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Chickens make hearts go aflutter

Najaf, April 2 (Reuters): All US troops had to do to win some hearts and minds in this central Iraqi city was occupy, and then abandon, the local chicken farm.

No sooner had soldiers left the farm today to join an advance into Najaf than local residents took advantage of the security lapse to start stealing chickens. Despite sporadic gun battles between the Americans and Iraqi Fedayeen paramilitaries, dozens of men, women and children crept from their small mud and brick homes to join the looting.

Weighed down by as many chickens and eggs as they could carry, locals waved and smiled at the US soldiers as they headed home from the farm. Many took along donkey-drawn carts and bicycles to make each raid quicker and more productive.

“Thank you, thank you, thank you,” shouted one man with three chickens in each hand and about a dozen eggs bundled up in his shirt.

Others waved their chickens in the air at the troops as a sign of appreciation and one middle-aged man simply patted his belly, raised his hands to the skies and laughed. “They’re rich now. They love us,” said one American soldier.

“They don’t have any telephones out here but the word sure spreads fast,” said Sergeant Travis Dufrene of the 101st Airborne Division. “They’re pretty happy we came.” His unit took over the farm earlier this week as it moved into the outskirts of central Najaf in preparation for today’s attack.

Invading US and British forces had hoped to be greeted as liberators after decades of rule by President Saddam Hussein, but have been surprised by the fierceness of Iraqi resistance and disappointed by hostility shown by many ordinary Iraqis. The looters pounced as soon as the soldiers moved on and before the owner could send his guards back in.

While the Americans did not try to stop the looting, they did not encourage it either. And some wondered why so many people were stealing in Najaf, a holy city for Shias. “As holy as Najaf is, I’m not sure if this is allowed in their culture. But I’m not here to judge. I suppose part of it is about survival,” said Major Bill Mason.

But another soldier wondered if the looters were as friendly. “They’re probably taking those chickens home to their brothers in the Fedayeen so they can eat well before they fight,” he said.

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