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Patrolling an Outhouse and a Visit to OP3

By Michael Fumento

Photo by Michael Fumento
A Marine takes cover while on an ostensible raid in Nasser Wa'Salaam near Fallujah. Photo by Michael Fumento
Went on a patrol last night that was uneventful to the soldiers but I learned a lot. As we dismounted the Humvees we heard heavy machine gun fire close by but that would be the only shooting of the evening. The area we walked through was a shanty town called Nasser Wa'Salaam, a name which rolls off the tongue beautifully but it's a wretched, wretched area. In the U.S.we call an area a slum if people have fewer than 2 TVs per household. No, THIS is a slum. There's nothing like it in the U.S. It was basically an open sewer, with some running water but mostly pools. Most of the time you felt like you were in an outhouse on a hot August day. I wish my camera or camcorder could pick up smells -- but then nobody would want to look at the pictures or watch the video.

Street urchins followed us around in packs, begging for "Choccolata" and money. "U.S. number one! George Bush number one! Choccolata?" On safer patrols we do carry and hand out candy, but not on this one. We couldn't afford distractions. So we'd reply "Mokoo choccolata!" No chocolate! Still, you'd stop at a protected point, usually at the edge of a house or wall, and there they'd be wrapping you up like a street urchin burrito. At one point more than a dozen surrounded me and a Marine and I had to tell them to back off, as they were endangering both us and themselves. But you'd see them again. In fairness, a lot didn't want anything but to be friendly. Nasser Wa'Salaam is like the Sadr City of Fallujah, the ghetto into which Saddam herded the Shiites. But after decades of intermarriage it's now about 60/40 Shiite/Sunni. And while the Sunni wanted nothing to do with us, the Shiite -- kids and adults -- were delighted to see us. Often they were simply trying to make conversation and giving us high fives. One insisted on feeling my biceps. He squeezed and gave me a thumbs up. When I told them I was a journalist -- "Izmi sahafi" -- they kept demanding I take their photos.

So I'd pretend and they'd be delighted. But I already have about 40 urchin shots; that's enough.

Photo by Michael Fumento
Machine gun position attacked at OP3. Photo by Michael Fumento
The ostensible purpose of the patrol was to try to nab two IED layers in their home. Intelligence had identified them as layers but we wanted to find a cache, rather than simply grab them on the street. Alas, the Jundi seemed to have other ideas. Put bluntly, they didn't want to fight. So they made us simply walk in circles around the relatively safe Shiite area until finally the exasperated American advisors said to hell with it and we made our way back to the drop-off point. On the way back, we kept really low and quickly moved from cover to cover as we came within rifle range of a building infamous for housing a relatively good Mooj sniper. He's zapped a couple of people, but our guys haven't been able to get him because he quickly slips out. They can't even tell where he's firing from usually, so even a counter-sniper is no good. And, of course, we're not allowed to blast the building. Kinder, gentler war and all that.

Avoiding action is an intractable problem with the Jundi. As it's been put to me repeatedly, "They tend to be reactive; not proactive." They wait for the Mooj to make contact. When they do, they see their job as breaking off that contact with a mass of rifle and machine gun fire. They don't fire controlled bursts, which is how you kill somebody rather than just keep his head down. And they rarely go on the pursuit. I sat in the office of some vaunted "special forces" soldiers from Saddam's army that have joined the new Iraqi Army and listened to the U.S. commander of 2nd battalion tell them over and over, "It's not enough to defend your position, you must kill them! Do you understand that; you must go after them and kill them!" I don't think they quite understood. Likewise when I interviewed the commander of OP3, the site of the major action I described earlier, I asked him if he saw his job as not just sitting pat but sending out patrols to kill the bad guys. He evaded the question. I asked again. Then he emphasized taking prisoners for information. Yeah, that's all well and good but ultimately you have to kill people. With important exceptions, and perhaps more exceptions all the time, this just isn't in the Jundi way of thinking.

Photo by Michael Fumento
Spent shells at an insurgent position that attacked OP3. Photo by Michael Fumento
I learned a lot by visiting OP3. Apparently it was pretty much surrounded and the Mooj launched a layered attack. Some were at a relative distance; some practically across the street. We crossed that street and went up to the roof of the building and found spent shells practically lay in piles.

There was also a large blood stain where it appears one Mooj went to meet his 72 virgins.

I saw that OP3 wasn't attacked because it was weak. From the inside it looks rather like a medieval fortress and it had several look-out positions, all of which but one had a light machine gun and all were protected by glass windshields pulled off heavy Army trucks. All were badly smashed but had done their job. Basically, OP3 was hit because it was an intrusion into an area more or less under Mooj control. It will be hit again. And again.

Speaking of which, it was quite around Camp India and everywhere I went but Marines building an OP in a close-by town I can't spell (near Camp Hit) got hit with a mortar barrage. They had no cover at all. Fifteen wounded; two dead. Sad.

April 14, 2006 04:59 PM  ·  Iraq