BAGHDAD (AFP) - More than 100 children held in a prison celebrated their freedom as US marines rolled into northeast Baghdad amid chaotic scenes which saw civilians loot weapons from an army compound, a US officer said.
Around 150 children spilled out of the jail after the gates were opened as a US military Humvee vehicle approached, Lieutenant Colonel Fred Padilla told an AFP correspondent travelling with the Marines 5th Regiment.
"Hundreds of kids were swarming us and kissing us," Padilla said.
There were parents running up, so happy to have their kids back."
"The children had been imprisoned because they had not joined the youth branch of the Baath party," he alleged. "Some of these kids had been in there for five years."
The children, who were wearing threadbare clothes and looked under-nourished, walked on the streets crossing their hands as if to mimic handcuffs, before giving the thumbs up sign and shouting their thanks.
At one stage the marines opened fire after coming under attack from snipers, leaving at least two civilians wounded.
One man needed treatment for gunshot wounds to his stomach and left arm.
But his friend, Abdul Amir Jaffa, said he did not resent the Americans despite the shooting.
"Americans are coming to free us," he told AFP.