U.S.-Iraqi Joint Patrols Fight Insurgent Violence
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
Today a roadside bomb struck a US military convoy on a highway to Baghdad. No casualties were immediately reported, but after this latest attack, television footage showed a Humvee consumed in flames. This is the latest in a long series of small efforts to punish US troops and their Iraqi allies. Just yesterday an Iraqi general was gunned down. In their efforts to control the country, US Army units are often patrolling with Iraqi troops. NPR's Eric Westervelt is embedded with one Army unit as it patrols.
ERIC WESTERVELT reporting:
If the US has a strategy for exiting Iraq, it probably looks something like the 1st Battalion of the Iraqi Intervention Force.
Unidentified Man #1: (Foreign language spoken)
Captain HASHEM(ph): (Foreign language spoken)
Unidentified Man #1: They said they want to make a meeting with our federal office.
Lieutenant TONY ALVAREZ: OK. You trying to find that now? OK.
WESTERVELT: That's US Lieutenant Tony Alvarez speaking with Iraqi Captain Hashem through an interpreter. Forty-five soldiers from this US-trained Iraqi special forces group walk through the narrow streets of this ethnically mixed neighborhood in southeast Baghdad. A dozen American soldiers move right behind them. Wide open sewers bubble with people's sludge and decaying animal carcasses. A soldier winces at the stench hanging in the 100-degree heat.
Unidentified Man #2: The problem with disease and, of course, the odor.
WESTERVELT: The Iraqis' job is part infantry, part police work. They're armed for war with rocket-propelled grenades and machine guns, but questions about electricity and sewage come up as often as security. Iraqi soldiers scan the alleyways and walls, crouching with their AK-47s at the ready. Their commanders talk easily with the Iraqi men and women who come warily out of their small brick homes and children demand candy or soccer balls.
(Soundbite of children talking)
WESTERVELT: Then a sudden halt. The Iraqis take a knee, pull out cigarettes and drinks. It's time for an Iraqi break. US Sergeant Terry Blogg leans up against a brick wall still puzzled by the culture clash of a combat patrol with built-in rest times.
Sergeant TERRY BLOGG: It's for them, not for us, but we're on their patrol right now, so when in Rome, do as the Romans.
WESTERVELT: The break is soon interrupted with word of a car bombing at a local Iraqi police station. Then a few minutes later...
Unidentified Man #3: There was another explosion 500 meters north of the last one. We're going to check it out. It might be a secondary explosion.
WESTERVELT: This second car bombing is at an outdoor market. At least 13 Iraqis are killed and some 60 wounded. When 3rd ID soldiers show up to assist, enraged Iraqis, fueled by rumors that maybe it was a US air strike, not a car bomb, pummel the Americans with bottles, bricks and rocks. Lieutenant Colonel Kevin Farrell commands Battalion 164 Armored(ph).
Lieutenant Colonel KEVIN FARRELL (Battalion 164 Armored): When our forces showed up, they did so to help in the evacuation of the wounded and securing the site, preventing further attacks against it. It's not always thrilling when we get attacked for trying to help out.
WESTERVELT: But for the battalion, the day would get even worse. Nearby, soldiers in an up-armored Humvee returning from a routine patrol were hit with what the military calls a complex improvised explosive device, or IED.
Unidentified Man #3: ...(Unintelligible). (Censored)
WESTERVELT: Sergeant Garfield Thompson(ph) and Specialist David Shumate pull up in their Humvee as the damaged one is slowly hauled away. The driver's side of the armored car is pockmarked with holes so large, soldiers can easily see inside. The Humvee driver was killed and three other soldiers were badly injured. It was the battalion's fourth soldier killed in action in just over three months in Iraq. During the invasion in 2003, this front line battalion lost just one soldier. Then the Iraqi commandos are quickly called in to search the homes near the bombing site. They're after a skinny male that US soldiers saw running away after the bombing. Lieutenant Alvarez.
Lt. ALVAREZ: Bayonet red sticks(ph), the platoon leader that was involved in the IED, said he saw a guy in a blue and white striped shirt, black pants that fled the scene.
(Soundbite of people hollering)
WESTERVELT: After an hour going door to door, the Iraqis find their suspect. He's still in his blue and white striped shirt. As his family cries, the Iraqi soldiers tie the suspect's hands.
(Soundbite of people talking in foreign language)
WESTERVELT: Captain Hashem, the Iraqi company commander, is unmoved by the woman's pleas.
Captain HASHEM: (Foreign language spoken)
WESTERVELT: `This guy seems crazy,' Captain Hashem says. `Maybe terrorists pay crazy people like him to do bad things.'
American soldiers who just lost a comrade hope they captured the trigger man or at least someone involved in the attack. Sergeant Street, a Humvee driver, says, quote, "It's nice to catch one of the bastards once in a while." But then he adds under his breath, `I hope we got the right guy.'
Eric Westervelt, NPR News, Baghdad. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.