Friday, October 03, 2003

"I'm amazed," he says of the Iraqi professionals. "Their doctors are well-trained, professional, but they operate with nothing. They don't want my help and don't need it. They just need some money for drug and equipment, and maybe more than three hours of power in a row, and they can handle this themselves."

The officers on this patrol seem clear, the U.S. occupation of Iraq will not succeed based on bringing firepower to bear on the anti-U.S. resistance that shoots mortar rounds at their base almost every night. It will succeed if the United States can improve the day-to-day lives of the people of Youssiya before they become convinced the invasion to remove Saddam was not motivated by Zionist conspiracies or the need for oil.

The enlisted men on the other hand have been fighting in Iraq since March and deployed in the Middle East since January. And no amount of bravery or patriotism, which they certainly radiate, can compensate for 100-plus degree heat, constant sniping and a long separation from their families.

"Why in the hell would you come here," one young machinegun-toting infantryman -- who looks all of 12 years old -- asks a reporter from the top of his Humvee. "We wanted to free Iraq. Saddam's gone, but I got to stay until January?"

But despite some grumbling about a mission more suited for a charity or a non-governmental organization, the infantry guys acknowledge they are more worried about a combat mission scheduled for the 3 a.m. the next day.

"This is easy," says one. "It's hot and I don't like being out on this street for this long. But what we're doing tonight -- it's a raid on something we don't even know yet -- that (stuff) is intense ... scary."

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