Gun battle breaks out in Ramadi as American troops urge Iraqis to vote
January 26, 2005
RAMADI, Iraq — A joint patrol of American and Iraqi troops skirmished Monday with insurgents in downtown Ramadi, underscoring efforts to provide election security in the capital of Anbar province.
Soldiers from Company D, 1st Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment — conducting a cordon-and-search operation with a platoon of Iraqi Special Police commandos — traded fire with insurgents.
For the better part of an hour, gunshots and loud explosions echoed through the streets as both sides ducked into alleyways and courtyards amid the exchange. Orange-tinged skies from a brief sandstorm and competing calls to prayer from local mosques added to the eerie scene. Neither U.S. nor Iraqi units reported any casualties.
Similar clashes, which U.S. soldiers say waned in the weeks after the November assault on Fallujah, have increased in Ramadi as the Jan. 30 national election approaches. Just days before Iraqi voters are to select an assembly to write a new constitution, residents in Ramadi say they are still worried about insurgent attacks.
When the patrol arrived just before noon, it was immediately apparent that Ramadi is unlike other towns in the area. As soldiers began their mission, everyone on the streets went into their homes. Shopkeepers closed up their businesses and none of the crowds of children that usually follow U.S. soldiers in other towns came out.
“That’s pretty normal for this part of town,” said 1st Lt. Larry Chappell, an Arabic speaker who directed the Iraqi platoon.
“There are signs on the walls saying if we go to vote, we will all be killed,” one woman told a group of U.S. psychological operations soldiers who accompanied the patrol.
“If you all go to vote, there is nothing they can do to you,” one of the soldiers replied. “They are trying to scare you. Coalition and Iraqi forces will be protecting the polls.”
In another courtyard, 1st Lt. Baudelio Arias, a 2nd Battalion, 17th Field Artillery member attached to Company D as a civil affairs officer, handed out election information and pieces of candy to children.
As the troops swept through several blocks of a residential area in Ramadi, the Iraqi soldiers took the lead in entering the houses and talking with the residents. Most of the local men were not at home; many families said the men were at work or on the hajj, the annual pilgrimage to Mecca.
The Iraqi soldiers talked with residents who were home, handing out election information fliers.
U.S. officials in the short term are counting on Iraqi forces to provide security at polling places. In the long run, officials hope, a reconstituted Iraqi security force will allow the 150,000 U.S. soldiers in Iraq to return home.
During Monday’s patrol, the soldiers faced many of the same problems they have encountered before. Few of the local residents — who almost unanimously expressed a strong desire to vote — offered information on insurgents in the area.
“This is a safe neighborhood,” one older resident, who said he has lived in the same house since 1960, told the soldiers in one of the first houses they visited.
Unknowingly foreshadowing the firefight ahead, a U.S. soldier replied to the man in disbelief.
“There has not been a day when we come to this street and don’t take contact from insurgents,” he told the man. “So please explain to me how you consider this a safe neighborhood, or at least, how you can think it’s free of insurgents?”