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BAGHDAD — A gunshot rang out and Sgt. Brock Eckstein staggered backward and slumped onto the rooftop floor. He had been hit.

Empty shells skipped by Eckstein as his comrades fired in the direction of a hidden sniper. Eckstein checked himself: no blood, no wound. He looked at his rifle, which had been pressed to his face moments before as he gazed through the scope. The gunman had narrowly missed Eckstein and struck the gun.

“That’s the third time that’s happened,” Eckstein said. He grabbed the rifle. “Let’s see if it’ll still shoot,” he said, joining the skirmish.

Eckstein and other soldiers with him on patrol said it was a typical day in the southern Baghdad district of Dora.

American military leaders highlighted the area as a success of the recent security push, with several dignitaries visiting the reopened shops of the Dora Market. But for the American soldiers who patrol the narrow backstreets and rutted, rubble-strewn lots, gunfire remains a daily refrain in Dora as an intransigent Sunni Arab insurgency continues to call the district home.

“It’s almost as if they’re trying to kill us out there,” Staff Sgt. James Missey said wryly.

For Eckstein and Missey, a day of close calls began with playing the part of tour guides. Their unit, the 2nd Battalion, 12th Infantry Regiment, based at Camp Falcon, will relinquish patrol duty of a section of Dora to the 1st Squadron, 4th Calvary Regiment, 1st Infantry Division.

A convoy was organized Saturday to introduce the incoming group to the sector.

“I guarantee you we’ll get shot at today,” Missey said. The wiry 37-year-old from Cadet, Mo., was not tempting fate or speaking with bravado. His comment came from experience.

Dora has been deemed under control more than once, only to have sectarian violence resurface. This time U.S. military officials are cautiously optimistic that the security plan’s emphasis on smaller neighborhood outposts will turn the tide. Military officials have credited the increased presence of U.S. troops with allowing shopkeepers to return the local market.

But having forced out all but a small fraction of Shiite residents, the Sunni insurgency reportedly has recently launched another sectarian cleansing campaign. According to the Chicago Tribune, Sunni gunmen have been going house-to-house in Dora, giving Christians the choice between converting to Islam or abandoning their homes within 24 hours. U.S. military officials have not commented on the possible targeting of Christians in Dora.

Missey said he has not noticed any recent exodus of Christians from the area, but riding with his 1-4 Cav counterpart, he shared what he had learned about Dora and pointed out the sights.

“We get shot at by just about everybody,” he said.

That empty lot is where we usually find bodies, this cluster of buildings is where we often take sniper fire, that man down the street is an insurgent leader, he said during the course of the ride.

In a matter of time, Missey’s prediction came true. The patrol had dismounted and begun searching houses when gunfire erupted several streets away.

“Sounds like a checkpoint is taking heavy fire,” a soldier said as the troops sprinted toward the noise.

The patrol passed a fleeing resident who said three young children had been injured by stray gunfire.

Eckstein and a group of soldiers reached a two-story home near the shooting and ushered a panicked mother and her children inside as they scurried onto the roof.

From their position they overlooked a stretch of crumbling road and garbage-choked lots dubbed “the green mile” by soldiers because of its overgrown weeds. The sound of the firing weapons crept closer.

A strong wind lifted a gray cloud of sand and dust into the air, obscuring the soldiers’ view. “I didn’t know the enemy had tornadoes,” joked 1-4 Cav Staff Sgt. Cesar Robles.

A few minutes later, Eckstein crumpled onto the floor. The American response was thunderous. Rounds shook the house and street below. The Humvees joined in after a second gunman stepped out from behind the gate of a nearby house and sprayed the patrol with automatic fire.

The gunner atop of Missey’s Humvee fired hundreds of rounds before the enemy retreated.

“They hung around for a long time,” Missey said. The gunmen slipped away.

Rejoining the patrol, Eckstein was surrounded by soldiers who marveled at his latest close call.

“Note to self: There’s a lot of snipers on the green mile,” 1-4 Cav Staff Sgt. Christian Curtright said.

“We’ve seen a lot of that,” Missey said, summing up the day. “Sunni here are pushing out the Shia and Christians. And they are gunning for us; they want to kill an American.”

Dora slideshow

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