An Iraqi shopkeeper joins with a 3rd Platoon soldier in spray painting over anti-American graffiti on a wall next to the man’s small shop.

An Iraqi shopkeeper joins with a 3rd Platoon soldier in spray painting over anti-American graffiti on a wall next to the man’s small shop. (Jason Chudy / S&S)

BAGHDAD, Iraq — When soldiers of Company B, 1st Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment take to the streets in southern Baghdad, they’ve got a unique weapon in their arsenal.

In addition to machine guns and rifles, they’re armed with cans of spray paint.

That’s because the battles that the soldiers of the 3rd Platoon fight aren’t limited to bullets and tank rounds.

They’re also fighting a psychological war against anti-U.S. or anti-interim government graffiti.

The graffiti come from a variety of sources, Staff Sgt. Bryce Rigby said.

“Most of it is kids,” he said. “You can tell it’s kids because they misspell words [and] the kids write things like ‘down USA.’”

But other graffiti are more sinister.

“That graffiti … calls for jihad or some stuff says things like ‘don’t be a coward — don’t vote,’” said the 22-year-old Salt Lake City native.

“With … voting, it’ll say don’t participate in the elections or you’ll be killed,” he said. “In my opinion, that was insurgents.

“We’ve also had some about [terrorist leader Abu Musab] al-Zarqawi,” Rigby said. “All it is is scare tactics.”

The insurgents try to place their messages in areas where many people gather, such as near markets.

They also sometimes target areas of a particular religious denomination.

“You’ll also see it a lot in Christian neighborhoods,” he said. “They try to scare the Christians.”

Although they were in a Muslim neighborhood during Sunday’s patrol, there is a Christian neighborhood in the company’s sector.

The soldiers stopped at two graffiti-strewn walls during their patrol Sunday to spray paint out various messages. Both were near small mom-and-pop shops.

Soldiers persuaded the shopkeepers and a passer-by to help spray out the messages and tried to find out who was doing the graffiti.

None of the men admitted to knowing anything, Rigby said.

“We get a person from the house with the graffiti and make them take responsibility for [spray painting over] it,” he said. “We try to make them responsible for what happens in their neighborhoods.”

Some have admitted to seeing the graffiti being done, he said.

“They’ll always say it’s not [people] from their neighborhoods,” said Rigby, who was serving as the patrol sergeant. “That’s more than likely true.”

The soldiers then returned to their patrol, stopping to give a kerosene heater to a compound housing Palestinians, another to a family living in a mud hut, and a heater, stuffed animals and school supplies to a kindergarten.

They also visited Iraqi National Guard troops guarding a bridge.

Wiping out graffiti is just a small part of their mission.

“It depends on our manpower in the sector,” Rigby said, “and if we have time and spray paint.”

“But if you don’t have patrols in the sector all the time,” he said, “it will come back.”

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