| A US soldier asks an Iraqi woman to swing as he can’t order her to lift her veil for a security check on Baghdad’s al-Durra highway on Friday. (AFP)
Baghdad, April 11 (Reuters): Don’t ogle the women and watch what you do with your feet — US forces in Baghdad have been issued with lists of “dos and don’ts” to navigate a cultural minefield of Islamic sensitivities.
In the US Marine First Tank Battalion, crews rumbling through the Iraqi capital have been told not to hang their feet off the sides of their M-1A1 main battle tanks to avoid causing offence to Arabs by revealing the soles of their feet.
Troops have been ordered not to wave with their left hand — which they were told was used for toilet purposes in Iraq — though some Marines with experience of Arab societies questioned that particular piece of advice.
Despite their fears of attack by assailants in civilian clothes, Marines said they had learned at least to interact on a basic level with the people they say they have come to liberate.
“At first, entering a combat zone, Marines were a little bit stand-offish, but then as they started to move through small villages, they were more willing to let Iraqis come closer and talk to them,” said Sergeant Anthony Jefferies, 26, of the First Tank Battalion.
“A lot of Marines are learning that the Arabs are very affectionate people, they’re not afraid to shake your hands and give you a kiss on the cheek,” he said, sitting under an awning next to his tank parked in the city’s eastern suburbs.
“At first that’s a little strange, American men don’t tend to kiss each other on the cheeks, unless they’re drunk,” Jefferies said.
Suicide bombings and snipers have forced troops to remain wary of residents, but on patrol many have attempted to chat with young men approaching them with a stream of questions.
Conversation is often limited. Marines said they had been taught a few basic pleasantries in Arabic, as well as words like like ‘halt’, ‘put your hands up’, and ‘don’t move’.
Many struggled to pronounce them correctly.
Very few Marines carry phrasebooks — preferring to address Arabic-speakers they meet in loud English, spoken slowly, with a liberal dose of hand gestures.
Tank battalion crews were given handbooks with useful Arabic phrases, including basic greetings and translations of words like rocket launcher (manassit sawareekh), sniper (qunas) and, of course, tank (dabaaba).
Baghdad residents sell the Marines fresh bread wrapped in paper and still warm from the oven — a welcome change from pre-packaged Meals Ready to Eat rations.
Young men hawk packets of Dorchester cigarettes to troops whose supplies have run low after weeks in the desert.
Any vendors that wander too close to US armoured vehicles parked in the city or defensive positions can expect to be shooed away, but officers say they don’t want Marines to be overly suspicious.
There are signs of some attempts, too, to be sensitive to historical sites that invaders find in their path.
Lieutenant Colonel Jim Chartier, commanding officer of the US Marine First Tank Battalion, said he had ordered his crews to move their tanks to a more respectful distance from the Martyrs’ Monument to Iraq’s war dead.
Drivers of“Humvee” all-terrain vehicles were told to stop running them up and down steps near the landmark. Proper latrines are planned to avoid too much damage to bushes by Marines based in a nearby car park.
”Look at this monument as their version of the Vietnam Wall,” Chartier told an officers' briefing on Friday.“It's got to be honoured and respected,” he said, gesturing at the giant, azure dome Ä bisected into two halves.
Cultural briefings were given while U.S. forces were still in Kuwait, with troops being told not to stare at women Ä who might often be veiled due to cultural or religious beliefs.
At least some of the“grunts” Ä combat troops whose average age is about 19 Ä seemed to have disregarded the advice.
”Did you see the one with the blonde streaks in her hair',” said one Marine, trooping through the affluent“Engineer's Town” suburb in eastern Baghdad on a foot patrol.“She was hot!”