Babylon & Beyond

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IRAQ: Scenes from an invasion

April 9, 2008 |  4:55 pm


It was evening, and in just a few hours it would be April 9, 2003, the day that U.S. forces would pull down Saddam Hussein's statue and end his regime. American troops already were in Baghdad, and some neighbors and I gathered in front of my house to discuss what might happen. As we stood chatting, an officer from the Iraqi Special Guard, an elite fighting force, drove up in a camouflaged truck.

"I heard there were some American tanks in the neighborhood. Where did they go?" he asked, as if he were Rambo. "They went that way," a neighbor said, pointing him in the direction where tanks had been seen. "But listen, you really don't want to engage them. There's really not much you could do."

The officer, who appeared to be in his mid-20s, cleanly shaven and with glittery blue eyes, hesitated a bit. But he collected himself and drove off in a determined manner. He disappeared down a side street, his truck bed filled with its cache of weapons.

My neighbors and I remained outside. There was sporadic fighting going on, especially on the highway near my neighborhood. Since there was no electricity, there was nothing to do but hang out on the street as darkness fell.

Later that night, two men emerged from the darkness, walking on the sidewalks on opposide sides of the street. As they approached, we saw that each carried a rocket-propelled grenade launcher and three rockets each. They both stopped when they saw us.

"Good evening," said the stranger on our side of the street. He wore civilian slacks and a shirt and  spoke with an accent. We guessed it was Palestinian.

"We heard there are American tanks in this area. Could you point us in their direction?" he asked.

"Listen brother," said my neighbor -- the same one who had responded to the Special Guard officer looking for tanks. "There are no American tanks over here. If you want to fight the Americans, do so somewhere else. We don't want any civilian casualties in our neighborhood, please."

The man persisted. "Just tell me where they went, sir, and we'll be on our way," he said.

My neighbor sighed in exasperation. "Okay, if you really want to know where the Americans are, you should to to Zawra Park," he said, naming a well-known Baghdad spot. The fighter looked confused. "Zawra Park? Where is this?" he said.

I realized that these two men did not have a clue where they were.

My neighbor gave them instructions to the park, essentially sending them on a wild-goose chase for the sake of the neighborhood's safety.

The man thanked us. He the nodded to his partner across the street and they walked off just as they had arrived, disappearing aimlessly into the night.

— A Times staff writer in Baghdad

For more memories from people who watched the fall of Baghdad, visit "When a regime came tumbling down."

Photo: Baghdad burns April 9, 2003 behind a still-standing statue of Saddam Hussein. Credit: Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times.

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