Sunday, October 05, 2003

Iraqi students began a new school term Saturday, and the first lesson at the al-Yakhda primary school was that Saddam Hussein has been ousted.

''Saddam is gone for good and our problems have been solved,'' English teacher, Meliha Hussein, 45, told her class of 20 sixth-grade girls at al-Yakhda, located in a middle-class Shiite Muslim neighborhood.

''Saddam was bad,'' the girls chanted back in unison...

The U.S. military hired Iraqi contractors to rebuild al-Yakhda. Two months and $40,000 later, the school has been completely refurbished. Walls have been freshly painted pink and white, and new ceiling fans spin overhead.

That's quite different from the conditions when the 1st Battalion, 37th Armor Regiment of the 1st Armored Division arrived here in the aftermath of Saddam's downfall. They found the school a gutted ruin of crumbled walls with bullet casings strewn around.

''We saw that we could make a difference,'' said Lt. Col. Garry Bishop of Philadelphia. ''For the first time in 35 years, these children will be educated free from propaganda.''

As first graders strained to learn to hold pencils, U.S. soldiers outside unloaded truckloads of new desks and chairs for al-Yakhda. Pupils not in class swarmed around them, tugging at their uniforms and crying out: ''We love you.''

''The kids like us the most,'' said Spec. Rivera Moises of Santa Rosa, Calif. ''With them, it's a winning situation.''

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