LOGISTICAL SUPPORT AREA VIPER, Iraq -- First Marine Division conducted a series of raids and limited objective attacks into more than six towns and villages Monday in the central Iraq area to liberate the local populace from Saddam Hussein and hunt down paramilitary forces.
Local villagers cooperated by providing the Marines information on the whereabouts of key Ba'ath Party leaders, documents, weapons caches, and intelligence on regular army and paramilitary operations.
The Marines provided the villagers with humanitarian rations and medical assistance.
In one village, the local populace welcomed the Marines with a feast cooked up by the townspeople, featuring rice, bread and goat cooked over an open fire.
"People are beginning to rat them out," Brig. Gen. John F. Kelly, assistant commander of the First Marine Division, said tonight describing what he hoped was a shift in attitude among the population. "It's happening increasingly."
"The Ba'athists are cowards," said Capt. Brian Collins, a Marine company commander. "They hide behind women and children, take refuge in kindergartens and school houses and essentially keep the local populations hostage to extort food and other supplies."Marines witnessed some townspeople driving the paramilitaries members from their homes.
"That's what we're here for, to free the Iraqi people," said Sgt. Maj. Jon Barter, in remarks echoed in nearly every conversation in the camp.
"As war fighters, we want to believe that we are here to do good and free the Iraqi people. We are liberators."
Earlier this week, Marines from Regimental Combat Team - 5 siezed an immense 40 building ammunition and weapons cache near Ad Diwinieah.
"We are decisively defeating the regime forces in our area and showing the people of Iraq that there is no better friend and no worse enemy than a U.S. Marine," said Capt. Joe Plenzler, the Division spokesman.
"We're in full stride and more than ready to go," said Col. Ben Saylor, 1st Marine Division Chief of Staff. "We're looking forward to taking down the Republican Guard and the continued liberation of the Iraqi people."