An interpreter working with U.S. troops wipes sweat from his brow while questioning a group of Iraqis in the Al Farouk neighborhood of Mosul.

An interpreter working with U.S. troops wipes sweat from his brow while questioning a group of Iraqis in the Al Farouk neighborhood of Mosul. (Les Neuhaus / S&S)

MOSUL, Iraq — For troops with the 4th Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division, it was supposed to be a routine patrol and search in a crammed but quiet district of this northern Iraqi city — though not one without problems.

U.S. Army officials said the mission into the Farouk neighborhood was not intended to find any specific suspects, but rather was a chance to talk with locals. As often happens in Iraq, the complexity of the situation on the ground — in this case grenades, a crying young suspect and wary shopkeepers and residents — demonstrated how no patrol is routine.

Soldiers with several companies of the 2nd Battalion, 7th Cavalry Regiment rolled into the dense quarter with nearly two dozen Humvees as helicopters thundered overhead.

“It’s one of the oldest areas of the city and we just want to engage the local populace to see how they react to us,” said Capt. Steven Kendall, 30, a native of Stephenville, Texas, and commander of Company B.

A few warning shots soon echoed through the streets, apparently fired from Iraqi army vehicles to intimidate any would-be insurgents.

After troops spoke with a few shopkeepers and passers-by with varying reactions to the security sweep, they set out into the souks and side alleys. Some shopkeepers closed their gates and locked their doors. One onlooker, who gave his name as Faris Nihad, said, “This is not good for us because they are scaring away people from coming to shop.”

Some members of the regiment had been tasked with searching buildings and, in some cases, began blasting doors open with shotguns. One of Company B’s leaders, 1st Lt. Adam Gochenour, called out an order to use caution.

“Stop. Only do it if it’s necessary,” the 24-year-old from Dover, Pa., said, stopping an entry team before they shot open another locked door.

A sergeant first class disagreed with the lieutenant, challenging the order.

A squad moved on to another house to search, then returned a few minutes later to the first house and popped the door open with a shotgun round. Nobody was inside. Troops searched through the belongings, found nothing suspect and left the house with door unable to close.

Moments later, as the teams were leaving the Assyrian Christian area and patrolling back into a Muslim-dominated block toward a main street, two hand grenades were tossed out from an alleyway to the rear of the soldiers.

“Where’d it come from?” one soldier yelled as everyone whipped around, guns at the ready.

“From the roof,” another replied, but unsure.

The soldiers went into action, with three men venturing down an alley, while the others searched farther down and around another corner. Five Iraqi men sitting across the street, with a direct view of the alleyway, were mum when troops asked what they had seen. The Iraqi men and the soldiers had been laughing and speaking through an interpreter just moments before.

The smiles had melted into frustration and the troops dispersed the men, angry at their lack of cooperation and believing they must have seen something.

Back in the alley, a group of Iraqis were being questioned with the help of an interpreter. One of the Iraqis, a 12-year-old boy, began crying from the middle of the crowd. Soldiers began questioning him more intensely.

First Sgt. Jesus Gonzalez, 38, from El Paso, Texas, later said that in the troops’ experience, crying was usually an indication of guilt.

As soldiers handed out candy to other children watching the scene, the boy was literally yanked from the crowd by the interpreter at the behest of Gonzalez. The boy said he was walking with the group to the market to shop.

Held up against a wall, the youth’s palms were smelled by the interpreter, looking for signs of explosive residue.

“Stop crying!” a soldier yelled at the boy.

The soldiers led the boy away and tested him for explosive residue on his skin or clothes.

In the end, soldiers tested his hands and pockets three times in about 40 minutes with an Expray Explosive Detection Kit, but the results came back negative. The boy was let go.

After the incident, the troops returned to their Humvees and headed back toward their base.

On the way back, one vehicle triggered a roadside bomb. No injuries were reported, but the bomb blew out three tires of the vehicle.

See more photos here.

Sign Up for Daily Headlines

Sign up to receive a daily email of today's top military news stories from Stars and Stripes and top news outlets from around the world.

Sign Up Now