AN NAJAF, Iraq -- There is high anticipation as dozens of children line outside the gate waiting for it to open. At the appointed hour, the gate swings wide and a mad dash ensues.
The reason for the eagerness lies inside the amusement park, as mechanical rides, silenced during the war, came to life while families spring forward on this crisp Friday morning. Volunteers from First Marine Division and Navy Seabees collaborated to rehabilitate many of the 10 disabled rides at the park.
Local resident Bushra Mohamed said the state-ran park is a noted centerpiece of the city but has been closed, first by Saddam Hussein's regime and then by the war.
"We like that this is open," Mohamed said. "The people of Iraq need it."
Marine Lt. Col. Chris C. Conlin, commander of 1st Battalion, 7th Marines, echoed that the amusement park is more than a recreational outlet for residents, but a symbol of new opportunity for the Iraqi people.
"The significance of the park was it had been there a long time, but it was only open to Baath Party members the last 20 years, with everybody else looking in from outside the fence," Conlin said.
No one was on the long side of the fence this day as young children enjoyed a slow revolving merry-go-round and teenagers in another part of the park scrambled to mount a waiting Ferris wheel.
However, recent looting had left the amusement park missing necessary parts for the rides. Overall the park had become worse for wear during the last few years.
"I think we had to replace all of the motors and hydraulic systems," Conlin said. "I think we spent in the neighborhood of $10,000."
"We had the Seabees doing some welding and we had some young Marine riflemen and mortar men put down their weapons and picked up some paint brushes," Conlin added.
Though the machinery in the amusement park is on the road to recovery, some residents are concerned whether or not park employees will continue to get paid and if the park can raise enough money through concessions to continue upkeep of the park.
"The opening is good, but it must be decided what hours it is to be opened and if they will sell food," said Jalcel Mohsin Abbas, who teaches mechanical engineering at the Najaf Technical Institute.
Conlin said while this is just opening day, he predicts a long future for the park. He is also confident that the relationship between coalition forces and the Iraqi residents was cemented further with the simple gesture.
"Little things like a amusement park and handing out sodas can go a long way," he said.