Sometimes it’s hard to know who enemy is
Some killers on list, others are random
HABBANIYAH, Iraq — For one moment in February, Lance Cpl. Blake A. Soileau knew the enemy, and the Marine killed him without hesitation with a shot through the forehead.
The enemy had used a dump truck packed with explosives to drive within 10 meters of a Marine outpost in Habbaniyah, a town along the south side of the Euphrates River, in the farmlands between Ramadi and Fallujah.
The Marines from Company K, 3rd Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment had seen both the truck and its driver before. But that morning, 2½ hours into Soileau’s four-hour watch, was different. An Iraqi teacher was accidentally shot earlier in the day, and a protest had erupted. By mid-morning, Soileau and other Marines were taking machine-gun fire.
The man, Soileau thinks now, had endured all he could from the war around him.
The enemy drove the dump truck straight toward Soileau, the post and nine other Marines.
“I guess it just pushed him over the edge,” Soileau, 19, of Zachary, La., said. “He was just a random guy off the street. We knew him. But he wasn’t on a list anywhere.”
The “lists” are the collections of names and suspects the military has, a roster of enemies based on informants, eyewitnesses and servicemembers’ investigations. Some are cell leaders and have familiar associates: al-Qaida, the 1920 Revolutionary Brigade, other nationalist groups. Some are lower-level terrorists, known triggermen and weapons-stockers who contribute to the violence, according to Marines interviewed in the past two weeks.
But sometimes, the enemy is just some random guy. Sometimes, he’s a 9-year-old kid who knows how to shoot a rocket-propelled grenade. Sometimes, the Marines never know who they’re fighting.
“It’s definitely not the kind of war you grew up watching, where the bad guys are in green, the good guys in white,” said Soileau, who grew up outside of Baton Rouge and whose father, grandfather, uncles and aunt were all in the Marines.
“It could be the guy next to you who’s trying to kill you,” Soileau said. “It really aggravates you. These guys can go a street over and blend in.”
Gunnery Sgt. Christopher Lowman has been patrolling and living in Habbaniyah for five months. In the past two months, Lowman and Company I have been working with a group of 400 men policing their own neighborhoods. The Marines have passed out shirts in an effort to keep track of which guys are on the good side.
“Here’s your defining factor,” Lowman, 31, of Jonesboro, Ark., said of friend and foe. “He’s got a blue shirt on.”
More often, the Marines see the victims of the enemy rather than his face. Often those victims are Iraqi residents. In April, a suicide bomber killed several Iraqis at the main market and police station in Saqlawiyah, a smaller town close to Fallujah.
“They’re making the civilian life harder than they’re making our life,” said Lance Cpl. Cory Jeffers, 20, of Stiva, Ill., who patrols with Company F, 2nd Battalion, 7th Marines. “You wouldn’t do that to your own city.”
Other Marines believe some would.
Petty Officer 3rd Class Zemar Roberts is a Navy corpsman whose job is to protect the health of the 40 or so Marines who run the Iraqi Army training center in Habbaniyah. The enemy, he said, often is “that guy who is doing dishonest acts because he thinks he has no choice. Or, it’s just simple lack of education, people who see Americans as evil.”
Slowly, Roberts thinks, that could be changing. He’s grown to know more Iraqis as they come through the training center as recruits. Still, some of the stories are hard to hear. One student told him he had brothers who were helping the enemy.
On that morning in February, Soileau had a choice and he believes he made the right one. He shot the truck driver before the bomb could be set off. Later, where the truck came to a halt, experts detonated the truck and the man, who was dead but rigged to the explosives.
The blast tore apart the entire command post. The roof — where Soileau and his friends stood earlier that day — collapsed. Their beds were gone. The card tables were in pieces. Soileau felt the blast from more than a third of a mile away.
“It’s humbling,” he said. “It really is.”