Soldiers Walk a Fine Line on Patrol North of Baghdad

A young Iraqi girl in the country north of Baghdad. Credit: John McChesney, NPR. i i

A young Iraqi girl in the farm country 50 miles north of Baghdad. John McChesney, NPR hide caption

itoggle caption John McChesney, NPR
A young Iraqi girl in the country north of Baghdad. Credit: John McChesney, NPR.

A young Iraqi girl in the farm country 50 miles north of Baghdad.

John McChesney, NPR
U.S. soldiers question an Iraqi farmer. Credit: John McChesney, NPR. i i

U.S. soldiers on patrol question an Iraqi farmer. John McChesney, NPR hide caption

itoggle caption John McChesney, NPR
U.S. soldiers question an Iraqi farmer. Credit: John McChesney, NPR.

U.S. soldiers on patrol question an Iraqi farmer.

John McChesney, NPR

I spent several days with Charlie Company of the Minnesota National Guard, based at a supply base named Anaconda that is 50 miles north of Baghdad. They have just had their stay here extended for four months by President Bush's so-called "surge" of force in Iraq.

I went out on patrol with them one day and we visited a couple of farms near the base. Farmers around here grow a variety of crops, including watermelon, onions, turnips, corn and tomatoes. We visited two farms on this patrol.

We rolled up in front of houses in six Humvees, turret gunners at the ready, while a crowd of soldiers walked into the front yard. At the first farm, the young owner was questioned by some intelligence officers while other soldiers scanned the surroundings, rifles at ready.

The soldiers say they rarely know the real sentiments of the Iraqis they encounter. I tried to imagine how I would feel if a gang of heavily armed men who looked like they came from outer space appeared in my front yard.

I want to be clear here. These Minnesotans were extremely polite in these encounters, and most said they really wanted to help the Iraqis.

We stopped at another farm where, as the intelligence officers spoke with a group of older men, a group of about 20 kids gathered immediately. Almond-eyed little girls dressed in multi-colored outfits peered in the Humvees and pleaded for a handout.

An F-16, afterburner flaming, roared overhead, Some soldiers told me they used to hand out candy. One soldier told me that often when they roll through a town the kids will be waving as they arrive and flipping the bird as they leave. Another distressing ambiguity for an occupying force in a counter-insurgent war.

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