- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 17, 2003

BAGHDAD The sidewalks are strewn with debris and burned-out shells of cars are scattered along the main avenues, but this war-torn city is showing prominent signs of a slow return to normalcy.
Several shops were open for business this week when soldiers with the Army's 422nd Civil Affairs Battalion made repeated trips from Baghdad's international airport to the city's center.
"Things have quieted down quite a bit," said Sgt. Robert T. Laverick, a member of the battalion. "Except there's a lot of people on the street now and you can't tell who's who."
Last week, a small convoy of the battalion's Humvees was ambushed by Iraqis apparently enraged that the city was under the control of American forces.
The soldiers narrowly escaped without injury after one Humvee was hit several times by machine-gun fire and a rocket-propelled grenade soared between two Humvees driving out of an alley.
The streets are less dangerous this week. Waving to dozens of Iraqis lining the side of the road as his Humvee rolled past, the 422nd Battalion's Lt. Col. Alan King said that since Baghdad fell from Saddam Hussein's control, "90 percent of the people seem to want us here. It's that other 10 percent that are unpredictable."
Sgt. Kevin Bell, an Army combat photographer with the 422nd, said that while things are a lot more calm, "it's still pretty hairy around here."
"You hear shots ring out in a lot of places, mostly it's just people trying to keep looters away from their places," he said.
When the city fell to U.S. forces last week, Sgt. Bell said, he saw rocket-propelled grenade launchers and other Iraqi weapons abandoned next to Iraqi army uniforms in several places.
"So many Iraqi soldiers just laid down their uniforms and guns and took off," he said.
Sgt. Bell and others have witnessed a plethora of other images while driving through the city and examining some of the bombed-out sites where the 422nd Battalion is conducting meetings with Iraqi community leaders. During one trip, the unit stopped at one of Saddam's former palaces, where military officials said the toppled Iraqi leader's son, Uday, kept a residence.
While some of the luxurious structures and carved marble interiors were spared by the coalition's "shock and awe" bombing campaign, a good portion of the palace was demolished.
A heavily damaged crystal chandelier hung high above a ring of cracked marble pillars inside a main building. One military official solemnly remarked: "When you look at this, it makes you think about what it would be like if the White House got bombed."
But the dark images are interspersed with hope. A few miles from the palace, a group of young Iraqis stood shaking hands and making conversation with 3rd Infantry Division soldiers guarding an intersection with a Bradley fighting vehicle.
As the convoy of 422nd Civil Affairs Battalion Humvees rolls through the city, it passes hundreds of Iraqis of all ages on sidewalks, in windows and in their cars who wave excitedly to the soldiers.
From the city buses to the growing flow of pedestrian and automobile traffic on downtown streets, Baghdad appears to be in the infantile stages of a major comeback.

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