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Mingling Ok But Fraternization Is Out
By Rick Scavetta
Stars and Stripes
European Edition

January 22, 2004

BAGHDAD, Iraq — Pfc. Justin Bellatti smiled and waved as flocks of pretty young women strolled past his patrol at Baghdad University.

Bellatti's unit, the Baumholder, Germany-based 1st Battalion, 6th Infantry Regiment, was in charge of providing security at the university last week during a series of lectures by instructors from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y.

Providing security — and girl watching — is pretty good duty, and the troops of Company A knew it.

"A lot of guys try to talk with the Iraqi girls. I just try to concentrate on the job," Bellatti said. "It's overwhelming. They are very beautiful."

But flirting is forbidden.

Iraqi culture forbids women to flirt, and U.S. troops are under orders against close relationships with Iraqis.

Still, they find ways to interact with a quick glance, a smile or a wave. In some cases, they wander toward each other for brief conversations. Eyeing a group of smiling women, Spc. Carl D'Agostino, 25, of Springfield, Ill., took a long drag off his cigarette, breathing out smoke with a sigh.

"They have some gorgeous women here," D'Agostino said, shaking his head.

The soldiers are on campus to provide general security, said Lt. Col. Pete Jones, battalion commander.

"There's no fraternization," said Jones, 42, of Houston. "We treat everyone with dignity and respect."

But even Jones, a 1985 West Point graduate, knows that American soldiers and Iraqi students are bound to mingle.

Some Iraqi women think the American guys are cute, said Aisha Emad, 22. But she and her friends avoid soldiers, fearing others will say they are trying to sleep with the enemy.

"We may say things between each other, but we never tell the soldiers," Emad said, as her smiling brown eyes darted between a group of Iraqi men watching nearby and the soldiers standing beside her. "They are invaders."

Iraqi men use the rudest terms to say that female students want sex with Americans, said Ali Fareed, 24. Many of his friends are angry and jealous of soldiers on campus, Fareed added. But he said he enjoys chatting with soldiers and understands that it's normal for young adults to be curious about each other.

"It's an ordinary thing. I'm not jealous," Fareed said.

While Iraqi women are not allowed to flirt with the Americans, the Iraqi men on campus had no trouble calling out to Spc. Erin Romero, 21, of Lake Tahoe, Calif.

Romero, a fair-skinned, blond-haired woman, ignored the comments.

"They say, ‘You're beautiful, an angel,' " Romero said. "It's just they are not used to women with blonder hair, bluer eyes and lighter skin."

In a parking lot outside the biology department, Juana, a 20-year-old Kurd with dark skin and bright eyes, approached an armored Humvee with her friend Evaan, 19. The women said they have longed to meet American guys.

"Why do you carry this Army rifle?" Juana asked Bellatti, her smile turning to a frown. "I'm scared when I see this."

Bellatti thought for a moment, then turned to Juana with a soft smile and a shrug. "Someone higher ranking told me to carry it."

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This article is provided courtesy of Stars & Stripes, which got its start as a newspaper for Union troops during the Civil War, and has been published continuously since 1942 in Europe and 1945 in the Pacific. Stripes reporters have been in the field with American soldiers, sailors and airmen in World War II, Korea, the Cold War, Vietnam, the Gulf War, Bosnia and Kosovo, and are now on assignment in the Middle East.

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Copyright 2004 Stars and Stripes. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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