Influx of Polish troops prompts Iraqis to view US in a kinder light
Colin Freeman in Hillah, IRAQ

AS BEFITS a man who lives near the ruins of ancient Babylon, Ahmed Shubah, chief prosecutor for Iraq’s Babel province, reckons he knows a great civilisation when he sees one.

As a result, the United States army’s decision to pass military control of the area to a new, multinational force led by the Polish has not left him happy.

"The Americans and British bring great civilisations wherever they go, but the Polish? They haven’t even got one of their own yet," he moaned undiplomatically last week, as a group of American officers treated him to a farewell lunch.

It is nearly two months since a 21-nation army of nearly 9,000 soldiers, under overall command of a Polish general and 2,000 of his infantry, arrived to help the US police a vast sector south of Baghdad in Babel province.

Today, the area is as cosmopolitan as when its fabled Tower of Babel still stood, with Ukrainian, Nicaraguan, Filipino and even Mongolian voices trying to spread the peacekeeping message.

Yet, while the force was set up to ease the flak on overstretched US troops, so far it has done so in rather an unexpected way - by allowing Iraqis to compare the American style with that of other nations. Uncle Sam is finding, for the first time, that he is no longer the least popular kid on the block.

This is partly because the Americans have had several months to make friends and influence people. But at street level too, the new arrivals are making people feel the Americans weren’t so bad after all.

"The Americans used to make jokes with us and laugh together, and we had some kind of close relationship," said Hamid Ahmed, who runs a fruit-juice stall in the centre of Hillah, Babel province’s main city. "The Poles don’t socialise - they just go around on patrol. Perhaps it’s just because they are still frightened of us, although there’s hardly any trouble here any way."

Posted by: . 2003-09-23