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Saturday, August 30, 2003

A love story, of sorts

Iraqi girlfriends capture GI hearts

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- In the 20 weeks since the fall of Baghdad, two U.S. soldiers and two Iraqi women won each other's hearts.

The American men and Iraqi women courted, fell in love and decided to marry, but they had to battle disapproving senior American officers and fears of retribution by militant Iraqis.

When they finally held their double wedding ceremony Aug. 17, the nuptials were carried out with the secrecy and synchronization of a commando operation.

The two brides -- one in a print dress, the other in slacks -- and a few family members came to a city street corner at mid-morning. From there, an Iraqi intermediary led them to the route of their fiance's foot patrol.

The grooms, carrying M-16 rifles, marched up in their Army uniforms, complete with bulletproof vests. A nervous Iraqi judge arrived, and the group ducked into the grassy courtyard of a dilapidated restaurant, where the vows were exchanged.


No one minded that the Iraqi women and U.S. soldiers flirted with each other. But as the friendships deepened into romance, U.S. officers decided the relationships posed a security problem and prohibited the men from "fraternization" during "combat."

In spite of the prohibition, the soldiers -- National Guardsmen from the Florida Panhandle -- converted to Islam in an Iraqi court a couple of weeks before the ceremony. The double wedding, including the exchange of rings and recitation of vows, was carried out with an American reporter watching.


The weddings-on-patrol were necessary because the soldiers' superior officers were trying to block them.

"We are accomplishing a mission on the street and protecting our forces," Capt. Jack McClellan, a spokesman for the Florida Army National Guard, said. "We cannot develop relationships with the locals unless they are mission-related. If it's true love, in a few months . . . they can pursue it. They are not allowed to see them."

Yet Sgt. Sean Blackwell, 27, and Cpl. Brett Dagen, 37, were determined.

"I've done two years overseas on active duty, and I never thought this would happen," Blackwell said. "I love her."

Now, he is trying to figure out how to bring his wife -- they are married under Iraqi, but not yet under American, law -- to the Pensacola area, where the couple plans to hold a larger wedding with friends and family.

Subsequent requests for interviews with the men were denied by the military, although Blackwell could answer questions by e-mail.

The women, who agreed to be interviewed, face their own problems. Speaking to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on the condition that their names not be published, they said they fear militants could target them just as they have targeted interpreters, police and other Iraqis cooperating with the Americans

Jeez, what a mess.

Here's what you have: commanders stupid enough to think they can tell people who to marry when they are determined to convert to Islam. Soldiers willingly disobeying lawful commands with superiors fighting each other over whether they can marry or not. US policy which treats Iraqis as an occupied people. No one stopped Americans from marrying French or British women, even interracial marriages when that was illegal in the US. The US did have this policy in occupied Germany and it broke down in weeks.

It's amazing. There was a total collapse of discipline that the commanders could not deal with and now these women, who they clearly see as a security risk, have to be dealt with.

Anyone who thinks we're in Iraq to liberate the people need to read this story. Marriage should be encouraged, not discouraged, if we were liberators. Now, occupiers have a different agenda.

posted by Steve @ 1:48:00 AM

1:48:00 AM

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