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Marines struck by poverty in Baghdad

BAGHDAD, Iraq—Plastic grocery bags are Baghdad's urban tumbleweeds.

They roll across the landscape by the thousands, hanging up in trees and on fences until they are shredded by the sunlight and friction from the dust in the wind.

As Marines moved through eastern Baghdad Tuesday, it was not just the combat that captured their attention. Sometimes it was the grinding poverty they saw around them. Sometimes it was the trash and filth. Sometimes it was the fact that every body of water seemed polluted.

"Twenty-two days without a shower and this place smells worse than I do," said Cpl. Casey Mitchell, a reservist who works for the Sheriff's Department back home in Lucedale, Miss.

Marines first crossed the Diyala River Monday. The neighborhoods east of the river were semi-rural, while west of the river, neighborhoods began as adobe slums, where water buffalo, chickens and people shared the same quarters, and continued to become stucco and concrete homes near Highway 5.

The river, a tributary of the Tigris, apparently was a main line of defense for the Iraqis.

At least four large tanks and more than 20 pieces of artillery lay destroyed along on its west bank.

After an intense artillery bombardment of the Iraqi positions, Marines crossed the river and began finding abandoned Republican Guard uniforms in neighborhoods and alleys.

"We saw a lot of Iraqi army trucks, a lot," said Sgt. Ji Young Kim of Fairfield, Va. "But they were gone. Their uniforms were on the ground and they were gone."

Marines swept through about 10 square miles of neighborhoods west of the river Tuesday, coming to within five miles of downtown Baghdad and helping clear Highway 5 to Kuwait. There was some shooting. One Marine was wounded in the leg by sniper fire and Marine snipers killed two armed and uniformed Iraqi soldiers, pushing a wheelbarrow full of weapons.

Looters were everywhere. As Marines approached, they fled in stubby carts with automobile wheels, pulled by graceful Arabian horses.

Looters ransacked abandoned government buildings and the homes of people who had fled the war.

They took refrigerators, air conditioners and ceiling fans.

While there was little resistance, Marines often felt they were seeing their enemies in the faces, waving and cheering them from the sidewalks.

"The way these guys look at you, you can tell they took their uniforms off last week," said Capt. Joseph Bevan of Camp Pendleton, Calif., the executive officer of K-Company. "And they look really glad."


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