Gunfire ruins a shopping trip every time

Soldiers’ stop at Baghdad hardware store interrupted by drive-by shooting

By MONTE MORIN | STARS AND STRIPES Published: March 31, 2007

BAGHDAD -- It was a Baghdad-style shopping spree for sure.

Acting 1st Sgt. Jose Moran had some bucks to burn on improvements for Alpha Company’s “Commando Bar,” a dark, Saddam-era bunker that troops from the 1st Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment converted into a combat outpost for the new Baghdad security plan.

The underground labyrinth occupies a tattered corner of New Baghdad and its chambers have never seen the light of day. The bunker is so dark that soldiers who emerge from its tunnels are quickly blinded by the sun, while those who enter the complex find themselves stumbling in the gloom.

“We’re going out for supplies,” Moran told 2nd Platoon soldiers Wednesday. “We’re going to get some light bulbs and extension cords. We’ve got $400 to spend.”

The 2nd Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division soldiers — who currently are attached to the 2nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division — shrugged into their sweat-stained body armor, pulled on their gloves and piled into their Humvees.

The convoy motored toward the well-to-do neighborhood of Baladiat, and Moran began pricing coils of extension cord at several curbside hardware stores. The 39-year-old San Juan, Puerto Rico, native had just settled on a price for two, 100-foot coils of cord when things suddenly got interesting.

The Iraqi shopkeeper was just about to ring up the purchase when a gun blast echoed over the pavement. A nearby window pane burst into the pattern of a spider’s web.

“Get in the vehicles!” Moran yelled.

To the platoon’s interpreter, it looked as if the shot was fired from a shiny new taxi cab — a drive-by.

The convoy set off in search of the gunman.

“Now this is exciting,” Staff Sgt. Daniel Newsome said as his truck weaved in and out of traffic. “This makes my day,” said the 27-year-old Springfield, Mass., native.

But after zigging and zagging through the neighborhood and doubling back on the hardware shop several times, it appeared the gunman’s trail had grown cold.

The soldiers went back to shopping.

Moran directed the convoy into an open air market wedged between a mosque and a traffic police bureau. “This is a JAM market,” Moran said, referring to the Jaish Al Mahdi — or Mahdi Army militia. Commando company soldiers had visited the market on previous occasions looking for weapons and terror suspects. This time, shop owners eyed the soldiers warily as Moran priced extension cords.

“They want way too much,” Moran said.

After exiting the market, someone thought they spotted the gunman’s taxi parked next to a fire station. Soldiers swooped in on the vehicle, searching it and the fire station — a known Mahdi Army hangout.

Neither a gun nor a gunman was found.

By this time, Moran had decided to bring the shopping expedition to an end. The light bulbs and extension cords would have to wait.

“I’ll go back and get them another day,” Moran said.

Acting First Sgt. Jose Moran, 39, of San Juan, Puerto Rico, shops for light bulbs and extension cords at an east Baghdad sidewalk store moments before a drive-by shooting Wednesday.

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