No sniping, no mortars, no sign of Republican guards

The first American pontoon raft slid into the river Tigris with a slosh and a clatter on Wednesday April 2, and young Iraqi men watched from both banks, curious, timid and passive, as a grubby horde of United States marines prepared to bridge the ancient waterway.

There was not the slightest opposition to the river-crossing; no tracer, no mortar rounds, no sniping, not even a shouted curse against the invading Yankees from these fit young locals.

An F-18 fighter swooped low overhead and, seeing the marines surging across the legendary river, could not resist an exuberant roll. The Iraqis on the far bank flinched visibly in terror, fearing they were about to be bombed.

In three days, these marines have pushed forward 120km. They have become accustomed to Iraqi guerrilla tactics of shoot and flee, and the Iraqis seem to have nothing else to offer.

The marines are now pushing up against the territory supposedly defended by the dreaded Republican Guard. Yet there is no sign of them; their menace seems to constantly recede, and with the marines now close to Baghdad, they have less and less room for manoeuvre.

On Tuesday April 1 The Guardian‘s car joined a convoy of US marines travelling towards Numaniya. The convoy travelled almost without lights, just tiny cat’s-eye dots of red and white.

Everyone was indoors, cooking, watching television, sleeping. They must have heard the rumble of the convoy as it passed but no one came out, much less fired shots; it was as if the two worlds, America and Iraq, were ignoring each other, even as they were supposed to be at war.

On Wednesday the commander of a company of marine infantry and tanks, Captain Ted Card, was standing at a defensive position he had set up near the pontoon bridge. He was having a half-full/half-empty sort of time with the war. He had not lost any of his company, which was good, because he was the man who would have to write the letters to next of kin. But nor had he seen much in the way of combat.

The company had been shot at that morning, in a desultory way, from a gigantic munitions storage base nearby, even though the base had been battered by B-52 strikes. “We were a little bit surprised to get some fire, but we fired back. It only lasted five minutes,” Card said. “These guys are cowards. None of them fight. This is boring. I’m surprised I’m not in Baghdad already.”

The unit has ceased to collect prisoners. “It’s just, ‘See you later,’” Card said. “I thought we were going to have some heavier resistance and we certainly haven’t. All my tanker guys and all my marines are always asking me when they’re going to see some action. We trade rounds every day but in all this time I haven’t taken a single casualty. I’m all about fighting, but my main concern, and my main accomplishment, is bringing all these marines home.”

Not everyone will be going home when the war is over. The lightness of the resistance does not mean there are not casualties. It is just that they are mostly Iraqi. — Â

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