Troops on patrol unearth gun at mosque
Iraqi soldiers find rusty but serviceable anti-aircraft gun
By SANDRA JONTZ | STARS AND STRIPES Published: May 1, 2005
KARMAH, Iraq — Iraqi Security Forces, under the supervision of U.S. Marines, unearthed a rusted but serviceable anti-aircraft weapon on Saturday, buried on the grounds of a mosque in the city of Karmah.
The find came during a multiple-day mission that started about 3 a.m. Saturday as Marines from 3rd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, and the ISF soldiers launched Operation Clear Decision, shutting down streets and confining residents to their homes as troops searched every house and business.
The ISF soldiers from the 2nd Battalion, Muthanna Brigade, found the weapon while using a metal detector to scan the grounds of the Ibraheen Ali Alhasoon Mosque after receiving permission from the iman, or religious leader.
The soldiers first found a flier in the imam’s office. It was written in Arabic and, according to a translator, advised insurgents that God would help them in their missions.
Outiside in a yard between palm trees, they uncovered the 23 mm anti-aircraft gun, wrapped in blankets and buried under about two feet of dirt.
“When I see this, it makes me happy,” Col. Dhaif Kheif Abed, the ISF battalion commander, said before the iman was detained by U.S. forces.
The Iraqis conducted the search alone because cultural sensitivities restrain U.S. forces from entering religious buildings in Iraq, even though insurgents have used mosques and schools for weapons caches and attacks in the past.
U.S. Marine leaders had expressed concern that during the raid, the brigade of mainly Shiite ISF soldiers might wreak havoc on the predominantly Sunni city, exacerbating tensions between the two religious factions.
“This could be like bringing the Ku Klux Klan to a Martin Luther King Jr., rally,” Capt. Mark Liston, commanding officer of 3-8’s Company I, said after hearing an Iraqi translator say that ISF soldiers were excited about “getting revenge.”
Liston instructed the translator to tell the ISF soldiers the mission had to be conducted with the utmost professionalism. During the first nine hours of Saturday’s raid, the ISF followed proper rules of engagement.
The Marines detained some men whose names appeared on a list of high-value targets, and held others who had more than the allotted one weapon per household.
While the mission itself will last several days, the Marines and ISF soldiers plan to maintain a constant presence in the city to ward off insurgents, said Lt. Col. Stephen Neary, the 3-8 battalion commanding officer.
The mission’s goal is to deny insurgents free movement in Karmah and access to the population, from which they recruit, Neary said.
In November, when U.S. Marines took the neighboring city of Fallujah, foreign fighters moved to Karmah, a city of 70,000 residents about 20 minutes northeast of Fallujah, Liston said.
Karmah is also where many former Iraqi intelligence officers, top police officials and high-ranking Baathists, the country’s former reigning party, have retirement homes, Liston said. “There are still a number of [Saddam Hussein] loyalists” here, he said.