Safwan Slumbers After Allies and Refugees Leave
SAFWAN, Iraq (AP) _ The U.S. troops and refugees are gone. The electricity is back on. There’s even a portrait or two of Saddam Hussein again on the walls of this southern border town that was in the middle of the Persian Gulf War.
Only a handful of refugees remain in Safwan, a desert town at the Kuwaiti border where thousands had thronged until U.S. troops ended their occupation a few weeks ago.
Now, as Iraq crawls back to a kind of normalcy three months after the thunder of the war, the only foreign soldiers in Safwan are five U.N. peacekeepers.
Iraqi troops are banned from Safwan and other towns in the six-mile-wide U.N.-patrolled demilitarized zone, but Iraqi police in green uniforms man the police station and border posts.
Tensions persist in the Shiite Muslim-dominated south and the Kurdish north in the aftermath of rebellions that erupted when the war ended and were ruthlessly crushed.
And Iraq’s 17 million people are struggling to rebuild their battered nation, grappling with U.N. sanctions that are slowly choking the economy, bringing hunger and the threat of disease.
But Safwan has slipped back into being the border backwater it used to be.
″Life has started to be normal,″ French Maj. Max Lababut said Tuesday to the first group of foreign reporters taken to the city from the Iraqi capital.
″You can see the power’s back,″ said Mayor Mishraf Abdullah Abed, pointing to an incongruously ornate chandelier in his concrete-walled office. ″And the water’s back too.″
Safwan, a town of some 3,000, was never a social hot spot. Now, it may be even quieter than it was before Iraqi tanks rumbled through this and other border points last August on their way to invade Kuwait.
The town used to be the main entry point for tourists heading from abstemious Kuwait to the bars, nightclubs and casinos of Basra, 25 miles to the north. There are no tourists any more.
The deserted customs area at the border post has become a junkyard scattered with rusting war debris.
At the entrance, anti-Saddam graffiti has been crudely painted over.
Nearby is a newer legend: ″No East, No West, Saddam is Best.″
Not far away, more than two dozen ruined cars and trucks have been piled into a dusty heap.
Shops sell food, imported soda pop and canned meat. But the dusty streets are largely bare of cars or pedestrians. A few people lazed in the shade of trees or walls.
Lababut said the U.N. officers had experienced no problems with the Iraqis since they arrived on April 24.
The U.N. squad lives in a tent labeled the ″Wild Dog Hotel″ in the middle of a highway cloverleaf overlooking a roadside strewn with wrecked cars, trucks and armored vehicles.
″We tried to grow some flowers yesterday, but it was no good,″ said Lababut, who noted that temperatures are already well into the 100s.