Getting Ready for Baghdad

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War is mostly waiting for something to happen. After the first heavy 36 hours of this war, when Marines rolled through southeastern Iraq destroying Saddam's 51st division and the U.S. Army powered up the western flank, the last two days have been less dramatic. A supply column now runs from Kuwait north of Nasiriyah where fighting still continues. Much of the American military force is now heading toward Baghdad for what is expected to be Saddam's last stand.

The Marine unit I am with, Kilo Company from Battalion 34, left late Saturday from Basra International Airport which it had helped take earlier that day, and pushed west across the muddy plain and then north. A few Iraqi pickup trucks passed the convoy along the main highway. Men waved white flags or had them attached to their radio antennas. The quick movement of the first two days — think of it as 'Blitzkrieg Lite,' in which parts of Iraq's army were slashed, but towns and cities like Basra were not even bothered with — had given everyone hope of a quick end to the war. But on the push north word came from other parts of Iraq that all was not right. Resistance was much stronger than expected in Nasiriyah. Ten U.S. POWs have been taken. Sixty Marines were injured or killed when surrendering Iraqis suddenly took up their weapons again. New rules of engagement were drawn up. If a surrendering Iraqi doesn't drop his gun, you can still shoot him. And in the south, a convoy of journalists came under attack by local bandits. The area along the border with Kuwait may have been taken, but it is far from secure.

On the Marine convoy heading to Baghdad, communications have been a problem from the start and have gotten worse each day. Radios broke down, as well as vehicles in the convoy, causing a long line of machinery to spread out over twenty kilometers. Some vehicles had run out of food. There are two boxes of humanitarian rations on each vehicle, meant for refugees in Baghdad. But the hungry Marines debated whether they should eat them themselves. They decided not to as they figured there'd be a lot of refugees where they were going. Water was down to just five boxes in the vehicle I was in. The men hadn't slept for more than an hour or two a night for five days. They were tired, hungry, dirty and frustrated. In short, they were ready to fight a battle. It looks like one will come in the next couple of days in Baghdad.

Next: Terry McCarthy on Insecurity in Southern Iraq