Greetings, and Welcome to a Free Iraq
Mohammed Alkhereiji, Arab News War Correspondent
BAGHDAD, 12 April 2003 — The border crossing between Jordan and Iraq has been abandoned by Iraqis and in their place US soldiers now greet those passing through with a salute, a smile and the exclamation: "Welcome to a free Iraq." They warn that the Ramadi area just inside Iraq is dangerous, and the Iraqi soldiers still in that area who remain pro-Saddam told Arab News that "things here are still under the control of the Baath Party."
Indeed, what may be one of the last of the Saddam statues is to be found just over the border — one of Saddam sitting on a horse, brandishing a sword high above him.
Generally, though, most of the Jordanian border region is no longer a military zone, and people are passing freely through it in both directions. The highway that leads to Route 160 — the road that runs all the way to Baghdad — is quiet. Shepherds and farmers can be seen all along it going about their normal business. Every so often, you come across abandoned Soviet-made tanks, which have been cut in half. A few US tanks also litter the roadside. At the Rutda Bridge, which US/UK forces have destroyed, an abandoned tour bus lay on its si1de — a reminder of what transpired on the fifth day of the war when five Syrians were killed after being targeted as volunteers for Saddam's army. When the US military stops you at roadblocks, they say "Assalam alaykum." They ask you to show your papers, explain the purpose of your visit and submit to body searches while your hands are raised.
In the southwest of Baghdad, Iraqi citizens with AK-47s and RPGs still appear to be in control. They told Arab News that while they are not pro-Saddam, they are anti-American. They appear to be private militias who are not offering their loyalty to either side. In that area, locals continue to loot Saddam's palace, where he used to meet visiting guests and dignitaries.