- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 11, 2003

BAGHDAD — As dusk settled, the soldiers of the 800th Military Police Brigade, headquartered in the Uniondale, N.Y., prayed for those lost and dead in the fiery collapses of the World Trade Center towers two years ago.

“For me, this is personal,” said Lt. Col. James O’Hare, of Staten Island, N.Y., a stout man who lost four friends and two cousins that day. “September 11 taught us we couldn’t wait to be hit again. We had to take the initiative.”

The anniversary passed in Iraq without incident. Coalition forces had stepped up security with increased helicopter patrols and tighter controls around certain buildings, such as hotels where employees of international organizations or the news media stay.

Five car bombs have exploded in Iraq during the past five weeks, including one Tuesday night in Irbil, a city controlled by pro-American Iraqi Kurds.

Many Iraqis noted darkly that Osama bin Laden, the al Qaeda leader and architect of the mayhem that destroyed the Twin Towers, damaged the Pentagon and sent four planeloads of passengers to their deaths, is apparently alive and well.

“The Americans say Osama bin Laden caused September 11,” said Ishtar Yassin Ali, the 25-year-old editor of Habezbooz, a satirical weekly. “But we say the U.S. used September 11 as an excuse to do what it had wanted to do all along, which is invade Iraq.”

Miss Ali says her paper didn’t even bother making light of or noting September 11. “It’s only of interest to Americans,” she said. “Iraqis have bigger things to worry about.”

But even some Iraqis unsure of the connection between that bloody Tuesday in Manhattan two years ago and the war that led to Saddam Hussein’s ouster, said they were happy about the U.S. occupation.

“September 11 was a criminal act and because of it America went to war,” said Muhammad Abud, a 19-year-old street cleaner from the poor Shi’ite Muslim slums of Sadr City.

“I don’t know about politics, but I’m glad Bush got rid of Saddam,” he said, a kaffiya wrapped around his face as protection from the late-summer sun. “If I had a picture of Bush I would put it up in my house.”

According to a survey conducted in Iraq by Zogby International, close to 70 percent of those polled felt optimistic about the country’s future. Two thirds said coalition forces should stay in the country another six months or up to a year.

Some Iraqis used the anniversary to level new criticism at the United States.

Sitting behind a dusty microscope, Dr. Faris Khairo, a pathologist, said that 12 years of U.S.-enforced sanctions caused many to die needlessly and the weeks of war caused more to die.

“September 11 was shocking and horrible for all of humanity,” he said. “But the reaction of the United States was shocking and horrible for Iraq. We were invaded and destroyed.”

Told of the jumble of sentiments outside their well-fortified camp next to a lake that once served as a retreat for Saddam and his cronies, the soldiers of the 800th Military Police Brigade shrugged. Give them time, they said.

“It’s a slow process,” said Maj. Tony Hartmann, a Uniondale, N.Y., resident who served in the World Trade Center rescue and recovery effort, helped imprison al Qaeda suspects in Afghanistan and now commands U.S. peacekeepers in Iraq. “They were under Saddam for so long. They need a generation or two to come into the mainstream.”

Specialist Rachel Brune of Vernon, N.J., said she joined the Army Reserve after watching the horror unfold September 11 from her office in midtown Manhattan. “I was looking for something I could do to contribute.”

As she sang a song about fallen firefighters and played her ukulele, the call to prayer rang out from a nearby mosque, mingling uneasily with her folksy rhythms.

By the end of the ceremony, gunfire began to ring out from the woods nearby, a nightly ritual, soldiers say, by anti-American militants trying to unnerve them.

Sharon Behn in Washington contributed to this report.

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