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SOMEWHERE NEAR BAGHDAD — A Special Forces soldier marches an Iraqi man he refers to as “Target 12” to the rear passenger window of a camouflaged Humvee.

The beefy operator pulls up the suspect’s head so the informant concealed in the rear of the vehicle gets a good look at his face.

The informant confirms the man’s identity — a Baathist sympathizer allegedly connected to attacks against U.S. troops.

After an early-morning raid, Target 12 and three others — Targets 3, 8 and 15 — were sent to 29 Palms, the 2nd Brigade holding facility on Camp Black Jack, run by the Fort Hood-based 1st Cavalry Division. Two other targets were not at the tiny village — either dead or fled, depending on whom you believed.

Which is the whole point: Who do intelligence gatherers believe? Who can they trust when soldiers’ lives depend on it?

Hardly anyone, is the answer soldiers give most often.

“Of the tips we get, 99 out 100 may be crap,” said Capt. Steve Marr, the raid commander and commander of Troop D, part of the 1st Cavalry Division’s 9th Cavalry Regiment. “But that one may be a weapons cache destined for your door the next day. Get that one, you’re doing well!”

Raiders were following up on information about insurgent leaders and a possible arms cache from an informant who “basically is selling out friends and family for cash,” said 1st Lt. Blayne Smith, Troop D platoon leader.

The night began ominously.

About 10 p.m., two hours before the missions was scheduled to leave Black Jack, a hot Khamsin wind from the south raises the temperature at least 20 degrees. By midnight, temperatures were in the 90s and the air was opaque with blowing dust.

Scouts, Special Forces soldiers and soldiers from the 1st Cav’s 2nd Battalion, 7th Cavalry Regiment departed the camp after midnight.

The raiding party of Humvee gun trucks and Bradley Fighting Vehicles drove without lights, with drivers using night optical devices. Without NODs, it’s like driving a car on the bottom of a muddy pond. Even with the devices, visibility is near zero.

The trickiest part was getting to the target village and back. The main roads are the most dangerous because of improvised explosive devices. Ambushes are possible on the back roads, and raiders had limited time to spend on the objective before the sun comes up.

It doesn’t help when raiders had a difficult time finding the snitch. In an attempt to keep him from being killed as a collaborator, soldiers had to stage a fake arrest of the informant.

The informant had an apparent change of heart, and wasn’t at home. But his family was only too happy to give him up, and raiders tracked him down at a nearby house. What was supposed to take a few minutes took nearly an hour — an hour of additional exposure.

Once at the target village, two Special Forces soldiers led scouts and a platoon from 2-7 Cav house to house, looking for weapons and suspects.

Though the raid netted four wanted men, there was no weapons cache.

Later, Army lawyers looked at whether the raid informant was motivated by cash, said Capt. Brian Cunningham, a 2nd Brigade intelligence officer. It’s too early to say whether any of the evidence seized in the raid will send the men to a U.S.-run prison, Cunningham said.

Marr will look at the final report and confer with Cunningham.

“Maybe not for a direct correlation, but it may lead us to something … that may complete the puzzle for something else we’re working,” Marr said.

Raiders may not hit the jackpot every time, “the mother lode. Take down the [terrorist] cell. The 1,000 pounds of explosives,” he said. But every engagement — even the smallest — is still a victory.

“We’re sending a clear message. Decide to oppose coal forces, and we will come after you.”

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