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Frustration setting in among US troops

Their "Baghdad run" dream gone awry in the face of stiff Iraqi resistance, many US soldiers have started sulking over the prospect of long-drawn battle.

india Updated: Mar 28, 2003 19:42 IST
Matthew Green (Reuters)
Matthew Green (Reuters)

They don't think much of the view, they miss their families and they worry about getting killed.

A week after invading Iraq, some US troops are wondering what happened to their hopes of a three-day race to Baghdad, waved on by the white flags of surrendering enemy soldiers.

"I feel like the longer I'm out here, the less are my chances of staying alive," said US Marine Lance-Corporal Michael Sanchez, staring with sullen eyes at a vista of withered roadside shrubs.

"Right here the odds are against us, we don't know the terrain, we don't know the people, we don't know what they got coming for us," he said, his 21-year-old face a picture of resentment.

Like his comrades, Sanchez had expected a kind of "Baghdad run", surging unopposed to the capital in the wake of a massive bombing campaign that would have cracked Iraqi resolve.

Instead, members of his convoy have been shot at by snipers, snarled up in a sandstorm, and stuck for days in a patch of wilderness populated chiefly by irritating gnats.

Many of Sanchez's fellow Marines are keeping more cheerful -- hurling clods of earth from their foxholes at each for fun, or sharing treasured strawberry milkshake powder from their ration packs.

But all of them know first hand what senior US officers are only now beginning to admit in public -- Iraqi resistance is a lot tougher than they were expecting.

"This was supposed to be one of the quickest wars," said Lance-Corporal Dennis Coats, 20.

"We weren't anticipating on getting attacked so early, we weren't anticipating all this terrorist activity," he said, before being called away to dig another foxhole.

US concern to avoid casualties, both on their own side and among Iraqi civilians, has also contributed to slowing the pace of the advance on the Iraqi capital in Washington's campaign to oust Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.

On this road leading to the southern town of Nassiriya, there are no garlands offered by grateful young women to the "liberators" -- only a threat of ambush, mines and booby traps.

Belly Dancing

"I hate this place," shouted one Marine from a trench he had dug by the road.

"Where're the exotic women, I thought they were supposed to do some belly dancing or something?" he said, to laughter from comrades reclining in their "fighting holes."

Some of the same concern about the time being spent in the desert is echoed by officers in other areas.

Lieutenant Jessica Newman, of 535 Engineers Company which is part of 130th Brigade, said: "I hope the higher-ups have got this right. I thought it was going to be a few days but it feels like it is going to be a lot longer."

Another officer of 535 company, Lieutenant Mark Pietrak, said: "This is going to take longer than expected, especially if we don't get on top of these pockets of resistance. It takes time to neutralise guerrilla opposition."

Despite some disquiet about the pace of advance, the plains of Iraq are not yet a Vietnam-style hell for US invaders.

Marines manning this supply convoy on the road leading to Nassiriya are weary, rather than exhausted, grimy rather than filthy, and mostly more bored than scared.

Bickering might break out over who should clear up litter and how far apart the trucks should be spaced, but there is plenty of water, lots of food, and tens of thousands of rounds of ammunition. Only cigarettes seem to be running short.

Some Marines truck drivers have portable CD players tucked into a rack in the roof of their trucks, taking their mind off the war by listening to a country track or a spot of hip-hop.

Delays aside, many Marines say they expect Baghdad to have fallen within another week or two.

They have seen several dead Iraqi soldiers lying in a ditch, their hands twisted into claws by rigor mortis, but none of their company has even been grazed by a bullet.

"Myself, I'm having a great time," said Corporal Robby Riese, 22, feeling the sunrise chase away some of the night chill from his communications post. "It's like having a thrill tour."

The thrills may get a little worn.

Major Bernie Lindstrom, of 937 Engineer Group, said, "I always thought this thing would end up taking six months or more. Let's think about what it means to take a regime - what happens if Saddam just does an Osama Bin Laden and ends up in hiding somewhere?

"We could be looking for him for ages, and with modern communications he could remain in touch with his followers."

First Published: Mar 28, 2003 19:21 IST