To some Iraqis, the Americans are heroes
Christians and Kurds are the biggest supporters, but there are signs that ties can be built with others, too.
Coalition troops are dug in and watching their backs across much of Iraq, but in some parts of the country the crowds are still offering hugs and kisses, not gunshots.Skip to next paragraph
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At a church in Baghdad on Friday, young mothers brought their babies over to be photographed with a small group of soldiers, children squealed with delight and scrambled all around the Humvees, and older people sent their regards to George Bush.
"We are extremely happy for their liberation of our country. We were waiting a very long time, and we are sure [the Americans] will bring us a happier future for us, and particularly for the Christians," said Jacqueline Joseph, who put her 5-month-old son Laith into the arms of Sergeant First Class Jim Caldwell.
"This is just the third time in over 100 days we've gotten the chance to go out and meet some people. It makes it all worthwhile," said Caldwell, who is from Savannah, Ga., and part of the 1st Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division.
The soldiers were providing security for a chaplain who spoke briefly during the ordination ceremony for a new minister - a special event in the small Christian community.
Numerous soldiers in Iraq say one of the biggest worries they have is distinguishing between friend and foe, and the church event was "like a breath of fresh air," said First Lt. Darren Hearn, a Delaware native who is also with the 3rd Infantry Division, which is based at Fort Stewart, Georgia.
"Having dealt with people that don't like [us], coming here and dealing with a loving people is very refreshing. You don't want to let your guard down, but it's just a very comfortable situation. It makes you feel like a human being again," Lt. Hearn said.
The Army has found, however, that other situations that seemed friendly turned deadly without warning. The soldier who was shot in the head at Baghdad University about 10 days ago had gotten to know students by their first name - but then someone else came out of a crowd and fired the shot.
Another soldier was shot in Baghdad recently while he was buying a CD as part of a group shopping trip, though the military later described the mission as civil outreach, according to an officer familiar with the incidents.
For coalition forces, the challenge is to continue outreach programs to Iraqis, which have the potential to lower tensions and build bridges between the very different cultures, while at the same time maintaining acceptable levels of security in a hostile environment.
Even soldiers with the civil affairs units - those with the most training in working with civilians - say that much of their time is spent in Baghdad behind the rings of security that surround the coalition headquarters, which are in one of Saddam Hussein's former palaces.
The majority of the Coalition forces have little or no training in dealing with civilian populations and work that would normally be handled by police departments back home.
Even the simplest outreach missions are causing headaches.
On Sunday there was a ceremony with local officials in Sulaymaniyah, in northern Iraq, to hand out 600 soccer balls for youth programs. The Americans were greeted with open arms. People constantly came up to the small group just to say "thank you," and banners praising Bush were draped along the streets.