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thedrifter 12-25-2003 08:06 AM

Troops kick off Christmas festivities in Saddam?s former base
December 23, 2003

Troops kick off Christmas festivities in Saddam?s former base

By Aleksandar Vasovic
Associated Press

TIKRIT, Iraq ? ?Saddam Claus wishes you a Merry Christmas.?
The poster caption at a U.S. military base in Tikrit accompanied a mocking image of Saddam Hussein dressed as Santa Claus. A top American commander said the Dec. 13 capture of the former Iraqi dictator was an early Christmas gift for his troops.

On Tuesday, hundreds of soldiers of the 4th Infantry Division patiently waited for Christmas breakfast in the chow line, while a tuba brass band in the corner played carols.

There were muffins and peanut butter, scrambled eggs and pancakes, sausages and fresh fruit in a huge mess hall decorated with American flags, green-and-white banners of the division and Christmas trees.

After breakfast, soldiers seated at long tables bowed their heads in prayer for comrades slain or wounded by insurgents. A total of 317 soldiers have been killed as a result of hostile action since the invasion in March.

?Don?t ask ?why me, why here, why us,? because God has plans, we are here for good reason,? military chaplain Gilo Richardson told soldiers.

Despite dozens of casualties over the last several months, soldiers were jubilant. They tracked down and arrested Saddam on Dec. 13.

Saddam?s capture was ?an early Christmas gift,? said Gen. Raymond Odierno, commander of the division.

?Capturing him ... will help us continue to eliminate the insurgency but also to go back to the business of rebuilding Iraq and moving forward and turning the country back to the Iraqi people,? Odierno said.

Asked who received the best Christmas present, Sgt. Gilbert Nail from Fort Hood, Texas chuckled: ?Of course, Saddam. He received free food and boarding for the rest of his life,? Nail said.

Copyright 2003 The Associated Press.

Army Maj. William Marzullo, of El Paso, Texas, left, and Sgt. Maj. Cesar Castro, from New York City, both with 1st Battalion, 22nd Infantry Regiment, 4th Infantry Division, enjoy their dinner at a Tikrit, Iraq, military base. ? Gregorio Borgia / AP photo



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