Iraqis emulate Palestinians by stoning troops

By Phil Reeves in Baghdad

The Independent -- 27 April 2003

A tactic of the Palestinian intifada has spread ominously to Iraq, less than three weeks after US tanks rolled into the middle of Baghdad.

American troops are coming under attack from Iraqi children throwing stones, replaying scenes from the West Bank and Gaza Strip that were broadcast on state-run television before the fall of Saddam Hussein.

News reports said that children – who at first flocked around the American forces, and were given sweets by the soldiers – have begun hurling rocks in Mosul and the Shia city of Najaf. In one incident this weekend, a group of youths threw stones at a group of soldiers moving through Mosul on foot.

"They were throwing them like they were pitching a baseball," said Sgt John McLean, who was hit on the helmet, in the back and on the heel. The crowd was only dispersed when the Americans fired a warning shot over their heads. Crowds of 250-300 Iraqi teenagers hurled stones at American marines patrolling Najaf on Thursday and Friday, US officers said.

Although this phenomenon represents no serious threat to the US forces, it is a highly symbolic gesture in the Middle East, where it is seen by Arabs as a heroic form of resistance to an illegal occupying force. It also disrupts the US military's efforts to adopt a more relaxed posture on the streets – part of the larger American and British drive to win support from the 24 million Iraqi population.

It will raise concerns over whether such assaults are organised by anti-US elements in an attempt to draw a violent response from the soldiers that will widen the opposition to their presence. The Israeli military responded to stones and firebombs thrown by youngsters by shooting plastic bullets, tear gas canisters and, at times, live ammunition, killing a large number of children, especially early in the uprising.

Since the allied invasion of Iraq, there have been three suicide bombings – another intifada tactic. During the height of the looting in Baghdad, there were reports of arson against government institutions, and US troops are still being fired on, including those guarding the headquarters of Jay Garner, the retired US general heading the coalition reconstruction team.

To the disapproval of some Iraqis and aid agencies, Mr Garner has established his headquarters inside a palace compound once lorded over by Saddam Hussein. Some here say that the choice of a palace, ringed now by razor wire and protected by tanks, sends entirely the wrong message to the Iraqi people.