- The Washington Times - Friday, March 28, 2003

UMM QASR, Iraq Fear of Saddam Hussein and uncertainty about U.S. staying power temper the enthusiasm at the prospect of being free from oppressive rule in this port city in southeastern Iraq.
"We love America," an Iraqi engineer working at the town's port said yesterday. "Every Iraqi, every woman and man, all hate Saddam."
But like many residents of Umm Qasr, he would not allow his name to be published in an American newspaper. "Not until Saddam is dead," he said.
Umm Qasr largely has been pacified by lead elements of the coalition forces, but its residents remain on edge amid sporadic violence. Iraqi soldiers have been firing rocket-propelled grenades, and allied convoys came under direct fire as recently as last night.
U.S. military officers have been scouring public records in this run-down town, whose dirt roads are swept by wind and trash, trying to locate key officials to get them to resume work and have the ports, schools and clinics functioning again.
Like the engineer, many residents are enthusiastic about the expected overthrow of Saddam's regime and ready to go back to work under a temporary Western administration.
But grave doubts about whether the United States will finish the job have made them reluctant to be seen talking to the Americans, or to accept offers to meet with planning officials at U.S. or British bases.
Many other Iraqis say they believe the Western forces came only to win control of the lucrative oil fields.
The first Bush administration routed Iraqi forces from Kuwait in 1991 and then encouraged an uprising by the nation's minorities against the Baghdad leadership.
But without the support of Western troops, thousands of Shi'ites, Kurds and "marsh Arabs" were killed and as many as 2 million Iraqis were displaced, human rights groups said.
As a result, Iraqis are cautious about throwing their support too openly behind the coalition forces.
In Umm Qasr which has been without electricity since the start of the hostilities and without reliable water sources for months relief convoys have been welcomed enthusiastically. But trust is fragile.
Residents are plainly hungry, frightened by the lack of water and angered by the absence of electricity. They don't necessarily trust the allied troops but recognize that they may be the only hope in sight for liberation.
The first seaborne delivery of aid to southern Iraq was due in the Umm Qasr port yesterday but was postponed until today after a mine was found overnight, raising doubts about the safety of the waterway despite days of explosives-clearing efforts.
Coalition forces have been trucking in water from Kuwait, but after three days the daily distribution has grown increasingly frenzied. Soldiers believe the Iraqis fear the trucks will not return and that the water they carry away in jerrycans, pitchers and buckets may be all they will get.
Yesterday, a British detail had to beat a hasty retreat from refilling the water tanks at the city's Saddam Hospital because hundreds showed up desperate for water. No one was injured in the distribution.
"Usually, the hospital is the quietest one, and we have to wait for people at the market and other places," said one British soldier with the detail. "There were more people there than we were expecting, I think because they don't trust us to come back."
The water distribution was resumed in the afternoon, under heavier armed escort.
Further confusion was caused by a funeral procession leaving the hospital just as the two water tankers were arriving. Dr. Wael Al-Shehaby said the deceased had been shot Tuesday night by British soldiers who mistook his water tub for a weapon.

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