Pittsburgh, PA
June 1, 2023
    News           Sports           Lifestyle           Classifieds           About Us
Nation & World
Commercial Real Estate
Today^s front page
Flight 93
Headlines by E-mail
Home >  Nation & World >  World News Printer-friendly versionE-mail this story
World News
Tastes of freedom in Iraq and stateside: Whiskey, religion and a homecoming

Sunday, April 20, 2003

By Calvin Woodward, The Associated Press

From whiskey to religion, Iraqis tasted freedoms denied for years yesterday in a slow climb back to a normalcy an entire generation never knew. Completing their own journey to freedom, seven U.S. captives from the war flew from Germany to a jubilant Texas homecoming.

A cheering crowd, including many friends and family members of the former prisoners of war, greeted the gray C-17 transport plane as it landed at Fort Bliss near in El Paso, Texas just before dusk. As it n taxied down the runway, soldiers leaned out of a hatch on top of the plane, waving and holding an American flag.

The seven were rescued April 13 after their Iraqi captors abandoned their posts ahead of advancing American troops.

In a widening sweep of officials from Saddam Hussein's toppled government, authorities arrested his former finance minister, hoping he can lead them to the former dictators's hidden wealth. They also took custody of the suspected mastermind of Iraq's nerve agent program, who gave up.

Postwar recovery advanced in scattered steps.

Thousands of Shiite pilgrims renewed a tradition banned for decades as they set out on a walk of faith down dusty roads to two holy cities. U.S. troops kept anxious watch and said they would keep a respectful distance as long as the march of three to four days did not turn against them.

"We don't want to interfere with the pilgrimage," said Maj. James M. Bozeman, a civil affairs officer with the U.S. Army's 82nd Airborne Division, which was helping to police it. "We want it to proceed as normally as possible. But we are prepared for the worst."

In Baghdad, vendors overturned another prohibition from the Saddam era and began peddling whiskey and beer on the street.

There was an influx of necessities, too. A 50-truck convoy brought the first massive shipment of donated food to the capital, including flour. In southern Iraq, British and Iraqi workers reopened a rail line between the port city of Umm Qasr and Basra to spur humanitarian relief supplies to that region.

On another front, Jordanian officials announced the seizure of 42 paintings believed to have been looted from Iraq's National Museum, at best just a portion of Iraq's plundered antiquities from the days of chaos that followed the American occupation of Baghdad.

Coalition military forces in Iraq are putting the finishing touches to a proclamation formally declaring the war over, Australia's foreign minister Alexander Downer said Sunday. Downer told Australian television's Seven Network that final details are still being worked out, "but it will happen in the next few days."

Smiling and waving to well-wishers, seven U.S. soldiers freed from Iraqi captivity last weekend took off from a military base in Germany yesterday for an evening welcome in Texas.

Five are with the U.S. Army's 507th Maintenance Company in Fort Bliss; two were crewmen who flew in an Apache helicopter with the First Cavalry Division at Fort Hood.

The crowd cheered for U.S. Army Spc. Shoshana Johnson as she was carried onto the plane on a stretcher. Johnson, shot in both ankles in an ambush, waved happily and flashed the victory sign.

Restive from the allied occupation, foreign ministers from countries around Iraq have appealed for the United States and Britain to get out quickly, put the UN at the center of rebuilding and let Iraqis handle their own affairs at the first opportunity.

The United States has made clear it is not leaving soon. After this initial postwar phase with allies in control, Washington wants power handed over to an interim Iraqi authority broadly influenced by the war's winners, with an independent Iraqi government to follow.

Despite the diplomatic slap from the Mideast session, the United States saw examples of practical cooperation from the region. Sensitive to U.S. charges that it is sheltering senior Saddam loyalists, Syria now has banned Iraqis without visas from entering the country, airline officials said.

U.S. capabilities as a stabilizing force in Iraq are being tested in a multitude of ways, from the scenes of bank robberies and commercial plundering to the occasional sniper attacks.

American troops in Baghdad have been guarding bank vaults blasted open by robbers using rocket-propelled grenades. Marines equipped with machine guns and tanks have been standing watch over what they estimated was $1 billion in gold.

Now security forces are trying to smooth the way for the pilgrimage to the holy cities of Najaf and Karbala, and the shrine of the prophet Muhammad's grandson, Iman Hussein. Great religious sensibilities are at stake in policing it.

U.S. forces watched for signs it could turn into an anti-American display; Shiite clerics in Najaf said U.S. soldiers agreed to stay 500 yards back from the burial shrine of Imam Ali, son-in-law of Muhammad.

Shiite Muslims make up 60 percent of Iraq's 24 million people but Saddam's government -- officially secular -- was dominated by Sunni Muslims who often forced the majority's religious practices underground.

In tending to the crowds marching through Baghdad at the journey's start, U.S. authorities reported progress in rounding up more Iraqi figures on their most-wanted list.

Central Command spokesman Stewart Upton said the arrest of the finance minister, Hikmat Mizban Ibrahim al-Azzawi, might help uncover money socked away from Iraqi citizens.

He was captured the same day that Emad Husayn Abdullah al-Ani, one of Saddam's top scientists and an alleged nerve-agent specialist, turned himself in to the Americans.

Among others in custody: two half brothers of Saddam, his top science adviser and a leader of his Baath party.

The Central Command also said yesterday that Khala Khader al-Salahat, a member of the Abu Nidal terrorist organization, had surrendered to Marines in Baghdad. Abu Nidal, who died in Baghdad last year under murky circumstances, led a terror campaign blamed for more than 275 deaths on several continents.

So far, U.S. troops have found no confirmed chemical or biological weapons in Iraq, nor any evidence of links between Saddam's regime and the al-Qaida terrorist group.

Back to top Back to top E-mail this story E-mail this story
Search | Contact Us |  Site Map | Terms of Use |  Privacy Policy |  Advertise | Help |  Corrections