Hanna is 10. She lives on a U.S. Army base here, playing computer games while her mother cleans. She has no playmates. Her mother is frightened to send her to school. If other students learned of her contact with Americans, "she would be kidnapped or killed."

"I want to protect her. I want her to stay on this base where she is safe," said her mother, Amil Alami, 42.

Wars are always hard on civilians, especially children. In this conflict, some children despise the Americans as killers and avoid them, but others find their lives inextricably entwined with those of the foreign troops.

If the Americans leave, Alami said, she and her daughter would be homeless, penniless and defenseless. "I want them to stay forever. I hope someday they will give me a small house" on the base, a guarded compound on the outskirts of Baghdad, she said.

Hanna, a sweet, round-faced girl, chirped in: "I think it's good to be here. The American soldiers protect me, from the mortars and bad people. The soldiers are cute and I love them."

"The soldiers really like the kids," said Mark Woods, a sergeant who took an interest in the eight Iraqi families living within the outer perimeter of the base, which houses the 1st Cavalry Division's 3rd Brigade. Many of the family members work on the base, performing jobs that include cleaning and plumbing.

"It's true that some of those families have become dependent on us," Wood said. "But we are dependent on them, too."

Hanna and her mother showed up at the base about nine months ago. Her mother was reeling from the breakup of an abusive marriage, she said, and needed money. With the help of a translator friend, Alami was hired to clean offices and barracks at the base for about $35 a week. When the soldiers saw that she and her daughter had no place to stay, they gave her a room at the base for a few days, and then moved her to one of the old trailers there, alongside those of some other base workers. They eat free meals on the base.

Hanna's mother expresses gratitude and says she trusts the soldiers. Woods is trying to arrange a school bus to take the 13 children from the Iraqi families who live on the base to a nearby school when it starts in two weeks. But Hanna's mother is unsure. Interpreters and even laborers who work with the Americans have been killed as collaborators by opponents of the U.S. occupation.

If Hanna goes off the base to a school, she would have to keep secret where she lives from the other students and the teachers. But it is a dangerous lie, her mother said.

"I don't know what to do. She is my only child, and I want to hold her close to me, to protect her. I don't know whether to send her to school here or not," Alami said.

Some other Iraqi children have less positive views of U.S. soldiers, who they more frequently see searching homes, brandishing weapons and patrolling in armored vehicles.

"You've got helicopters going over all the time, fighting all the time, mortar bombs going off and clashes. Of course the children are scared all the time," said Katham Muzal, the director of an orphanage in Baghdad that tries to get children off the street. "You get two kinds of children from that. The first are scared by all the guns. The second want to go talk to soldiers and mix with them."

Talking becomes more difficult as mortar shelling and car bombings increase the separation between the U.S. military and Iraqi civilians.

U.S. soldiers helped set up Muzal's orphanage in a large house that had been a lover's retreat for one of former president Saddam Hussein's senior military figures, according to the orphanage staff.

Attacks on the U.S. military have prompted the soldiers to pull back from such projects. But a few soldiers still visit occasionally, bringing toys and donations, according to Essam Raad, 25, a volunteer at the orphanage.

"The children have all seen television and seen the coalition forces killing Iraqis, and they had a closed mind," said Raad, who grew up in an orphanage. "But when the soldiers come, they see another side. Now they are happy when they see an American Humvee outside."

Relationships were easier to form immediately after the fall of Hussein's government last year, when Americans were often warmly welcomed. Haider Mohammed Hasson, 14, said that two days after the fall of Baghdad, he was out on the street playing soccer when two American soldiers took off their heavy bulletproof vests and began playing.

That was the start of a relationship. The soldiers were stationed near Haider's Haifa Street home, and he began bringing them sandwiches, shawarma and chicken for their meals, he said. They would pay him for the food, with a little extra thrown in for the service.

Haifa Street is no longer a welcoming place for U.S. troops; clashes break out almost daily. When the military moved its base to a more secure location in Baghdad, Haider followed. Each morning now, he hops on his battered blue motor scooter and drives 20 minutes to the base, parks and walks in with a wave at the guards.

He hangs out at Tony's Bar, a nonalcoholic snack shop on the base that has pinups and an American flag on the wall. He takes out some trash and does a bit of cleaning, for $30 a week, he said. "I give my mom $10 every week, and my dad $10 every week. I keep the rest," he said with a grin.

Haider is a charmer; his long-lashed brown eyes and boyish smile have captivated more than a few soldiers as they rotate through the base. One of them -- he said her name was Julia, but he lost her phone number -- taught him his ABCs. "She told me to come with her to America, but I said no," he mentions offhandedly.

Haider, too, keeps his life at the base a secret. "If they knew, they would kill me," he said in English. "They have already killed one female translator."

But it is worth the risk, he said.

"It's a good life," he said of his time on the base. "I don't have to depend on anyone, just myself. And I like that. The Americans are good. I like hanging out with them. The only thing I don't like are the mortars. Every day, they shoot more mortars at here. I never tell my family about it, though. If I did, my mother would cry."

Sgt. Michael Thompson of Oklahoma City, attached to the 187th Regiment of the 101st Airborne Division, plays with children in Baghdad. Iraqi children watch U.S. soldiers patrolling in Mosul, 220 miles north of Baghdad. Some children are fearful of the soldiers, while others are fascinated by them.