MPs' frustrations with patrolling Iraq grow after attack
Stars and Stripes June 18, 2003
KHALIDIYAH, Iraq — Attackers lobbed a small explosive device, possibly a grenade, over a concrete wall of the Iraqi police station in Khalidiyah on Monday night, minutes before U.S. soldiers were to rendezvous with police officers to patrol the town’s streets.
No one was injured in the attack, but the blast damaged a white Toyota pickup the U.S. Army gave the Iraqi police days earlier.
Khalidiyah is about 15 miles from the city of Fallujah, where U.S. soldiers have come under heavy attack in recent weeks.
A sweet tooth might have prevented injury or death to the soldiers of 6th Platoon, 3rd Military Police Company, and 3rd Battalion, 7th Infantry Regiment, both of the 3rd Infantry Division.
The soldiers stopped a few moments before their planned 11 p.m. rendezvous to buy cups of soft serve ice cream from a local vendor — about 800 meters from the police station.
At 10:58, “Ka-boom!”
Short bursts of what sounded like an AK-47 followed.
“We gotta go,” team leader Sgt. Ron Mbuthia shouted to his team as they scurried to two armored Humvees and dashed up the street to investigate. “Go, go, go!”
After briefly inspecting the police station, and the roughly 2-foot crater in the graveled front yard, the MPs and infantry soldiers gave chase to a suspicious white car.
The car seemed to wait at the top of one street with its lights dimmed, and as the Humvees approached, the car sped away, leading the armored chasers onto Highway 10 and toward an area that soldiers dubbed “ambush alley,” said Spc. Chris Austin, 23.
The Humvees stopped short of the bridge that leads to the narrowed roadway, ending the pursuit for fear they were being lured into an ambush.
Soldiers returned to the police station to begin probing for answers: Who was there? What did they see? Where did the car come from? But frustration levels reached fever pitch because there is no translator assigned to the MP companies.
Shrapnel shattered the passenger and rear windows of the four-door Toyota, punctured holes and rips all along the right side of the vehicle, managed to cut the fuel line. A bullet hole was visible in the bed of the truck above the wheel well.
The blast also shattered glass around doorway of the station’s front door.
“They are so lucky no one got killed or hurt,” Austin said of police officers awaiting the troops’ arrival. A grenade blast has a kill radius of 5 meters and an injury radius of 25 meters.
The soldiers determined two police officers were sitting outside the walled fence facing the major highway that runs through Khalidiyah, Al Habbaniyah and Fullujah. But, if they saw anything, they weren’t sharing.
Elements of the 3rd ID, which led the war and were the first into Baghdad on April 7, thought they were on their way home when instead, their travel plans were redirected from Baghdad to the Fullujah area to quell violent attacks.
Some of the uprising might be by former regime supporters and members of the Baath Party who might be bribing poorer residents to attack American soldiers, said Capt. James Finocchiaro, a battalion intelligence officer.
The Army’s efforts to help towns establish their own police departments following the collapse of the Iraqi regime is sometimes compromised by police officers who don’t want to work, or don’t understand the job.
The MPs’ frustration with them already was at a slow simmer from an earlier evening patrol with the local police. Though traveling four to the pickup, the patrol’s leader is afraid to drive the town’s streets for fear of being shot at, the soldiers said. He limits his patrolling to driving up and down Highway 10, where it’s safer.
Pointing to a map, Austin signaled to the officer that he had to drive into the town. The man, a major with the police department, seemed to get the idea, but once in town, drove only up streets one street away from the main highway.
Getting the local departments up and running will take time, said 1st Lt. Mack Middendorf, commander of the 3rd MP Company. He’s seen the number of police officers jump from 16 to 31 in Khalidiyah and eight to 28 in nearby Al Habbaniyah.