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Thursday, April 10

101st troops, local leaders begin to create order in Najaf

By Chantal Escoto | The (Tenn.) Leaf-Chronicle

NAJAF, Iraq - With the help of 101st Airborne Division officers, about 50 civilian leaders gathered yesterday to develop a new, democratic government for the Iraqi city of Najaf.

The meeting, the first of its kind in more than 30 years, came as the city was declared free of President Saddam Hussein's rule after two weeks of fighting between 1st Brigade soldiers and Saddam's militia. Saddam and his socialist Baath Party had controlled the Iraqi government since a coup in 1968.

Lt. Col. Marcus DeOliveira, head of the 1st Battalion, said that the meeting of influential business and civil leaders was chaotic, but that the group made some headway.

``I think it went well for a first (meeting). We were able to figure out what they wanted,'' said DeOliveira, who will act as the town's sergeant-at-arms until an active police force can be established. The priorities for the city include security, water, power and schools.

Families who fled from homes at the agricultural college in southern Najaf have returned to find that they are still, temporarily, homeless.

The families were run off more than a month ago when Saddam's militia took the college campus over. But because members of the 101st's 1st Brigade now occupy the secured compound, the families must wait until the American soldiers move.

The situation is causing some strain between the locals and American military.

Maki Naji and his wife, Kesma Mosah Naji, both teachers at the school, came to the compound yesterday to plead with the guards at the gate to let them remove their personal belongings.

``All the clothes of my five children, medicine and food are in my house,'' Kesma Naji said tearfully.

Maki Naji said he and his family left with only the clothes on their backs when they were forced out of their home. Their biggest worry is that someone will loot their house before they can move back in.

DeOliveira said it would not be safe to let the families back in.

``There's some security concerns with escorting people around here,'' DeOliveira said. The American soldiers couldn't verify the couple's residency at the college, and the soldiers feared they could possibly let in a terrorist.

Spc. Calvin Calvert, 23, of Hilton Head Island, S.C., who was pulling gate guard, said coping with the local people in such situations was something he wasn't ready for.

``I thought the hardest part of combat would be pulling the trigger, but this is the one thing you don't train for,'' Calvert said. ``You shoot at targets when they pop up, but they don't teach us how to deal with civilians. I would have liked personally to have (had) more Arabic-language training. We learned, `on your knees,' `drop your weapon' and `hold up your hands,' but these people aren't our enemies.''