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Saturday, December 09, 2006

Just leave us alone

(AFP/Essam al-Sudani)

'About Five Minutes Into It, We Had to Take Over'
U.S. Military Advisers Step In As Iraqi Army Mission Falters

By Nancy Trejos
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, December 3, 2006; A20

BAGHDAD, Dec. 2 -- The bullets flew from every direction -- from rooftops, windows, alleys and doorways.

Soldiers from the Iraqi army's 9th Division were pinned against a wall. They were under a covered sidewalk. According to accounts from U.S. forces who were with them on Friday, a suspected insurgent with an AK-47 assault rifle aimed at them from a doorway. Pieces of concrete fell as the insurgent's fire ripped into the wall above the Iraqi soldiers.

That's when they froze.

U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Kent McQueen, 37, arrived to help. As he tried to get them out, he was hit. The night-vision goggles perched on his helmet fell down his face. They were dented. He had been shot in the head. "God was definitely on my side," McQueen said Saturday.

The scene played out during Operation Lion Strike, the U.S. soldiers recalled. The goal was to capture insurgents in the Fadhil district of central Baghdad. It was the first time the Iraqi army's 9th Division was to be in complete control of an operation in the two years it has been training under the Americans. Teams of U.S. advisers remained close, but planned to leave the fighting to the Iraqis.

"It started out that way. But about five minutes into it, we had to take over," Staff Sgt. Michael Baxter, 35, said.

The Iraqis knew little about their enemy. They could not quantify them. They couldn't distinguish between a civilian and an insurgent because everyone dressed alike, the Americans and Iraqis said.

Their enemy, however, appeared to know a lot about them. Somehow, they knew where the Americans and Iraqis had set up one of two field headquarters and fired mortar shells at it, said Maj. Thomas J. Boczar.

Sitting in a conference room at Camp al-Rashid, American soldiers described Iraqi troops with inadequate training, resources or motivation. When they shoot, they "pray and spray" and do not aim for targets, the soldiers said. They either lack equipment or are not well trained in new equipment. On the battlefield on Friday, the Iraqis communicated by cellphone because their walkie-talkies did not work, the U.S. soldiers said.

The way the Americans see it, the Iraqis are fierce fighters. But they have been depleted of their energy after so many years of war, first against Iran in the 1980s, then against the United States during the 1991 Persian Gulf War, the American soldiers said.

By about 11 a.m. on Friday, the Americans decided it was time to pull out of that part of Jumhuriya.

The sniper bullets kept flying, not just from the rooftops, but from the second and third floors of apartment buildings, they recalled. Grenades flew out the windows. Machine guns fired. It was an all-out ambush, unusual in that it was such a coordinated effort by the insurgents, the Americans said.

While some Iraqis froze in indecision, others fired wildly as they ran across streets. Hollywood heroics, one soldier called it.

"I'm just thinking to myself, oh God, get me out of this because these guys are going to get me killed if we stay here," Baxter said.

The Americans called in helicopters to shoot at the snipers, but it was too chaotic of a scene for the aircraft to make clear shots, they said.

Still pinned against the wall underneath the covered sidewalk, McQueen decided it was time to make a run for his Humvee, he recalled. In Arabic, he told the Iraqis to go.


Top Iraqi leaders at the base said the mission proved that they can someday secure their own country without interference from American forces. What they lack is not training, not motivation, not confidence, but equipment, they said. They need better tanks and spare parts, Iraqi officials said. And they really need aircraft.

"Give us the aviation and leave us alone," Brig. Gen. Kasim Maliki, a 25-year veteran of the army, said through an interpreter.

Friday's operation was planned over the course of 48 hours, in consultation with the Defense Ministry, Maliki said.

He scoffed at the idea that the Iraqi army needs better training to carry out such missions. "We have been through wars," he said over a cup of sweet tea.

Why does the Mahdi Army perform better than the Iraqi Army? Why does the Sunni resistance perform better than the Iraqi Army?

1) They have the pick of better recruits because they pay better

2) They vet their soldiers better, because you have to be checked out to join and if you fail to pass, they kill you.

3) They can pick only the accomplised and skilled for leaders. If you fail, you die.

4) They pick when and where to fight.

5) They have a cause to fight for which is reenforced daily.

Now, many of the guerrillas are boys, but they are being trained in what works by people who have some idea of what that is.

Also, they work with excellent intelligence. They know who and what every unit is up to and what they plan to do.

The Iraqi generals talk big, but have even less of a clue on how to fight this war. Part of that talk is to save face, part a belief if they just use their old tactics, it might work. But the reality is that they cannot trust their troops. Making the rest moot.

posted by Steve @ 1:09:00 AM

1:09:00 AM

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