iraqi clothing with a scarf draped around his neck.

The two other people are smaller. It looks like a child and a woman wearing hoods or scarves over their heads.

Rhodes has been warned about Iraqi commandos wearing civilian clothing. They lull you into a false sense of security and then take you prisoner. Or worse.

The family keeps getting closer.

Maybe this is what they always do, Rhodes thinks. Maybe this is their back yard and they are looking for their sheep.

But he doesn't know. And that's the dilemma.

The man is just 30 meters away when he stops and gets the point. He turns around and leaves.

"Why did he just do that?" Rhodes says, getting mad. "You start to think, `I could have taken him out, if I would have misinterpreted something he did. ... Man, I could have shot him. And that defeats the purpose of why we are here."


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

ILLUSTRATION (from KRT Illustration Bank, 202-383-6064): faces+rhodes