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Iraq: Desert Dispatch -- U.S. Commander Says People of Baghdad 'Overjoyed That We Are Here'

Baghdad, 9 April 2003 (RFE/RL) -- RFE/RL correspondent Ron Synovitz is in northern Baghdad with the U.S. Army's 3rd Infantry Division. Around noon today, Synovitz spoke with Lieutenant Colonel John Charlton, commander of the 1-15 Task Force. Charlton had just returned from a trip into central Baghdad and spoke about what he saw there, the morale of his troops, and the fate of Saddam Hussein.

Question: Can you describe what happened overnight and the scene this morning in the central part of the capital?

Charlton: Well, when we first got here, we had sporadic contact with, basically, loyalists to Saddam driving around in civilian vehicles firing RPGs [rocket-propelled grenades] and rifle fire, and we fought throughout the night against that. Today, we were expecting more of the same, but when we went into the neighborhoods, the people came up to us. They were thanking us. They were just overjoyed that we were here -- handing out Pepsis and cigarettes to the soldiers and bringing little children up to sit on the vehicles and just mingling with the soldiers. [They were] very, very happy that we were here and thanked us for being here.

Question: What is the mood of the U.S. soldiers?

Charlton: It seems that now that we have a strong U.S. presence in the center of Baghdad, people are realizing that the regime is gone, and now they are free to express their true feelings. And they are just overjoyed that we are here. So it's a great relief to all of us. The soldiers are extremely happy. They've been fighting hard for weeks now, and to have the little children come up and shake their hands and say, "Hi," and all the locals coming up and thanking us for being here, it makes us feel very good.

Question: What do you know about the fate of Saddam Hussein?

Charlton: I'm not aware of whether he's dead or what his condition is, but one thing is for sure -- that if we don't get him, the people of Iraq will. Now that we're here, they are definitely going to do everything they can to rid this country of his influence. So I suspect there's no safe place for him in Iraq right now.

Question: There are reports of looting today in Saddam City, a suburb of the capital. What can you tell us?

Charlton: Well, I know that as we go through and as this thing wraps up, we will have to transition to stability operations to maintain law and order. I don't know how long or specifically what role the 3rd Infantry Division will play. I do know that more U.S. forces are coming into the area. And that will be a major task for the forces that are here now and are arriving as we transition from combat operations to support-stability operations.