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Report from Iraq

Mike Sullivan sends me "an interesting email from a Marine involved in the rebuilding stage. You won't read about this kind of progress in the media". It is long, so I have cut it somewhat: "Just wanted to check in and say hello and tell you that everything is fine here in Al Hillah, Iraq, (Babylon). I am living right near the ruins of Babylon and got a chance to walk through the ruins and check the place out. It is amazing to see the history that has been bottled up here for 30 years or more. I actually was in "Daniel's lions den." Also got to see the famous lion of Babylon. Today the Marines re-dedicated a WWI British cemetery that had been trashed by the regime. There are UK soldiers buried there from the Al Kut battle in WWI and from Gallipoli. There is even a headstone with the name "Harry Potter." The regime had destroyed a cross and a local resident had a picture of it from 1972 and he gave it to the Seabees who rebuilt it for the dedication. Those Seabees are magic men and women. They are mostly reservists and all great at what they do. The Iraqi people were also very happy to help and said that they liked the cemetery as it was once a nice peaceful place and now it's back to good condition. Up until 2 weeks ago it was being used as a trash dump.

The Marines and Army have made great strides in maintaining order and making this place stable again despite what you read in the press. As we know, some of them like to concentrate on the "conflict" angle and like to report bad news because it sells, but I can tell you I honestly see good things everyday. The people of Iraq are generally happye that we are here. I drove to Najaf and Karbala the other day and people were coming out of their homes to wave to us and the kids all line the streets and say "GOOD MISTAH!".

There is a lot of work to be done, and I read a lot of press reports of people protesting and wanting us to leave, but in theMarine AO, I can tell you that people are glad to have us here. We are training up their local police forces and trying to work with the good ones and flush out the bad ones. Things are improving on that front. The food situation is really good, and people have enough food and water. There is actually a train heading north to our area with 800K metric tons of food - talk about a big dinner. The crops here are about to be harvested and that is good too - date palms were recently sprayed and farmers have water in their fields. We are coordinating with all kinds of non-governmental agencies, which don't necessarily like to associate themselves with the military, unless they need security. They are doing good work too here. They assessed all our areas "permissive" which means more agencies can come in and work with reasonable expectation that it is safe. Schools are getting back to normal and hospitals are working. Flights have arrived with food and some of them commercial. Marines ate breakfast with a local school that wanted to show their appreciation. People seem generally relaxed and working toward fixing things".

Ronald Hilton - 5/31/03