Soldiers work to ensure Iraqi girls' safety on road to school
Stars and Stripes June 4, 2003
BAGHDAD, Iraq – Each morning at about 10 a.m., tankers from Company C, 3rd Battalion, 69th Armor Regiment walk a few blocks from their checkpoint at the Ministry of Agriculture to Shardeeya Industrial High School.
School officials fear local thugs called wilid shawri, or “street boys,” are trying to grab young women after class is dismissed.
“We heard girls were getting kidnapped, so we come down to protect them,” said Sgt. 1st Class Michael Crosby.
The 3rd Infantry Division, which fought its way to Baghdad, now patrols the streets of the Iraqi capital like police. The soldiers’ presence at the school is more of a friendly courtesy rather than a response to actual kidnappings, said Capt. Mark Madden.
“They often exaggerate the truth to get us to respond,” Madden said. “We don’t know if it’s true. We don’t have any confirmed cases.”
Some Iraqis believe criminals are forcing the girls into brothels for U.S. troops, an unfounded assumption. Soldiers in Baghdad are briefed on that perception. Other times, girls may have run off with a boyfriend but claim they were stolen to save face among their families.
Meanwhile, Company C troops have adopted schools as a humanitarian project, Crosby said. Already, they delivered supplies to three schools in their neighborhood, called Andalus by locals. At the girls’ high school, the troops contracted local workers to spruce up the school walls with a fresh coat of paint.
During the war, the girls did not attend classes, said English teacher Isra Hussein. They returned to school May 3. Both teachers and students are glad to have the soldiers visit, she said.
“They are coming to protect us,” Hussein said. “It’s necessary for security.”