The Marines call it a necessary evil — taking over houses and buildings for military use. For the Iraqis who become unwilling hosts...
HADITHA, Iraq — The Marines call it a necessary evil — taking over houses and buildings for military use. For the Iraqis who become unwilling hosts, it can be anything from a mild inconvenience to a disruption that tears apart lives.
In a recent offensive in Haditha, the headmaster of one school where Marines were based pressed them for a departure date so he could resume classes. At another school, Marines fortified the building with blast walls and sandbags for long-term use.
A trembling woman wept when Marines tried to requisition her home to set up an observation post with a view of a nearby road where a bomb had been planted. The Marines quickly left, using her neighbor’s rooftop instead.
“We try to be respectful and not destroy anything in their homes,” said Cpl. Joseph Dudley of Los Gatos, Calif., with the 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment. “We just borrow their house and try to complete our missions.”
Requisitioning homes or other buildings has been widespread in Iraq for U.S. troops on missions who stay far away from bases, sometimes for several days or weeks. During major offensives, the temporary bases deep inside cities allow troops to send out more patrols and respond quickly to attacks rather than going all the way back to bases on the outskirts of town.
Some homeowners politely treat the Marines as welcome guests. During an offensive in May, one man whose home was being used served rounds of tea to the Marines while his wife remained discreetly out of sight. He let the tired troops catch naps on his living room couch and floor, then waved goodbye to them from his front doorsteps when they left to search more houses.
But the Marines also run the risk of alienating residents.
Dhiya Hamid al-Karbuli, a truck driver from a village near the Syrian border, said he fled with his wife, six children, his brother, sister and mother after U.S. troops commandeered their home last month.
“They broke into my house before Ramadan and they are still there,” he told The Associated Press by telephone from his brother’s home in Baghdad. “We were not able to tolerate seeing them damage our house in front of our very eyes. … I was afraid to ask them to leave.
“They were eating our food. They took all the food from the refrigerator, and used all our stored junk food, too. The major gave me $20 so we could shop for ourselves and for them. It was not enough.”
Sometimes the Iraqis are allowed to stay in one room in their home; other times they have to move in with relatives or neighbors until the forces leave.
“You see that place up there,” one Marine said to his platoon leader during a recent offensive in Haditha, pointing to a two-story hilltop house with columns.
“Yeah, that looks good. I’ve been looking at that,” replied his captain, before trudging up the hill to explain to the owners that the platoon would be camping inside for several hours.
In a school courtyard, a handful of Marines sang gospel hymns in unison as they filled sand bags. In another building, Marines rested on dusty tile floors, their heads leaning against the walls. Some read paperbacks while others flipped through magazines with unclad women splashed on the covers. Johnny Cash’s rendition of “Sunday Morning Coming Down” resonated from small speakers a Marine had brought along.
Most U.S. troops in Iraq live in air-conditioned, relatively comfortable bases with such luxuries as Internet access and wide-screen televisions. But others have to rough it, particularly when patrolling western Iraq, a turbulent area the size of West Virginia where few bases are within city centers.
Running water and electricity are prized but unreliable amenities in these temporary homes. A shower is usually a bottle of water dumped over someone’s head and baby wipes to scrub off layers of dirt. Crude toilets are fashioned from wooden pallets and benches.
“That will go down as one of the more unpleasant memories of my life,” said one Marine leaving a latrine with walls of camouflage netting.
Marines often are packed into small rooms, sleeping in rows with their weapons and backpacks brimming with gear alongside them and eating an endless series of prepackaged meals. A Marine suffering with a cough can keep his entire unit awake through the night.
Many Iraqis fear the makeshift barracks in their neighborhoods will attract insurgent attacks, possibly putting them in the crossfire. Checkpoints can also make it difficult to travel to local markets.
Some Marines buy the Iraqi families sodas, or purchase snacks and other goods for their fellow troops from local merchants, injecting a little money into poor neighborhoods.
Lounging in new quarters, the troops reminisce about other places they’ve used, from air-conditioned luxury to bare shelters.
Talk of the “pink hotel,” a home in the city of Hit, brought smiles to the faces of some Marines who recalled the soothing flow of the Euphrates River outside.
Then Capt. Timothy Strabbing of Hudsonville, Mich., also of the 3rd Battalion, reminded them of the house near Fallujah where they had set up a checkpoint. “All it had were dirt floors. It was the nastiest place,” he said.