Monday, June 9, 2003

BAGHDAD — Anti-American rumors on the streets of Baghdad have taken on a life of their own, posing yet another threat to the U.S.-led coalition at a time when American soldiers are being attacked daily.

Some are crafted in anger, and others are designed to undermine.

Doctors treating a dangerous spike in cholera and other intestinal diseases say they are told by patients that they are victims of an American virus, unleashed so people will be grateful when the Americans heal them.

Several Arabic-language newspapers have begun to run news stories saying that the United States had pledged to make Baghdad clean, safe and prosperous immediately after the Ba’ath Party’s fall.

Another rumor is that the Americans had promised all Iraqis fresh fish and meat in their new ration baskets.

“I think we’re being set up to fail,” one military intelligence analyst said. “We never said anything like that, but someone wants to see the people disillusioned with us. They want to create disappointment.”

Amid the swirl of rumor, attacks on Americans continued, with one U.S. soldier killed by unidentified assailants at a checkpoint in western Iraq near Syria.

An undetermined number of attackers pulled up late Sunday to the roadblock and began shooting. Troops returned fire, killing one person and capturing a second. At least one other assailant fled in the vehicle.

Dozens of soldiers and Iraqis have been killed or wounded in daily skirmishes.

A U.S. patrol in the troubled city of Fallujah, a pro-Saddam stronghold about 30 miles west of Baghdad, also came under fire yesterday. Soldiers arrested two suspects, Central Command said.

Attacks against Americans are part of a larger climate of mistrust that feeds the rumor mill.

When motorists spend five hours in line to buy a tank of gas, it becomes easy to blame the Americans.

“The Israelis told the Americans to get rid of our government and then take our oil,” said a man parked in an impromptu gas line. “I heard that on the radio.”

Said another motorist in a battered Toyota Corolla, “It’s the fault of Kuwait. They sent the American soldiers in here to steal and to loot, and then the Americans are repaying them with our gasoline.”

Whenever Iraqi Oil Ministry officials or U.S. oil experts meet the press or public here, they know they will have to address the rumors.

One interim Iraqi official looked chagrined at a recent press conference when he was asked how much oil was now flowing through the Haifa Pipeline to Israel. The pipeline was never completed.

American soldiers, an almost ubiquitous sight around Baghdad, have also spawned plenty of flights of fancy. Some are political, some are threatening, and some are just plain silly.

A group of U.S. soldiers on a busy Baghdad street last week were clearly charmed to see a trio of Iraqi teen-age girls shyly checking them out.

A sergeant nudged his comrade and then purposely turned toward the three, slipping a pair of large military-issue sunglasses onto his face.

The girls immediately crossed their hands in front of their chests and sank into a crouch, so he could not see through their abayas.

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