This time, joint patrols get the cold shoulder
January 23, 2005
RAMADI, Iraq — A second day of joint American-Iraqi patrols near Ramadi, on one of the holiest days of the year for Muslims, was met with a decidedly cooler reception than the previous outing.
Once again, members of Company A, 1st Battalion, 9th Infantry Regiment combined with Iraqi security forces to patrol in preparation for the Jan. 30 elections. But this time, in a neighborhood thought to be an insurgent safe haven, the local Iraqis were less overtly friendly than the day before in a different district.
A few small children approached the soldiers — which included members of an Iraqi National Guard called India Company — but most of the teenagers and adults watched silently.
“This is ‘muj’ central,” one U.S. soldier remarked, referring to mujahedeen, or Islamic fundamentalist fighters, as the group walked through the central square of a largely dilapidated apartment complex. Some of the little children played with toy Kalashnikov assault rifles. One quickly loaded and unloaded the toy’s ammo magazine. Soldiers said they wondered who taught the child the action.
The streets were much less crowded than the day before. An Iraqi interpreter with the group explained it was because Thursday was Eid, the Islamic holy day marking the height of hajj, the annual pilgrimage to Mecca.
Insurgents did not take the day off, however. Just before the patrol left its base camp on the outskirts of Ramadi, a salvo of at least four mortar rounds whistled overhead and hit the base. Shortly after, U.S. artillery returned fire, and a loud alarm was sounded throughout the base.
Soldiers just finishing chow donned their helmets and body armor. Units made a count to assure all their personnel were accounted for. There were no reports of injuries immediately after the attack.
Later, as the patrol approached a mosque they said has been preaching anti-American messages, the doors were quickly shut and locked and the men inside started to walk away. Iraqi soldiers called them back and questioned them. Anti-American leaflets and a banner were found.
One India Company soldier tore up the leaflets in front of the mosque leader. Other Iraqi soldiers took off their boots and searched the mosque. It was an action U.S. soldiers could not have taken alone, and one example of how U.S. officials hope joint patrols will allow forces to be more effective.
“Right now, we’re doing a lot of the basic training, familiarizing them with our weapons systems and tactics,” said Sgt. Heriberto Vargas, one of the U.S. soldiers training India Company. Vargas is one of the 3,500 2nd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division soldiers who deployed from South Korea to Iraq last fall.
U.S. officials have staked the future security of Iraq on being able to train an effective and independent Iraqi security force. In the short term, that force will also be asked to bolster election security with the 150,000 U.S. troops in Iraq.
While India Company members searched the mosque, U.S. forces detained a young man who had been seen following patrols for several days. The man had repeatedly acted suspiciously, soldiers said, and they believed he was gathering intelligence for future attacks.
The man was detained, his hands secured behind his back with plastic restraints. Soldiers wrapped engineer’s tape around his eyes as a crude blindfold, and told him to lead them to his house so it could be searched.
When soldiers arrived, someone had already called the family. The young man’s father pleaded with the soldiers to let his son go.
A search team carted off two bags of cassette tapes, documents and other items, and told the family the man was going to be held at a U.S. base for more questioning.
Just before taking the man away, Company A commander Capt. Kevin Capozzoli reassured the family that he would not be mistreated.
“As a father myself, I understand,” Capozzoli told the detainee’s father. “But there are a lot of problems in this city. And we are trying to fix them.”