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Marines turn cops, PROs

Baghdad, April 13 (Reuters): For just a few moments, the US Marine was Michael Jackson — king of pop.

Taking backwards “moon walk” steps, Lance-Corporal Manuel Perez drew chants of “Michael, Michael” from dozens of children laughing on the Baghdad pavement. “They want me to do Michael Jackson, they like the way I dance,” said Perez, 21, a member of Alpha Company. “I’ve got fans.”

Another Marine cut him short. “If you guys can’t keep these guys off the sidewalk, you’re going to have to tone the showbiz down,” barked Corporal Adam Malik, 23, stalking the line of Marines to search for any troublemakers behind the giggling children.

US forces patrolling Baghdad face a dilemma — how to win over a population whose lives they have turned upside down while ensuring they are not killed by Saddam Hussein loyalists. A Marine was shot dead in yesterday when a gunman dressed in civilian clothes crept up on him while he was guarding a hospital.

Unless Marines want to remain encased in tanks and armoured personnel carriers drawing fear and suspicion from residents they must inevitably run risks.

A few metres down the dusty street in the New Baghdad suburb, Captain Doug Schaffer, 36, was mobbed by a group of men bombarding him with questions, many in English. The number one concern was security. Residents are scared that looters will smash their way into their homes and gardens.

“We need guns,” said Danny Salan, cradling a two-year-old son on his arm. “If any of these savages come to me and hold a gun to my face, what can I do'”

Schaffer searched for answers, knowing that his Marines cannot be in all places at all times.

“You could volunteer to be a police officer,” he said to a middle-aged man. “Yes, no problem,” replied the man, a former member of the Iraqi army, but a sidelong glance said differently.

Queries came thick and fast — when is the electricity coming back' What will Iraq use for currency' Is Saddam dead' Who will defuse the bomb on my balcony'

“What are you doing over here'” asked a male voice from the press of bodies, his voice edged with a hint of hostility.

“Trying to help you,” replied Schaffer, remaining calm despite the hubbub of chatter and jostle of limbs around him. “What about water, electricity. Is there any fresh news on that'” asked an old man in a blue shirt. “We’re working on that, we don’t know when,” Schaffer said.

For Marines, who see themselves as a combat force, work as a policeman and public relations officer rolled into one is tiring.

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