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A military policeman examines the whip scars on an Iraqi prisoner's back Friday morning following a raid at a police station in Sabi Abor, Iraq.
A military policeman examines the whip scars on an Iraqi prisoner's back Friday morning following a raid at a police station in Sabi Abor, Iraq. (Terry Boyd / S&S)
A military policeman examines the whip scars on an Iraqi prisoner's back Friday morning following a raid at a police station in Sabi Abor, Iraq.
A military policeman examines the whip scars on an Iraqi prisoner's back Friday morning following a raid at a police station in Sabi Abor, Iraq. (Terry Boyd / S&S)
A Kiowa helicopter flies in low over Humvee guntrucks just outside Sabi Abor, Iraq.
A Kiowa helicopter flies in low over Humvee guntrucks just outside Sabi Abor, Iraq. (Terry Boyd / S&S)
An Iraqi prisoner shows bruises on his arms and legs following a U.S. military raid of the Iraqi police station Friday in Sabi Abor, Iraq.
An Iraqi prisoner shows bruises on his arms and legs following a U.S. military raid of the Iraqi police station Friday in Sabi Abor, Iraq. (Terry Boyd / S&S)

SABI ABOR, Iraq — In the future, there may come a day of reckoning in Sabi Abor.

Just not today.

On Friday morning, a heavily armed, company-sized force from the 1st Cavalry Division, which included attached National Guardsmen and U.S. and Iraqi Special Forces, cordoned off the center of Sabi Abor, northwest of Baghdad.

Supported by Kiowa helicopters and Bradley fighting vehicles, soldiers came expecting a fight but only encountered limited small-arms fire before withdrawing after about two hours. A scout sniper with 2nd Platoon, Troop D, part of the 1st Cav’s 9th Cavalry Regiment, had a confirmed kill, shooting an Iraqi man who fired on the force.

The force left with the first close look at a city — the largest between Baghdad and Fallujah to the west — suspected of playing a big role in supporting the ongoing insurgency.

The visit included a disturbing, confounding look at Iraqi justice.

The main target of the incursion was the Iraqi police station, and MPs came to make a full assessment, said 2nd Lt. Michael Thurman, platoon leader with the Fort Hood, Texas-based 1st Cav’s 545th Military Police Company.

One scenario anticipated local police refusing to let soldiers enter the gated police compound, Thurman said.

That would have led to a firefight, “and we would have taken it from there,” Thurman said. “We were expecting the worst.”

Instead, the early-morning incursion on the Muslim Sabbath caught police off guard, and soldiers entered without resistance. In fact, he was surprised by how talkative the police and prisoners were, Thurman said.

Once in the compound, he said, the MPs tried to assess the situation:

• Are the police still on the side of the coalition?

• Do they have the proper equipment?

• Do they have information on anti-coalition activity?

After MPs collected information on the police, they moved to the prisoners — where they discovered signs that most of the 11 prisoners had been beaten.

“These guys have massive whip marks and bruises on them,” Thurman said to his translator. “Ask him why there are whip marks on their backs. Big whip marks.”

One policeman claimed the marks are from when the prisoners tried to escape three days earlier, pulled back after almost making it out a hole in the wall.

Thurman snorted in disbelief.

The jail seemed to be operating by some incomprehensible code of justice punishing accused and accusers.

Some prisoners admitted being charged with crimes ranging from murder to robbery.

But most claimed innocence.

One well-groomed man claimed to be a railroad employee who reported a car-jacking. He was arrested, along with the suspected hijackers, for losing a government vehicle.

He’s been in the jail, which is essentially bare rooms with no beds or toilets, for two months. Beatings are common, he told soldiers, showing a scar behind his ear. Beneath his ear, his shirt collar and shoulder were stained with blood.

Another prisoner said he was fired on — and his cousin killed — by attackers. He and his attackers were arrested, the man said.

“Police said, ‘How come he got killed but you didn’t?’” the man said through an interpreter.

MP interrogator Sgt. Michael Ada was incredulous.

Through a translator, Ada asked, “So what you’re saying is, you’re incarcerated because someone shot at you and your cousin, and killed your cousin?”

Yes, the man said nonchalantly.

Little of what the MPs see and hear adds up, Ada said. But it’s early.

Sabi Abor is at what soldiers call, “Four Corners,” where overlapping brigade sectors included pieces of the town, but no unit had complete responsibility for it, Ada said.

“A lack of coordination” meant no one knows exactly what is going on here, he said.

After about an hour, Thurman’s assessment is, “maybe it’s not as bad as we thought it is. The unknown may be what makes it so bad.”

But there are few doubts there are anti-coalition forces in the town, and in some strength. There is a history of firefights around the town, “and someone has to be the source of it,” he said.

Sabi Abor is an ugly town, a ragged skyline of low, bleak dust-colored rooftops unrelieved by trees or any sort of greenery.

It has an ugly history and a crucial location, between Fallujah and Baghdad. Three months ago, insurgents forced down a Black Hawk with a rocket-propelled grenade, though the crew survived.

The first place MPs got hit with an IED was just south of town, Thurman said. Delta 9 scouts had a number of firefights in the area, seizing weapons and insurgents.

On Friday, though, overwhelming force carried the day.

“We gained and maintained the initiative,” said 1st Lt. Blayne Smith, 2nd Platoon leader for Troop D scouts. “They knew it wasn’t a good day to fight.”

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