Soldiers confiscate Baghdad cache
Stars and Stripes June 7, 2003
BAGHDAD, Iraq — Soldiers patrolling one of the roughest sections of Baghdad on Wednesday night seized a cache of weapons, ammunition and gas masks. Five men were detained after one of them, driving a mock ambulance, led a patrol on a chase through the rundown city streets.
Inside a warehouse facility, soldiers of the 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment, assigned in part to Task Force 2-37 of the 1st Armored Division with its headquarters in Wiesbaden, Germany, confiscated five AK-47 rifles, two pistols, 10 rocket-propelled grenade launchers, an assortment of mortar rounds, a heavy machine gun, a commercially made detonator, 20 gas masks, and 12 million dinar in cash, or roughly $12,000, said Capt. Reid Norris, the Apache Troop’s commander.
Arms dealing isn’t uncommon in the eastern parts of Baghdad — but Wednesday’s seizure is one Norris finds troublesome, he said.
“The guys selling on the street, they’re just trying to make a buck,” he said during a patrol Thursday of a 900,000-resident section called New Baghdad. “The guys we found last night, and the amount of weapons and type of weapons we found all in one place, tells me someone is trying to organize some kind of resistance.”
The five men there first told soldiers the warehouse served as a hospital, but changed their story when soldiers confronted them on the lack of beds, medical supplies and even patients, Norris said. The reason the men were there and what the warehouse was being used for changed three more times; it was a religious school for boys; it was a parking garage; and finally it was as a start-up security force facility being set up to protect residents.
Soldiers had noted a surge of white vans painted with rudimentary red crosses, a ploy, they said, to disguise the vehicles as ambulances, Norris said. The make-shift emergency vehicles are used to ferry illegal weapons.
Ridding the streets of weapons will be an arduous task, he said. “We were told Saddam Hussein had 4 million AK-47s on the streets before the war. Last night, we got five of them,” he chuckled.
In Baghdad’s eastern area of 3 million residents, shots are fired nightly, especially between the hours of midnight and 4 a.m., said Sgt. Casey Parique, 23, with the 1st AD. Sometimes it’s celebratory fire, and sometimes it’s aimed at soldiers, especially in a section named Al Tharwa, which used to be called Saddam City.
“The soldiers assigned to that sector really have a hard job, especially at night,” Norris said.
But listen to the regiment’s commanding officer talk, and he'll paint an entirely different impression than accounts from soldiers patrolling the streets.
“People who say it isn’t safe are the people who haven’t been here,” said Col. Terry Wolff. “It’s safer than some parts of the United States. There are some U.S. cities I wouldn’t go in at night.
“We’re cleaning the place up, and it’s not as bad as some say it is. Merchants even are leaving their merchandise out at night when they close up.”
Media reports continue to arise about girls abducted from the streets and raped, but “if it’s happening, I don’t know about it,” said Wolff, who insisted intelligence gathering isn’t lacking.
Perhaps the people feel more comfortable sharing stories with the media than with the military, he suggested.
To ease tensions, military officials asked local Islamic leaders to change their anti-U.S. and coalition forces messages delivered to hundreds of thousands at Holy Friday mosque services, said Wolff, who set up the 2nd ACR’s headquarters in the former Iraqi secret military police building, in which they tortured and executed people. Messages are scribbled in tunnels and damp cell walls, “a lot of last wills and testaments,” he said.
An aerial view of the area from a UH-60 Black Hawk shows row upon row upon row of dusty brown homes, sandwiched together for miles. Market places where everything from live chickens to plastic sandals and cigarettes to home-made prune juice is sold are topped with dilapidated tin roofs. Black Hawks often aid the ground forces during patrols of the streets.
Streets, the colonel said, are safe. “Really, we haven’t seen a lot violence,” Wolff said. “Demonstrations of anarchy aren’t breaking out everywhere.”