BAGHDAD, IRAQ—On almost every corner in Iraq's capital city, carolers are singing, trees are being trimmed, and shoppers are rushing home with their packages—all under the watchful eye of U.S. troops dedicated to bringing the magic of Christmas to Iraq by force.
"It's important that life in liberated Iraq get back to normal as soon as possible," said Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz at a press conference Monday. "That's why we're making sure that Iraqis have the best Christmas ever—something they certainly wouldn't have had under Saddam Hussein's regime."
To that end, 25,000 troops from the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment and 82nd Airborne Division have been deployed. Their missions include the distribution of cookies and eggnog at major Iraqi city centers, the conscription of bell-ringers from among the Iraqi citizenry, and the enforcement of a new policy in which every man, woman, and child in Baghdad pays at least one visit to 'Twas The Night... On Ice.
Immediately following the press conference, high-altitude bombers began to string Christmas lights throughout the greater-Baghdad area, and Wild Weasel electronic-warfare fighter jets initiated 24-hour air patrols to broadcast Bing Crosby's "White Christmas" over the nation. Armored columns struck out from all major allied firebases to erect a Christmas tree in the town square of every city, while foot soldiers placed fully lit, heavily guarded nativity scenes in front of every Iraqi mosque.
"Thus far, Operation Desert Santa has gone off without a hitch," said Gen. Stanley Kimmet, commander of U.S. armed reconnaissance-and-mistletoe operations in the volatile Tikrit region of central Iraq. "There has been sporadic house-to-house fighting during our door-to-door caroling, but that's to be expected in a Christmas season of this magnitude."
According to Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, the top American military commander in Iraq, every precaution is being taken to ensure the peaceful enforcement of the Christmas season in occupied Iraq.
"All American military personnel have been instructed that the observation of Christmas should be carried out efficiently and tastefully, with minimal emphasis on the season's commercial aspects," said Sanchez, who addressed reporters while a decorations division strung wreaths and garlands outside his headquarters. "We must keep in mind that the reason for the season-oriented campaign is for Iraq to celebrate the birth of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ."
An aide for Sanchez later explained that, in order to ensure a meaningful holiday season for all Iraqis, provisions were made for those Iraqis who elected to observe Hanukkah.
Like many U.S. operations in Iraq, Operation Desert Santa has met with some resistance. A convoy transporting fruitcake and gingerbread came under rocket attack Sunday night just outside Checkpoint Noël in Basra, and unidentified bands of Iraqis exchanged gunfire with Marines operating an armored Humvee simulated sleigh ride in a Baghdad suburb. In spite of these troubles, regional commanders report progress, with only eight U.S. casualties resulting from the operation.
Still, Iraqis report that they are unable to get into the Christmas spirit.
"Why am I supposed to feel joy for the world?" said 34-year-old Baghdad mechanic Hassan al-Ajili as he stood in line for his mandatory visit with Santa. "My country is still at war. I need an American identification card to get anywhere in my own city. Now, for some reason, men with machine guns have placed two rows of jingling antlered pigs on the roof of our house. This is insane."
Bush, speaking from his Crawford ranch, praised the brave men and women of Operation Desert Santa and asked for the understanding of all Americans.
"We must be patient with the Iraqis," said Bush, seated before a Christmas tree dotted with Scottish terrier ornaments. "The holidays can be a very stressful time, especially for people not yet used to the customs. I'm sure Iraq will enjoy the happiest of holiday seasons if we show resolve and commit to making sure that they do."
President Bush then called for 30,000 new troops to be deployed in the next week to ensure an effective and precise enforcement of Christmas throughout the region. Salvation and Eighth Army detachments will be stationed on every corner by Christmas Eve to make sure that every last Iraqi citizen spends the holiday at home, with family.
Sanchez said he is confident that he can meet that deadline.
"A merry Christmas in Iraq means peace in the Middle East has finally been achieved," Sanchez said. "God bless us, every one."