Skip to comments.Bravo Company snatches its prey in the heat of day
Posted on 06/21/2003 5:09:46 PM PDT by Pokey78
Jason Burke joins a squad of US reservists as they hunt for an Iraqi guerrilla leader in the dusty streets of Ramadi
The word is passed down the line of men crouching against the wall. They whisper, fearful of waking those in the house that looms above them. 'Fire in the hole,' they mutter one after another. 'Fire in the hole.'
There is a pause. It is 6am and Ramadi, a dirty, dusty town 70 miles west of Baghdad, is very quiet. The morning is still relatively cool, though the fierce heat that will scorch the streets within hours can already be felt.
Sweat drips from the helmet chinstraps of the engineers who have fitted the demolition charges to the house's steel doors.
Then comes the blast. Glass shatters and the metal gate, twisted beyond recognition, is thrown against the now shrapnel-pocked wall of the house.
The US soldiers, Bravo Company from the 1st Battal ion, 124th Infantry Regiment, attached to the Third Armoured Cavalry Regiment, pour in through the smoke.
In a back room, sleeping on thin mattresses on the floor, is Mustafa Abdul Latif, his wife, her sister, and his young daughter. Within seconds Latif, a thin, muscular man in his mid-thirties, is in plastic cuffs, his arms behind his back. The women are standing in the kitchen, hands clasped in the classic pose of supplication. The air is full of cordite, sweat and American expletives.
Latif, according to Captain Joe Lyon, who commands Bravo Company, is a ringleader of the Fedayeen, an informal militia formed of Baath Party loyalists who have been responsible for daily attacks on American troops in Ramadi.
Early last week an American patrol was ambushed in a street only 100 metres away by dozens of fighters with Kalashnikovs, hand grenades and light anti-tank weapons. Several men were injured in a 45-minute firefight. According to Lyon, US intelligence has ascertained that Latif was behind the attack.
As one group of soldiers searches the house, hauling the contents of cupboards on to the floor, rifling mattresses, others move on to other objectives. Two platoons in the unit, which is largely composed of National Guard reservists mobilised for the war in Iraq, are from Puerto Rico. As the men stream into the next house their sergeant calls out their names: Garcia, Lopez, Juarez, Mejia. Commands are shouted in Spanish.
The unit has been in Ramadi for nearly two months. It is based in one of Saddam's palaces, where the marble floors are strewn with fatigues, weapons, muscle magazines, toiletries sent from home and battered desert boots.
Mosquito nets hang between the colonnades. A makeshift sign - 'Mortars. High Angle Hell. Demons of Destruction' - leans against a carved pillar. Every afternoon the soldiers swim and fish in the Euphrates. Noon temperatures run into the high forties Celsius.
Ar Ramadi, one officer explains, is the 'shittiest bit of the shittiest bit' of Iraq. In recent weeks, serious resistance to the American occupation of the country has been concentrated in the so-called Sunni triangle, a rough zone of land to the west and north-west of Baghdad that includes Saddam's home town of Tikrit.
This was the part of Iraq that benefited most from Saddam's regime and many of the local tribes were fiercely loyal to the dictator. They provided the core of his Mukhabarat intelligence service and the army. Now this is the region where the Fedayeen are causing most problems.
'These are the diehards,' said Lyon. 'It's been pretty busy here. We've been taking fire day and night.'
About 40 American soldiers have now been killed and hundreds more injured since President George Bush declared the war in Iraq officially over on 1 May.
Many analysts fear that the US could be drawn into a long and costly guerrilla war. Even routine operations are now targets. The Observer joined a squad on a vehicle checkpoint. Within an hour the radio crackled with the news that 'according to a previously reliable intelligence source' we were about to be targeted with mortars.
'They'll drive up, hip-shoot a few rounds off the back of a pick-up, and be gone before we have located them,' said one sergeant.
'We took fire the other day,' said Private Kanai Thiin, a 24-year-old from Hawaii, 'and we never saw who it was from. That's pretty usual.'
The Fedayeen can melt away so effectively because they have many supporters among the general population.
It is difficult to tell exactly what grievances lie behind the resentment of the Americans. In Ramadi this weekend, though many local residents complained bitterly about the American presence, most appeared more worried by the failure to restore power, water supplies and sanitation to much of the city rather than by the continuing occupation of their country.
'Saddam was a bad man, but when he was there we could live, we could work. But in the past two months [the Americans] have destroyed us,' said Mohammed Ahmed, 40, who is unemployed. There is also a profound sense of wounded pride. 'The generals were traitors and sold our country to the Americans for money. Otherwise we would have won,' said one former Iraqi soldier. He admitted, however, that he had thrown away his weapon and deserted when he heard that Baghdad had fallen.
The Americans are trying to maintain a fine balance, attempting to win over truculent local people while maintaining maximum security. The two objectives are often in conflict.
Heavy-handed searches, of the type witnessed by The Observer, involve large numbers of troops, armoured vehicles and attack helicopters. Such operations provoke profound anger.
Yet the Americans insist that the people will be happier when there is law and order and that the searches are necessary to counter the Fedayeen.
One accusation that surfaces regularly is that the Americans are stealing money during the searches, which occur almost daily in the city. In fact, what happens is that all large sums of cash that are found are seized for fear they will be used to buy guns.
The money may sometimes be for buying guns, but in most cases there is a more innocent reason for the stashes. With no banking system to speak of, most Iraqis have nowhere to put their money. Most withdrew their savings before the war and hid them in mattresses.
Lyon and his company detained eight men, including Latif. Other elements in the unit took another 15 and drove them, blindfolded and handcuffed, to a former army base for questioning.
All the damage done during the raid was photographed. This is so that, provided there is no evidence of criminal activity in the house, the soldiers can arrange for its repair, courtesy of the US taxpayer.
Surveying the detainees, Lyon admitted that the searches did not help relations with local people. 'Every time we do this we make a bunch of enemies,' he said. 'But we've got to get the bad guys too. It's a hard one.' Yesterday morning there seemed little doubt in the mind of Lieutenant-Colonel Hector Mirabile, the officer running the search mission, that he was doing the right thing.
Chomping on an unlit cigar and wearing wrap-around shades, he strode through the narrow alleys and congratulated his troops. 'Outstanding,' he said. 'We got Mustafa. We got the son of a bitch.'
Typical. They are great at talking smack, but when it's time to throw down, they run. The only fight they can win is against women and children, and even then they use them for human shields.
Call the Orkin Man.
Your observation is apt, but would probably be more striking if the feds didn't do the exact same thing here in the U.S.
Tyranny? Oh no, just looking out for our best interests. Yeah, that's the ticket.
It sounds bold and chaotic but, it also sounds like everything is recorded and 'put-right' after the subjects are 'cleared.'
Makes me wonder what else he got wrong...
11 Charlie bump.
They can easily get past this by giving a receipt to the "mayor" of the town. The receipt will tell them that the money will be deposited in an account for the use of the town community projects. That will do two things. Stop the rumors of theft, and make the town more willing to turn these bad guys in since it will benefit them directly.
I note that the article doesn't mention Mr. Packer's time in the Iraqi Army. I suspect there is more to him than meets the eye.
Thanks for the info, by the way. Say, since you knew who Greg Packer is, maybe you can help me with another question of identity:
Who is Keyser Soze? :^)
Don't know that one, must be current FR lore.
If you like good cinema, I strongly recommend The Usual Suspects.
"Who is Keyser Soze?"
Did this reporter ask what this man did when Sadaam WAS still in power? Is this man a Fedayeen Sadaam, or a member of the Baath party? There are so many quotes from people like this who are eager to put the Americans down, but they never give any background on any of them. Until they do, I'm suspicious of anyone who is talking to reporters.