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Iraq Journals

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Monday, April 7

Najaf residents welcome U.S. troops

By The (Clarksville, Tenn.) Leaf-Chronicle

NAJAF, Iraq - For the Swadee family, life under Saddam Hussein has been miserable, they said.

Jobs are scarce, and they must send the children to work just to support the family.

They also have feared Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's ruling Baath Party and the terror his militants doled out.

But when they see the U.S. troops roam the streets of their city, they say it is almost too good to be true, and they hope the Americans will stay.

During a recent visit to the town, the people of Najaf spoke of happiness for the future and sadness for the suffering of the past.

Muthana Swadee, 38, the head of his household, picks up and delivers cars for a living, bringing in a few dollars a day, if he's lucky.

The family of 10 lives in a two-bedroom concrete house with no glass in the windows. The walls are peeling with gaping holes, and the side streets are dusty and full of trash. Muthana's two teenage daughters, Sema, 14, and Sabreen, 15, work in a bakery and sew clothing to help contribute to the family.

The girls stopped going to school by age 12, but they have dreams of continuing their education.

``It would be a disaster for us if they did not work,'' Muthana said.

But with a new government in place, life could change for the Swadee family.

``If Saddam is gone, we still don't know our destiny,'' he said. ``We need American troops to stay. We see them here now, and for that we are grateful.''

Sttard Bahadri is an imam, a Muslim religious leader, with the Shiite Muslims in Kufa, the eastern part of Najaf. Najaf has much religious significance to Shiites because it is where Ali, the cousin and son-in-law of Muhammad the prophet, is buried.

Bahadri said much of his family had been killed by Saddam. He wants to have an active role in the establishment of a new government.

``The religious leaders want to help the people and get life going again,'' he said. ``We want the Americans to stay.''

Ahmed Bazrah, 34, was born in Baghdad but is living in Najaf trying to make a living, bringing home $1 to $2 a day to support himself and his family.

He said that with Saddam gone, the Americans have given him something more important than a good job - they have given him hope.

``Sadaam destroyed my dreams,'' Bazrah said. ``I want to teach language and science. I think now I have a chance to do that.''

Bazrah talked about 1991, when he went to Saudi Arabia to help the Americans and obtained refugee status from the Red Cross.

But when the U.S. pulled out of Iraq after the Gulf War, he was left to deal with Saddam's regime and thrown in jail.

``There were children and old men who could not even walk. They tried to crush my body with a large rubber hose,'' Bazrah said as he pulled up his shirt and revealed numerous scars on his back.

He said for some reason he was let out of the jail after two months. He never knew what happened to the others that shared the cell with him.

On the outskirts of the city, the stories of Saddam's regime are the same.

``We've been waiting for you to come for 30 years,'' said Muhommad Jaffa, 41, and his cousin Hadey Jaffa, 53, through an interpreter. ``We're not afraid that the Americans are here now.''

Hadey Jaffa, who was injured in the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s, showed a bulge in his wrist where a bullet still lies.

The injury and other wounds from the battles have made it nearly impossible for him to work. Jaffa said when he sought help from Saddam after the war, he was told to go away and tortured so he'd be quiet.

``Instead of treating me, his party electrocuted my hand and said, `Don't complain and don't tell anyone, and just be a man and take it,' '' he said.

Residents' biggest fears now are that the U.S. troops will pull out, or that their bombs and other ammunition will accidentally injure or kill them or their family.

``We want to trust the Americans,'' Muhommad Jaff said. ``We hope that they will keep us safe.''