Thursday, October 07, 2004

Sometimes It's What You Don't See That Scares You

By Scott Peterson | Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

HASWAH AND MUSAYYIB, IRAQ – In the shadow of night, on the edge of the volatile town of Haswah, a convoy of humvees silently pulls to a stop and disgorges its marines.

In the wake of daytime raids Wednesday, in which 200 US troops cordoned off the town and 100 Iraqi special forces arrested 17 men, the marines of Operation Phantom Fury, which began this week, expected resistance.

They had never been here, some 30 miles south of Baghdad, and not been engaged by insurgents. And they had never planned such deep penetration, striding behind storefronts to the narrow, dusty streets behind.

But instead of a firefight, they stepped into a surreal silence.

"I don't believe this - aren't there supposed to be people in the streets at 11 at night? Drinking tea?" asked one marine emerging from a side street in full combat gear, threatened by nothing more than clusters of wild dogs.

"I've never seen it before - not a soul," says 2nd Lt. Mark Nicholson, a platoon commander of the 1st Battalion 2nd Marines, from Wheeling, W.Va. Previous visits at even 2 a.m. found people on the street - and always an armed reaction.

"It's a good thing," says Lieutenant Nicholson. "But I'd like to see people in the streets, people who want us there, who greet us."
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