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Iraq: Desert Dispatch -- Correspondent Crosses Iraq Border

RFE/RL correspondent Charles Recknagel -- who has been based in Kuwait City -- crossed the Kuwaiti border into the southern Iraqi village of Safwan on 22 March, in the wake of invading U.S. and British troops. He filed this report early that evening. QUESTION: What were your first impressions today as you entered Iraq independent of U.S. and British troops?

RECKNAGEL: We were in Safwan, a village just across the border from Kuwait. The approach to the village takes you across the demilitarized zone, where the Iraqi forces built a trench and berm to try to stop the U.S. forces. The highway passing through the village is lined with young men, very poorly dressed, calling out to the convoys of U.S. soldiers that are passing down the road, begging them to throw down food or anything else. Their manner is not celebratory but more desperate because the trucks -- filled with supplies or carrying tanks, ammunition and other items for the advancing U.S. forces -- never stop.

QUESTION: How would you characterize the mood in the village of Safwan?

RECKNAGEL: We stopped to talk to the men on the road, and they said that their families had stockpiled food before the U.S. attack but now they are running out of supplies and the stores in the area are all empty. They told me that Iraq troops were still in the village when U.S. Marines entered yesterday, and some of the Iraqi troops fled, while others were captured.

But now there is a security vacuum in the area because the Iraqi authorities are gone and yet the U.S. forces have not stopped to put any new administration in place. They also told me that several villagers were killed in the initial attack by U.S. forces across the [Kuwaiti] border and some buildings were destroyed.

QUESTION: Tell us more about the security situation in the village. Did you feel it was safe for foreigners to stay there overnight?

RECKNAGEL: We had the impression it would not be safe. As we talked to the men, who ranged in age from middle age to small boys, many said they are glad Saddam is about to be toppled, but their minds were on their own needs. As the crowd grew, some men in the crowd took advantage of the chaotic scene to steal goods from our vehicle. We decided not to try to stay in the village but to return across the border into Kuwait for the night. The Kuwaiti forces at the border maintain a fully alert defensive posture and seem to have no contact with the village. U.S. forces just pass through.