TIKRIT, Iraq – Crowding outside the gates of the presidential palace, Iraqis jostled for a chance to join a new police force, to help Marines restore security in Saddam Hussein's hometown.
Pulling aside any Marine they could find, they promised information on weapons caches and the whereabouts of members of Saddam's inner circle in return for a chance to serve.
It was a startling scene Friday in a city which received many favors from the departed despot. But this is a very different time, and the residents of Saddam's hometown face an uncertain future.
There are fears of revenge attacks by rival tribes, concerns about losing jobs and influence, and suspicion of America's intentions in a country rich in oil. Already there is jostling for control of resources and positions in the new structures being set up to help run Tikrit.
Earlier this week, city residents armed with clubs attacked hungry villagers from outlying areas looking for food in a government warehouse.
"Everybody wants their piece of the pie," said a former police officer, hoping to get his old job back.
Marine Brig. Gen. John Kelly has had daily meetings with clan who want assurances of their future status. Each claims to speak for the Tikriti people, and it is hard to find any who will admit to an association with Saddam's regime.
"If Saddam Hussein comes here, I will kill him myself," said Mahir al Mustafah, who arrived at another palace with his entourage in a gray Mercedes. He insisted Saddam only took care of those closest to him, subjecting the most of the city to the same oppression and neglect as the rest of the country.
Mustafah said he got his first look inside the building's domed and marble-lined rooms after Marines rolled into the city last week.
"When Saddam Hussein was in power, I never could step inside this place," said the sheik, dressed in gold-trimmed black robes.
Tikrit's opulent palaces and mosques, six-lane highway and 400-bed hospital complete with sophisticated imaging equipment are in stark contrast to the desert tents and villages of mud houses in which many Iraqis eke out a living as shepherds and farmers.
Most residents worked for the government and received large monthly supplements as an incentive for living and working in the city. Now offices are closed and the extra food rations issued before the war are starting to run out.
Even as Marines move into the grounds of Saddam's palaces, set up checkpoints and patrol streets in armored vehicles, the deposed leader remains a presence in Tikrit, one of the few cities where the many pictures of him -- in front of buildings, attached to lampposts and strung over highways -- have been left intact.
While some residents wave and smile, others greet the Marines moving through the city with suspicious and sullen stares.
"Saddam made a name for Iraq in the world. He tried to take care of us, but other countries did not allow him to," said one man at a tea shop, fingering prayer beads as he watched Marines searching vehicles at a nearby checkpoint.
A builder, he worked for five years on Saddam's newest palace -- an unfinished creation of intricately carved pillars, balconies and archways on the edge of the Tigris River. Now Marines have set up a temporary base on the grounds.
"It makes me angry to see them there," the man said.
Many suspect the United States of ulterior motives.
"Why does the American army only protect the oil ministry and oil installations and fail to protect museums?" asked a graying university professor in a neat blue suit, angry over the bombing of some of Tikrit's cultural institutions.
Many were shocked by the scale of the damage done by U.S. bombing and the outburst of looting and banditry that followed Saddam's fall.
U.S. forces promise to turn the city lights back on, restore running water and fix a bombed-out bridge. Tikrit residents are waiting to see if these promises will be fulfilled.
"Many things have been lost, and nothing has been achieved yet," the professor said.