SAFWAN, Iraq – Waving white flags and raising their hands to the sky, hundreds of Iraqi soldiers quickly surrendered to coalition forces in southern Iraq and some even tried to give themselves up to Western journalists.
One Marine traffic control unit manning an intersection in southern Iraq accepted at least 45 soldiers’ surrender by sundown Friday. Many of the Iraqis were crammed in the backs of a pickup truck and open-bed trailer, their hands raised. Iraqi officers came in behind, apparently by foot.
Marines pulled the prisoners to the side of the road.
“Hands up!” Marines barked, pushing the Iraqis along.
Skinny, reedy boys who appeared to be still in their teens complied. The Marines searched them and sat them down.
Across the road, three Iraqi lieutenant colonels sprawled briefly on the asphalt to be searched. An Arabic-speaking Marine searched the papers of the officers for intelligence information, then handed back their personal effects.
“Man, I’ve been in country two hours, and already I’ve got two wounded and a truckload of prisoners,” one Marine, standing guard over the prisoners with weapon ready, told another.
The Marines rolled bales of concertina wire toward the prisoners and planned to keep them in a temporary facility until camps could open up.
Some of the Iraqis who gave themselves up were wearing T-shirts and other civilian clothes instead of military uniforms.
Lt. Col. Rob Abbott of Camp Pendleton, Calif., said the situation matched the expectations he had after seeing Iraqi troops surrender en masse in the 1991 Gulf War.
“I think they’re just glad to be out of the fight,” Abbott said. “I’d much rather have them come surrender than have me have to go hump them out of holes.”
The U.S. military has encouraged Iraqi soldiers to surrender rather than risk annihilation fighting to defend Saddam, and troops seem to have encountered limited resistance.
Even before any shooting began, 17 Iraqi soldiers surrendered to American soldiers Wednesday.
Within a few hours of crossing into southern Iraq, the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit encountered 200 or more Iraqi troops seeking to surrender. One group of 40 Iraqis marched down a two-lane road toward the Americans and gave up.
One group of Iraq soldiers alongside a road waved a white flag and their raised hands, trying to flag down a group of journalists so they could surrender.
In the town of Safwan, Iraqi civilians eagerly greeted the 1st Marine Division.
One little boy, who had chocolate melted all over his face after a soldier gave him some treats from his ration kit, kept pointing at the sky, saying “Ameriki, Ameriki.”