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thedrifter
08-13-04, 06:52 AM
MAG-16, 1st Recon jump into combat history <br />
Submitted by: 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing <br />
Story Identification #: 200481082113 <br />
Story by Sgt. Nathan K. LaForte <br />
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AL ASAD, Iraq (Aug. 10, 2004) -- Six...

thedrifter
08-13-04, 06:53 AM
U.S. Forces Scale Down Najaf Assault


By TODD PITMAN, Associated Press Writer

NAJAF, Iraq - Iraqi officials and aides to a radical Shiite cleric negotiated Friday to end fighting that has raged in the holy city of Najaf for nine days, after American forces suspended an offensive against Muqtada al-Sadr's militia, officials said. Aides said al-Sadr had been wounded by shrapnel during U.S. shelling.


In the southern city of Basra, gunmen seized a British journalist, identified as James Brandon, from a hotel where he was staying late Thursday night, police said Friday. The kidnappers, almost certainly Shiite, threatened to kill him in 24 hours unless coalition forces withdraw from Najaf, though it wasn't clear when that deadline would expire.


With the talks ongoing, the U.S. military said Friday that it had suspended offensive operations against al-Sadr's Mahdi Army militia, who are holed up the city's vast cemetery and the Imam Ali shrine, one of the holiest sites to Shiite Muslims.


"We are allowed to engage the enemy only in self defense and long enough to break contact," said Maj. Bob Pizzateli, executive officer for the 1st Battalion, 5th Cavalry Regiment of the 1st Cavalry Division. "That was a blanket order for everybody."


He said the militia appeared to have stopped most attacks as well, and the city appeared quieter Friday, a day after the U.S. military announced it had begun a major offensive to rout the militants.


"Hopefully the talks will go well and everything will be resolved peacefully," Pizzateli said.


Najaf Gov. Adnan al-Zurufi said the talks were between Iraqi government officials and al-Sadr's representatives. National Security Adviser Mouwaffaq al-Rubaie traveled to Najaf on Thursday. U.S. officials were not involved in the talks, al-Zurufi said.


Despite the talks, the U.S. military said it was still maintaining a cordon around the shrine, the cemetery and Najaf's old city, where the militants had taken refuge, Pizzateli said.


Al-Sadr, who has led an uprising against coalition troops for more than a week in the holy city, was hit by shrapnel in the chest and twice in a leg as he met with members of his Mahdi Army militia near the Imam Ali shrine early Friday, said aide Haider al-Tousi.


Another of al-Sadr's spokesmen said the cleric's condition was stable. He may be holed up in the compound housing the revered shrine, along with his loyalists, while one aide, Haider al-Tousi, said he was moved to an unknown destination.


Brig. Gen. Erv Lessel, deputy director for operations for the coalition forces, said he could not confirm reports that al-Sadr was wounded.


"Multi-national forces are operating under firm instructions not to pursue Muqtada and not to conduct operations within the exclusion zone surrounding the Imam Ali and Kufa Mosques," he said in a statement.


Al-Sadr urged his followers to remain calm.


"We got a letter from him saying 'Be steadfast and behave rationally, don't surrender to your emotions,'" Aws al-Khafaji, from al-Sadr's office in the southern town of Nasiriyah, told the Al-Jazeera Arab television.


In Basra, gunmen abducted the British journalist from the Diafa Hotel Thursday night, police Capt. Hashem Abdullah said Friday.


Hotel staff showed a check-in form purportedly filled out by the man. On the form, he identified himself as James Andrew Brandon, 23, working for the Sunday Telegraph. It said he checked in on Wednesday.


A video released Friday showed a man who identified himself as Brandon. He stood bare-chested with a bandage on his head.





The "Telegraph, that's my paper," he said, turning to a masked captor.

"I'm a journalist. I just write about what's happening in Iraq (news - web sites)," he said.

The militants said they had taken Brandon hostage in protest of the U.S. military presence in Najaf.

"We are the sons of the Iraqi people," said one captor, wearing a black mask. "We demand the withdrawal of the occupation forces from the holy city of Najaf in 24 hours, otherwise we will kill this British hostage," he said, putting a hand on Brandon's shoulder.

The video was given to Associated Press Television News after a freelance cameraman was taken to the location where he's believed to be held.

Kidnappers in Iraq have seized scores of hostages in recent months, threatening to kill them in an effort to drive out coalition forces and companies that support them. Most of those kidnappers have been Sunni insurgents, and Shiites using the tactic would be a new development.

Brandon was the third journalist kidnapped in Iraq in recent months. In April, two Japanese journalists were among a group of Japanese abducted near the city of Fallujah and released unharmed.

Hotel owner Mohammed Uglah said gunmen found Brandon and shot at him after he tried to escape, hitting him across the head before taking him away. Video footage showed a trail of blood leading down a set of stairs in the hotel, but Brandon did not appear seriously hurt in the tape.

"James Brandon was in Basra filing material for this Sunday's newspaper amongst other projects," Sunday Telegraph Deputy Editor Matthew d'Ancona said. "We are pursuing his situation with the greatest concern."

Britain's Foreign Office confirmed that a British national had been abducted in Basra but said it couldn't confirm the person's identity because it was still trying to contact next of kin.

The Najaf offensive threatened to enrage Iraq's Shiite majority especially if the fighting damages the shrine and presented the biggest test yet for interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, a secular Shiite who is trying to crush the violence plaguing the country while working to persuade Iraqis of the legitimacy of his unelected government.

The violence has spread to other Shiite communities.

Mahdi Army militants killed two police officers in an ambush outside the southern city of Nasiriyah on Thursday afternoon, police said Friday.

A three-hour overnight battle between the militants and police outside a police station in the southern city of Diwaniyah killed one militant, according to police Capt. Ali al-Zeyadi.

Thousands of al-Sadr supporters, including some police officers, demonstrated Friday outside Baghdad's Green Zone enclave, which houses the U.S. Embassy and government offices.

In the largely Sunni town of Samarra, 60 miles north of Baghdad, about 700 people staged a protest, demanding that U.S. troops leave Najaf and chanting "Long live al-Sadr."

Iraq's top Shiite Muslim cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, who left Najaf for London to undergo medical treatment before fighting broke out, expressed "deep sorrow and great worry" about the violence and called on all sides to end the crisis quickly. His office was working to mediate an end to the fighting, he said.

Violence across the country, much of it involving al-Sadr's fighters, has killed at least 172 Iraqis and injured 643 since Wednesday morning, the Health Ministry said.

The casualty toll from Thursday's fighting in the holy city was unclear. At least five Iraqi civilians were killed by the afternoon, said Nabil Mohammed, a health worker in the city. Two American soldiers were wounded by a mortar shell while standing in an intersection on the cemetery's edge, the military said.

The U.S. Defense Department said that about 2,200 Marines, along with 500 to 1,000 soldiers and an undisclosed number of U.S.-trained Iraqi troops, were involved in the offensive Thursday.


http://story.news.yahoo.com/news?tmpl=story&u=/ap/20040813/ap_on_re_mi_ea/iraq&cid=540&ncid=716


Ellie

thedrifter
08-13-04, 06:54 AM
Assault in Najaf risky, but failing to act against militants might be far more dangerous

By: RAVI NESSMAN - Associated Press

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- The decision to launch a major strike against militants in Najaf risks inflaming the nation's Shiite majority against the U.S. military and Iraq's interim government, even as that government tries to build support across the country.

But the risks of letting the conflict fester may be greater.

Since taking power June 28, interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, a secular Shiite, has staked out an image as a decisive -- even harsh -- leader willing to crack down on the violence destabilizing the country. That image has earned him the respect of many Iraqis who are exhausted by the unrelenting chaos.


Allawi has threatened the insurgents, announcing last month that he had authorized a U.S. airstrike on the city of Fallujah, the heart of a tenacious Sunni uprising marked by car bombings, kidnappings, sabotage and other violence.

But Najaf is no Fallujah. It is a city sacred to Shiite Muslims, who make up 60 percent of the country's 25 million people. And it is home to the Imam Ali shrine, which holds the remains of Ali, the most exalted Shia saint.

With militants loyal to Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr hiding out in the shrine, fighting will almost certainly reach there -- a battle sure to infuriate Shiites throughout the country.

The fighting, if it ends with the arrest or killing of al-Sadr, also risks turning the young anti-American firebrand into a martyr.

With an eye toward the growing demonstrations against the offensive, the government moved to vilify the militants, with Interior Minister Falah Hassan al-Naqib saying they were engaged in a "conspiracy against the Iraqi people."

"What is happening at this stage is not to the benefit of anyone," he said Thursday. "What is happening is the murdering and the massacring of the Iraqi people, and the destroying of the public institutions ... They are trying to derail the rebuilding of Iraq, trying to prevent Iraqis from carrying out their normal lives and threatening their future."

Even with the risk, the government and the military might have little choice but to tackle al-Sadr's followers.

If they can rapidly put down the uprising -- and the Marines have said they plan to rout the militants with massive force -- it might spark intense, but short-lived, anti-government protests.

If they chose to continue low-level daily confrontations with the militants, it would chip away at the government's legitimacy, erode its already shaky efforts to stabilize the country and sabotage moves to push Iraq toward democracy, including a key national conference beginning Sunday.

It could also turn al-Sadr, already a hero to many Shiites, into an even more powerful force, weakening moderate Shiites the interim government and the United States need on their side.

A long fight against the Shiite militants would take badly needed resources away from the battle against Sunni insurgents and would weaken Allawi's and the U.S. government's so-far fruitless efforts to persuade more countries to send forces here.

By contrast, a devastating assault on al-Sadr's militia would send a crucial message to the Iraqi people and other insurgents.

"This is much more than a battle against Sadr. It's a battle to show that the new government is strong enough to govern Iraq," said Gareth Stansfield, an associate fellow at the Royal Institute of International Affairs in Britain.

The U.S. military and the government hope to rectify some of the mistakes made in ending al-Sadr's two-month uprising in the spring.

That violence, which killed hundreds of militants, halted with a series of fragile truces that left al-Sadr's forces intact and gave them a chance to regroup and rearm. Much of the fighting over the past week has taken place in Najaf's vast cemetery -- an area forbidden to U.S. forces by the truces -- where militants have been stockpiling arms for weeks.

The military, as well as witnesses in Najaf, said the militants have repeatedly broken the truce terms, carrying weapons in public and waging incessant pinprick attacks against police in the city.

Since the new fighting started Aug. 5, Iraqi and U.S. military officials have brushed off repeated overtures to restore the truces.

"They are going for the complete elimination of Muqtada al-Sadr," said Mustafa Alami, a consultant with the Royal United Services Institute for Defense and Security Studies in Britain.

Each side now views the other as an implacable enemy that must be destroyed.

"Occupation forces have come to realize that there will be no stability in Iraq unless Muqtada al-Sadr is gone. Similarly, Muqtada al-Sadr realizes that there will be no stability unless the occupying forces are gone," al-Sadr aide Ahmed al-Shaibany said. "These two currents cannot exist at the same time."



http://www.nctimes.com/articles/2004/08/13/military/20_22_148_12_04.txt


Ellie

thedrifter
08-13-04, 06:54 AM
U.S. forces begin major offensive against militants loyal to radical cleric

By: TODD PITMAN - Associated Press

NAJAF, Iraq -- Thousands of U.S. troops sealed off Najaf's vast cemetery, its old city and a revered Shiite shrine Thursday and unleashed a tank, infantry and helicopter assault against militants loyal to Muqtada al-Sadr. They also stormed the radical cleric's home, but he was not there.

As billows of black smoke drifted across Najaf amid the clatter of military helicopters, gunmen in a house near the shrine shot at U.S. forces patrolling the 5-square-mile cemetery. Militants hiding in the cemetery took fire from the Apaches and from American soldiers crawling on the roofs of single-story buildings. When the gunships turned away, the insurgents in the graveyard shot back.

As the day began, the military trumpeted the operation as the beginning of a major assault on al-Sadr's fighters.


"Major operations to destroy the militia have begun," said Maj. David Holahan, executive officer of the 1st Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment.

Later Thursday, a spokesman for the top Marine command in Iraq, Lt. Col. T.V. Johnson, said that although there was some fighting and some Najaf residents have fled the city, the combat has been "sporadic and there have been no major engagements" with the militiamen.

Nevertheless, the offensive threatened to inflame Iraq's Shiite majority -- especially if the fighting damages the shrine -- and presented the biggest test yet for interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, a secular Shiite who is trying to crush the violence plaguing the country while working to persuade Iraqis of the legitimacy of his unelected government.

Allawi appealed to the militants to give up their arms and leave the Imam Ali shrine, which holds the remains of the exalted Shia saint Ali and where the insurgents have holed up during the last week of fighting here.

"These places have never been exposed to such violations in the past," Allawi said in a statement.

U.S. troops surrounded, and then broke into, al-Sadr's apparently empty house and later dropped a 500-pound bomb on a building about 750 yards away where insurgents were hiding as part of the effort to crush the uprising by al-Sadr's Mahdi militia. U.S. officials said in recent days they had no plans to arrest the cleric.

Iraq's top Shiite Muslim cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, who left Najaf for London to undergo medical treatment before fighting broke out, expressed "deep sorrow and great worry" about the violence and called on all sides to end the crisis quickly. His office was working to mediate an end to the fighting, he said.

The offensive in this holy city has already sparked protests among many Shiites.

Nearly 5,000 al-Sadr sympathizers took to the streets in Basra on Thursday, demanding U.S. troops withdraw from Najaf and condemning Allawi for working with the Americans. Several hundred Iraqis also protested in Baghdad.

In the nearby city of Amarah, hundreds of Iraqi National Guardsmen said they were joining al-Sadr's Mahdi Army until the Americans leave Najaf, and 16 members of Najaf's provincial council suspended their membership to protest the offensive.

Violence across the country, much of it involving al-Sadr's fighters, has killed at least 172 Iraqis and injured 643 since Wednesday morning, the Health Ministry said.

West of Baghdad, two U.S. Marines were killed and three wounded when a CH-53 helicopter crashed late Wednesday in the volatile Anbar province. No enemy fire was observed at the time of the crash, the military said.

The casualty toll from Thursday's fighting in the holy city was unclear. At least five Iraqi civilians were killed by the afternoon, said Nabil Mohammed, a health worker in the city. Two American soldiers were wounded by a mortar shell while standing in an intersection on the cemetery's edge, the military said.

Before Thursday, the U.S. military had estimated that hundreds of insurgents had been killed in the Najaf fighting over the past week, but the militants dispute the figure. Five Americans have been killed, along with about 20 Iraqi officers, it had said.

Earlier fighting between al-Sadr supporters and coalition forces in Kut, 100 miles southeast of Baghdad, killed at least 72 Iraqis in one of the most intense battles in that city in months. Iraqi forces fought off militants Wednesday who attacked the city hall, police stations and Iraqi National Guard barracks, the U.S. military said.

The fighting in Kut culminated in a daring assault under a hail of gunfire by Iraqi forces in a small boat who retook a key bridge, the U.S. military said. The military sent an AC-130 gunship to support coalition and Iraqi forces in the city. At least one police station and 23 other buildings were destroyed in the fighting, the military said.

In the southern city of Basra, where British forces have been fighting with the Mahdi Army for days, a roadside bomb Thursday killed a British soldier on patrol.

Clashes in the Baghdad Shiite slum of Sadr City killed three Iraqis and wounded 33 others, health officials said.

Al-Sadr's fighters have battled coalition forces since Aug. 5 in a resurgence of a spring uprising that was dormant for two months following a series of truces. The cleric exhorted his followers Wednesday to fight on even if he was killed.

The Pentagon said that about 2,200 Marines, along with 500 to 1,000 soldiers and an undisclosed number of U.S.-trained Iraqi troops, were involved in the offensive Thursday.

As a helicopter flew overhead, a column of U.S. tanks lined one edge of the huge cemetery sprawling out from the Imam Ali shrine. Soldiers crawled on roofs to fire at militants.

"It's pretty standard: They'd push up here, fire off a few rounds, fire RPGs, then leave," Capt. Patrick McFall said of the insurgents.

As the fighting began, many residents near Najaf's Old City, the center of much of the violence, fled their homes.

"We have put up with hunger, electricity outages and lack of water, but we cannot put up with death," said Aqil Zwein, 42, as he left his home near the cemetery.

In Baghdad, Iraqi officials were at pains to assure the public that U.S. troops were not in the shrine compound and only Iraqi forces would enter the shrine if it became necessary.

Damage to the building or a U.S. military presence there would set off an outcry across the country and much of the Muslim world.

The government blamed the al-Sadr's followers for the violence.

"This is a conspiracy against the Iraqi people, targeting all of Iraq," Interior Minister Falah Hassan al-Naqib said during a briefing Thursday. "Who will benefit from this? Who will benefit from targeting these holy places?"

Calls rang out across the Muslim world Thursday to end the fighting. Egypt urged the coalition to rely on dialogue instead of force, and Iran's Foreign Ministry said the international community should intervene to "prevent the massacre of defenseless Iraqi people."

In other developments:



The Iraqi government announced that its delayed national conference, considered a critical first step toward democracy, would begin Sunday. The three-day meeting of 1,000 Iraqis was to select an interim assembly to help shepherd the country toward elections scheduled for January.


A militant group in Iraq said it has seized a group of Arab truck drivers transporting electrical supplies and other equipment to U.S. forces here, according to video shown early Friday on the pan-Arab Al-Jazeera television station. The authenticity of the videotape could not be verified immediately.



http://www.nctimes.com/articles/2004/08/13/military/20_22_018_12_04.txt


Ellie

thedrifter
08-13-04, 06:55 AM
US forces besiege rebels in Iraqi shrine <br />
By Adrian Blomfield and Michael Smith <br />
(Filed: 13/08/2004) <br />
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US marines advanced deep into the Iraqi city of Najaf yesterday, forcing thousands of gunmen...

thedrifter
08-13-04, 06:56 AM
U.S and Iraqi Forces Launch Offensive

Thousands of U.S. troops and Iraqi soldiers launched a major assault today on militiamen loyal to a radical Shiite cleric in Najaf, with explosions and gunfire echoing near the holy city's revered Imam Ali shrine and its vast cemetery.

The coalition forces were trying to crush an uprising led by cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, whose fighters have been battling U.S. troops in Shiite strongholds across Iraq for a week. Hundreds of people have fled in the last few days, moving in with relatives and friends in quieter neighborhoods, or out of Najaf entirely.

"Major operations to destroy the militia have begun," said U.S. Marine Maj. David Holahan, executive officer of the 1st Battalion, 4th Marines Regiment. He said thousands of U.S. troops were taking part.

A column of U.S. tanks lined one edge of the cemetery, as a helicopter flew overhead on patrol. Soldiers crawled on the roofs of single-story buildings, setting up positions.

By this afternoon, five civilians were killed, according to Nabil Mohammed, a health worker in Najaf. Two soldiers were injured when hit by a mortar shell while standing in an intersection of the cemetery, the military said.

"It's pretty standard, they'd push up here, fire off a few rounds, fire RPGs, then leave," said Capt. Patrick McFall.

The offensive risked enraging Iraq's Shiite majority -- including those who do not support the uprising -- if it targets the shrine, where many of the insurgents have taken refuge. The shrine, the cemetery, and Najaf's Old City were cordoned off. Any attack on the shrine would be led by Iraqis -- some with minimal training -- to deflect anger.

"Today's operations are designed to restrict freedom of movement of Sadr forces in (nearby) Kufa and Najaf and to further isolate them in these mosques which they use as a base of operations," said U.S. Brig. Gen. Erv Lessel.

U.S. commanders and Iraqi officials say interim Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad Allawi would have to approve any operation at the shrine itself, which would be conducted by Iraqi forces.

"There are instructions that the Iraqi forces and the Iraqi national guard only will enter the compound and secure it, so ordinary citizens can go back and pray at this shrine," Interior Ministry spokesman Sabah Kadhim said.

Also today, officials said attacks by insurgents and Mahdi militants on government buildings and police stations in the southern city of Kut have killed at least 72 people, all of them Iraqi.

Iraqi forces fought off the militants who targeted the city hall, police stations and Iraqi National Guard barracks, the U.S. military said, causing casualties on both sides.

"Seventy-two people were killed and 148 injured in clashes in the last 24 hours," said Falah al-Bairaman, director-general of health for Wasit, the province of which Kut is the capital city.

Iraq's health ministry said 75 were killed in Wednesday's fighting in Kut, 100 miles southeast of Baghdad.

The United States had announced its plan for the offensive Wednesday, and in response, al-Sadr loyalists in the southern city of Basra threatened to blow up the oil pipelines and port infrastructure there. A similar threat Monday caused oil officials to briefly stop pumping from the southern oil wells.

The U.S. military has estimated that hundreds of insurgents have been killed in the Najaf fighting, but the militants dispute the figure. Five U.S. troops have been killed, along with about 20 Iraqi officers.

"We're starting to put the pressure on the militia to fight, die, or capitulate," Lt. Col. Myles Miyamasu, from the U.S. Army's 1st Battalion, 5th Regiment of the 1st Cavalry Division, said today.

Jawdat Kadhem al-Qureishi, a member of Najaf's city council resigned in protest of the offensive, he said today.

"I announce my resignation to denounce and condemn the terrorist acts and the shelling that the city of Najaf and the Imam Ali Shrine have been subjected to," he said. "I condemn all the terrorist acts that the U.S. forces have committed."

Earlier, Najaf Gov. Adnan al-Zurufi, who has been a staunch supporter of U.S. forces here, claimed al-Qureishi resigned because kidnappers had snatched his father and demanded he step down in return for his release. Al-Qureishi did not comment on al-Zurufi's report.

Al-Zurufi later said city council members were working to defuse the crisis -- though efforts to negotiate an end to the violence over the past week had failed and it appeared unlikely that any new one would succeed.

"I cannot give details about this initiative and we hope that this crisis is solved in the coming days. The situation is unbearable in the city and the militiamen should leave," he said.

The fighting today forced some residents near the shrine to flee.

"We have put up with hunger, electricity outages and lack of water, but we cannot put up with death," said Aqil Zwein, 42.

Elsewhere, two U.S. Marines were killed when a CH-53 helicopter crashed landed in the volatile Anbar province west of Baghdad, the military said today. Three other people were injured in the crash Wednesday night. The military said that no enemy fire was observed at the time.

An Islamic Web site carried a videotape Wednesday that appeared to show militants in Iraq beheading a man they identified as a CIA agent. The authenticity of the videotape could not be verified immediately. A U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said CIA officials have accounted for all employees and no one is missing.

Al-Sadr's fighters have been battling coalition forces since Aug. 5 in a resurgence of a spring uprising that had been dormant for two months following a series of truces.

The top health official in Najaf, Falah al-Mahani, said the deteriorating security situation was causing "a real catastrophe" for the health services.

"Ambulances are prevented from reaching the injured people by the clashing parties. Our staff are not able to reach their hospitals. We are paralyzed," he said, adding that the fighting injured 18 members of his staff.

http://www.latimes.com/news/yahoo/la-fg-najaf13aug13_wr,1,4065625.story


Ellie

thedrifter
08-13-04, 06:57 AM
Marines cite growing Iraqi Security Force capabilities for progress <br />
Submitted by: 1st Marine Division <br />
Story Identification #: 20048135511 <br />
Story by Cpl. Macario P. Mora Jr. <br />
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<br />
CAMP RIPPER,...

thedrifter
08-13-04, 07:32 AM
Washington Post
August 13, 2004
Pg. 1

Death, Duty In Forgotten Corner Of War

Remembering Gunny and the Kid, a Hard-Hit Unit Goes Back on Patrol


By Doug Struck, Washington Post Foreign Service

QAIM, Iraq -- Word spread fast. It was Gunny. And the young kid, Nice.

The news was passed in low voices, quiet conversations. No one wanted to say it loudly. The Marines heard it and looked away. They squinted at the heavy sun, kicked their boots in the dust. Their faces hardened. They spat their dip and shifted the guns on their shoulders. They swore. What else was there to say but goddammit.

Gunnery Sgt. Elia Fontecchio, 30, was killed by a roadside bomb, set off by someone who was watching a U.S. Marine foot patrol finish its work on Wednesday, Aug. 4. A half-hour later, Lance Cpl. Joseph Nice, 19, was stringing concertina wire across a road when a single sniper bullet passed through his body.

They were deaths 14 and 15 for the 3rd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment since it arrived in February. With 156 Purple Hearts as well, the casualty count for this battalion is higher than that of any other unit in Iraq, save for fellow Marines in turbulent Fallujah.

But to the men here, this is a forgotten war. They are at the western edge of Iraq, the last stop before Syria. The world hears what happens here only in a faint whisper. They are far from the headline cities -- Najaf, Baghdad, Fallujah, Ramadi -- where every spasm is seen by a thousand eyes.

Isolated at this far-flung outpost, the men live packed bunk to bunk, they guard one another's backs, they depend on the group to help ward off fear and loneliness. And they face losses in their own searingly personal way. When one man is killed, the rest are asked to go back where he died, to face the same danger, in the name of duty. They do it, they say, for their comrades, for themselves and for a country that expects it of them.

Fontecchio didn't have to go out. His duties taking care of the company meant he was usually busy at the camp, with no time to patrol. Gunnery sergeants, always called "Gunny," occupy a special place in the Marine Corps. Part supply officer, part morale booster, part problem solver, the gunnery sergeant is responsible for the well-being of the unit. He ranks high enough to get things done, but not so high that he doesn't work and play with the enlisted men.

Fontecchio was ideal for the job. He led with humor, which made him popular. When the company commander, Capt. Trent Gibson, gave him his most recent evaluation, the two men smoked cigars as Gibson told Fontecchio his only fault was he sometimes was too nice. Glowing reviews had moved Fontecchio up the ranks quickly; to be a gunnery sergeant after 12 years in the Corps was impressive.

So was his physique. A weight lifter, he kept a detailed calendar by his bed of his near-daily workouts, along with Arnold Schwarzenegger's "Encyclopedia of Modern Bodybuilding," with pages marked by Post-its. "He was what you think all Marines are supposed to look like," said the assistant operations officer, Capt. Rory Quinn, 29, of the Bronx. "He was a physical stud."

He also did not like to stay in camp too long. As his comrades recalled the events in interviews, that Wednesday Fontecchio joined a patrol.

At an Iraqi police station, they were told that Checkpoint 43, a two-room cinder-block police shelter, had been bombed. The checkpoint is in a lush fringe of the Euphrates River, where the desert suddenly yields to green fields of corn, okra, peppers and tomatoes. It is a pretty spot. And low: Small cliffs nearby offer a clear view of the road below. Four vehicles -- with about 25 men -- went to investigate.

As trained, the Marines dismounted and dispersed, scouting for clues or other bombs. After about 25 minutes, they started to pull back. The men walked toward their Humvees. Someone -- perhaps on the cliffs above, perhaps hidden in a field, maybe passing on a nearby road -- decided this was the moment to explode the foot-long, 155mm artillery shell that had been buried near Fontecchio's vehicle.

"You don't hear the blast. It doesn't register," said Staff Sgt. Shelby Lasater, 32, of Plano, Tex., who was about 150 feet away. "It happens so fast. You see a ball of fire, black smoke, then shrapnel, dirt, trees and branches flying. You feel the heat."

Lasater followed his sprinting medical corpsman toward the center of the blast and found Gunny. "I asked him how old was his son. He told me. I said, 'You're going to see him.' "

Within minutes, one of two attack helicopters that were supporting the patrol dropped onto the road. Marines shoved in Fontecchio's litter and loaded two of the wounded into seats. The "Golden Hour" so critical for survival of trauma victims was barely 20 minutes old when Gunny arrived at Camp Qaim. The Marines who unloaded him said he was talking. He would be all right, they believed.

The patrol resumed its hunt. A half-hour later, the men heard the blast of another roadside bomb about a mile away, near the police station. A patrol from W Company was closest. They began to block off the area. Lance Cpl. Nice pulled off a roll of the razor-sharp concertina wire strapped to the hood of one of the Humvees. With heavy gloves, he unfurled the coil of wire, dragging it across one of the roads to stop traffic.

Like all the Marines, Nice wore a heavy vest with hardened plates in the front and back, the body armor that has saved many lives in this war. But as he turned to grapple with the wire, a single shot rang out. It pierced his side, under his raised arm, where the vest has only canvas webbing to allow flexibility. The bullet passed through his lungs and heart and exited the other side. He dropped on his back in the dust.

Staff Sgt. Chris Bengison, 31, heard the "crisp, clear pop" and calculated that the shot came from a cluster of two-story buildings in the distance. He and others laid down withering fire with their M-16 automatic rifles and a machine gun. Cpl. Jason Lemcke, 23, a squad leader, raced his Humvee toward the fallen Marine. Just as he opened the door, a shot crashed into the side mirror, just missing Lemcke's head. He fell back.

Another Humvee pulled beside Nice, and Cpl. Robert Wells dragged him with one hand, firing an M-16 with the other. They raced toward the open area where Fontecchio had been airlifted. A Black Hawk helicopter was on the way.

As they waited, corpsmen Adam Clarke and John Patrick Crate began mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. For each breath they gave, they got a mouthful of blood. They took turns, vomiting between their efforts. Nice's eyes were glazed, his heart stopped, the life drained from the gaping wounds in his sides. He was dead before the helicopter landed.

The Marines assaulted the buildings. The sniper was gone.
'The Wild West'

Anbar province, where the Marines are responsible for security, is larger than Virginia. It is a creased desert with hills and wadis -- dry riverbeds this time of year -- cut by the Euphrates River. Towns and clay-house villages follow the river south.

The 3rd Battalion is split between Qaim and Husaybah, which sits on the border with Syria. The men deal with the same shadowy enemies found elsewhere in Iraq: ex-army officers and Baath Party functionaries who saw their power evaporate with the fall of Saddam Hussein; Muslim zealots who slipped into Iraq; and Iraqis willing to fight for anyone who pays them. Added to the mix is a long tradition of smuggling and lawlessness.

"This is the Wild West, the frontier," said Capt. Dominique Neal, a Naval Academy graduate whose Lima Company is in Husaybah. Neal, 29, became the company commander April 17 when Capt. Richard Gannon was killed in a gunfight along with four other Marines. When he got the news on the radio, Neal, the executive officer, followed procedure and took the call sign of the commander: "Lima 5 is now Lima 6," he transmitted.

"It was the hardest message I ever sent," he said. Their base is now named Camp Gannon.
A Tough Loss

The helicopter that whisked Fontecchio toward Camp Qaim settled onto a concrete landing pad 150 feet from the tents of FRSS -- the Forward Resuscitative Surgical System. This is the modern version of the M*A*S*H unit, where surgeons operate as close to the action as they can get. There are only three such units in Iraq; Qaim's casualty rate merits one of them.

Marines sprinted from the helicopter with a litter bearing the gunnery sergeant. "He was in very bad shape," said Navy Capt. H. Don Elshire, 53, a surgeon who left a private practice in Orange County, Calif., to come to Iraq. "He was 15 feet from a high-explosive shell designed to destroy a tank. He should have come in here in pieces. It's probably only because he was in such good shape that we even got him at all."

Gunny was talking, trying to sit up, but he was pale, his heart was racing, and he had almost no pulse in his extremities. To the doctors, these were the neon-bright signs of shock; they meant massive loss of blood, somewhere. When Gunny's uniform was cut away, it was clear the blood was not going out the wounds in his legs. But his belly was horribly distended, filled with internal bleeding.

Navy Capt. Kermit Booher, 60, an orthopedic surgeon, would assist in the surgery. When he saw the patient, he was startled to recognize a man he had met a day or two before, in the gym, who had been gregarious and friendly.

"He's laying there, and you think, 'Why is it the nice guys?' "

Fontecchio's litter was lifted onto the brackets of the portable operating table in the tent. Halogen lights were swung over the patient. With no blood circulating, Fontecchio was already getting cold, so Elshire turned off the tent's air conditioning. The 118-degree heat quickly nuzzled in.

continued...

thedrifter
08-13-04, 07:33 AM
Elshire slit open Gunny's belly. "It is kind of like slicing into a water balloon. You can't see what's going on. You have to visually imagine where the blood's coming from, and you have a few precious moments to do it."

Elshire did the best he could. He found a sliced aorta, the body's largest artery. He was able to stitch that. Then he found shrapnel that had entered Gunny's leg and swept through the thin-walled veins in the pelvic region. "It had turned that area to shreds." With no single wound to stitch, Elshire furiously packed the area to put pressure on the bleeding. As the minutes became an hour, then two, Elshire was sweating, soaked and starting to feel dizzy from the heat. Finally, he closed the incision.

"We had done everything we could," Elshire said. Already, outside, the blades of a Black Hawk were spinning to take Gunny to the Army hospital in Baghdad. But Elshire and the others knew his odds were bad. They had already pumped nearly eight liters of blood into him -- replacing his body's entire volume.

Booher described it: "All of a sudden everything stopped. His heart stopped beating, the blood stopped oxygenating. He died almost immediately."

For the doctors, it was a tough loss. In five months, the unit had seen 90 shock-trauma patients and operated on 20 of them. "Every single Marine who has come in here alive has left here alive," Booher said. "With Gunny, it was more personal because we couldn't save him. We spent a lot of time thinking about everything we did.

"People say, 'You did your best. You did everything you could.' All those platitudes -- they are all true. But it still hurts."
A Different War

Last year, this Marine battalion began the war in Kuwait and fought its way north to Baghdad, without losing a single member in combat. The troops had about five months at their home base in Twentynine Palms, Calif., then returned to Iraq. They came back to a different war.

"I knew it was going to be more deadly. But nothing to this degree," said Gibson, the Kilo Company commander, over midnight rations of beans and rice. A wiry, intense man with a shaved head, Gibson, 35, said that on their first day out, a roadside bomb went off beside another captain's vehicles. The next day, Gibson's vehicle was hit. "I told the men, 'This is a guerrilla war, an insurgency. Marines are going to die. But we have a duty and we'll do it.' "

The Americans insist the majority of residents want them here to keep peace. Abed Ali Habad, who works for the Marines as an interpreter, disagrees. "People feel they suffered from the dictatorship of the Tikritis," he said, referring to Hussein's hometown clan. "Now we suffer from the dictatorship of the mujaheddin and the Americans. We need both to go."

Lt. Col. Matthew Lopez, commanding officer of the nearly 2,000-man battalion, says he has seen Iraqis' lives improve since the Marines arrived. Shops have reopened in Husaybah. An Iraqi police force is struggling to its feet. More than 80 schools have been rebuilt, along with water and electric facilities. Violence, while still fitful, has generally decreased.

"By all accounts, we have been very successful," he said. "But the success has come at a cost."
The Debriefing

Back at the base, the Kilo Company platoons gathered for a debrief, an exhaustive minute-by-minute rehash of what happened. This is standard -- the U.S. military lives by script, rehearsal and review -- but this meeting was heavy with loss. The men sat in plastic chairs in a room with filthy walls, their faces still smudged with dust, their eyes downcast, their guns beside them on the linoleum floor.

They debated the moves they had made. They reviewed their positions. They compared their observations. In the end, they concluded, the fatalities did not happen because of something they did wrong.

"We took casualties today," Staff Sgt. Lasater told the men. "But you did your job."

Gibson, the company commander, looked ahead: "There's a sniper out there. We need to find him and kill him."

Saad Ali, a grizzled Iraqi military veteran now part of a special unit working with the Americans, spoke through an interpreter. "The people of the area, I can read their faces," he said. "They hate the American forces. Even pregnant women want to give birth earlier to fight you. The respect we show them, they don't deserve. We should kill from every house one person and not be sad. We should kill from every house one man. The enemy is ruthless. We must be as ruthless."

Silence greeted him as though he had thrown a dead dog on the floor. The Marines looked at one another in amazement at this Hussein-era prescription and rolled their eyes.

After the meeting, the platoon officers and the sergeants lingered to discuss how to handle the losses.

"Hell, I don't want to get killed," said Staff Sgt. Chris Bengison, 31, of Frederic, Wis. "But I've got a whole platoon that is looking at me. I can't go soft on them. So you put your uniform on. You put your boots on. You put your flak jacket and helmet on, and get back into the vehicle and do it again.. That's the only way you can make it."
'He Was a Kid'

Later that night the men were in their barracks, a train depot divided with plywood and hanging tarps to create an illusion of privacy. No one is more than an arm's reach from the next bunk. The place is decorated with pinups and slogans painted on the wall, and jammed with gear and heaps of clothes and magazines.

"When you are back here, you think, 'I was standing right next to Nice,' " Bengison said. "Why him, and not me? What if the sniper had a little different angle?"

In Marine parlance, Nice was a "boot drop" -- someone who had just joined the unit from basic training. He was raised in Ohio, and when his parents divorced he went to Oklahoma with his mother and grandmother. He got good grades in high school, but decided to follow his father and grandfather into the service, like many Marines do.

"Nice was a good kid. That's what he was -- a kid," Lasater said gently. "He grew up fast being here for six months, but . . . he was a kid. He didn't smoke. He didn't drink."

"He always had a smile on his face," added Lt. Chris McManus. "He was one of those guys that you ask to do stuff and it's already done." Others in the barracks used him as a "scribe," to write letters. He was a whiz with a computer, and figured out the unit's complex new electronic tracking system in a day.

"He was the kind of kid his father and mother could be proud of," Lasater said.

In the officers' section, a four-foot-wide corridor packed with four cots, 1st Lt. Rudy Salcido, 29, of Tucson, slowly sorted through the items in the empty bunk below his -- Fontecchio's bunk.

The first group from the 3rd Battalion was supposed to begin flying back to Kuwait, and then California, in two weeks. Within a month, the whole battalion, including Fontecchio, would have been on their way home.

"He was going to read these on the plane home," said Salcido, thumbing through two how-to books on child rearing. "He talked about his kid all the time. He would sit and chat about how he has been away so long and wanted to make it back to them. He was really devoted to his family."

The men knew that just about then two Marines in dress uniforms were giving the news to Fontecchio's wife, Kinney, who was visiting her mother in Virginia Beach with 2-year-old Elia Jr. Two more were at the home of Nice's mother in Prague, Okla.

1st Sgt. Michael Templeton, 40, was a longtime friend. He shook his head. "I held Gunny's hand as he came in on the litter. I told him his last lie: 'You'll be okay.' "
Back on Patrol

The sun rises. The war goes on. Patrols go out. By the next day, the 6 a.m. touch football game had resumed in the parking lot. A squad jogged by in unison, wearing their rifles, chanting in cadence. The e-mail blackout imposed after every casualty to stop rumors from flying home was lifted, and within minutes, 26 Marines lined up at the computer tent for their turn to send messages home.

"The first killed-in-action we had, everybody was quiet for a long time," said Lt. Daniel Casey, 30, a former Peace Corps volunteer from Chicago. "They stood around the hallways here, and nobody even thought of going for chow. It's sad what you get accustomed to. Unfortunately, now we have a casualty and the routine just goes on. You feel guilty, but that's how it is."

Two days later, a Kilo Company patrol rolled out of the gates. The men called it an "H and D" patrol -- a search for "hate and discontent." They would stop anyone who looked suspicious, search any house where their waves were returned by a sullen glare. Maybe they would find some weapons. Maybe someone would react.

continued.........

thedrifter
08-13-04, 07:33 AM
"We're out there trying to draw fire. That's the only way we can get them, if they come out to fight," said Cpl. Jack Self.

Their workspace was a hot, jammed vehicle covered inside and out with dust. The interior was crowded with metal ammo boxes, a rocket launcher, grenades, boxes of water, radios sprouting plugs and cords. In their vehicle, a gunner stood in the swiveling turret with a 7.62mm machine gun and a TOW missile launcher. The other men rode with their M-16 rifles at the ready.

They said little as the Humvees rolled, turning off the main highway and prowling the dirt roads of the village of Sadah. Children poured out of the houses to watch. Some waved and clapped. One little girl put her thumbs in her ears and wagged her hands, sticking out her tongue. In the back seat, Lance Cpl. Christopher Blissard, 21, of Brandon, Miss., shrugged.

The insurgents' rocket launchers and roadside bombs are often ingeniously made, so the patrol stopped at a machine shop in the village. The Marines rousted eight workers, standing them in a line, checking their identity papers. One door was locked. A Marine with a hammer broke the padlock, revealing a small shop stocked with candy and ice cream.

The patrol moved on, their trail of dust drifting over the surrounding houses. They passed heaps of garbage, trucks and tractors in disrepair, vegetable gardens and sheep.

The village seemed placid, pastoral. The residents sleep at midday, awaiting the relative cool of evening. But it is not always calm here, the Marines said. There have been six roadside bombings at a spot near where Gunny was killed. And see that alley? It was rocket alley a few weeks ago, when an American patrol was met by a volley of rocket-propelled grenades.

As they climbed a bumpy street, one Marine said he saw a young man hastily throw something over a low wall. The Marines surrounded a house and brought out seven young men. The Americans ordered them to lie on the ground facedown, with their hands behind their heads. Other Marines searched behind the low stone wall and went through the house, room by room. Four children, two women and an old man sat on the porch, apprehensive and silent.

The Marines found nothing and left. The young men got up, dusting off their clothes and glancing sidelong at the departing Humvees.

House after house was like this. Young men lined up sullenly when ordered. Only the old women were fearless, scolding the Americans in loud Arabic. "Shut up," a Marine snapped in English.

The Marines returned to their Humvees. In the heat, rivulets of sweat appeared from under Kevlar helmets, mingled with dust and disappeared under armored vests. The discomfort added to the tension of being exposed to attack.

"Having a sniper out there scares the hell out of me," confided one Marine. "He's a pretty good one, too. Only three shots, and he got one of ours -- Nice. And he almost got Lemcke."

Four hours after leaving, the patrol returned to base. The Marines had found no weapons, made no arrests. Some were disappointed.

"It's always nice to get a bad guy," said Cpl. Travis Struecker, 21, of Algona, Iowa. "It's pretty frustrating when we can't find them. A lot of the guys were pretty ****ed after Gunny's death. They wanted to kick some ass."
Roll Call

The men of the 3rd Battalion formed up Saturday morning in crisp, straight lines. The first notes of the "Star-Spangled Banner" brought them rigid, their arms cocked in salutes. In front of the formation, 1st Sgt. Templeton called roll three times. At the names Fontecchio and Nice, the only answer was the snapping of the American and Marine Corps flags.

An honor guard stabbed the absent Marines' rifles, bayonets down, into sandbags on the parking lot. Their helmets were placed on the rifle stocks. Empty boots in front. "The more of these we do, the harder it gets," said Lopez, the battalion commander. "And the harder we get."

The officers said a few words. Gibson, the company commander, acknowledged Fontecchio's priorities: "He was a father first and foremost. And he was a Marine." Nice, he said, "never said much, but you always knew he was there, taking care of your back."

Templeton added: "If there's a gym in heaven, Gunny's there."

Fontecchio was never much for sermons. At the last ceremony, the chaplain's words didn't capture what was important to the men, he thought. So he wrote out detailed instructions for his own ceremony -- just in case. No sermons. He added a few words of goodbye on his own:

"I loved every one of you. You will forever be my brothers in arms."

The Marines broke ranks and filed past the upended rifles, each man touching the helmets in farewell. They were slumped. A few shed tears. Salcido crossed himself. Lopez, the last before the honor guard broke, saluted each rifle..

Slowly, the men drifted back to their bunks. Those on duty picked up their helmets and shrugged on their heavy flak jackets.

Sixteen minutes later, the next patrol headed out the gate, trailing a plume of dust in the desert.


Ellie

thedrifter
08-13-04, 08:52 AM
August 12, 2004 <br />
<br />
Riot threat distracted Marine prison guards, officer testifies <br />
<br />
Associated Press <br />
<br />
<br />
CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. Marine guards at a detention facility in Iraq were not able to care...

thedrifter
08-13-04, 09:46 AM
08-10-2004 <br />
<br />
A Report From Iraq <br />
<br />
<br />
<br />
A single muzzle-flash from a rooftop 200 yards away sends a 14-man patrol of U.S. and Iraqi troops crouching behind mud-brick houses in a poor Baghdad...

thedrifter
08-13-04, 12:15 PM
Marines capture center of Najaf


By Khaled Farhan
REUTERS NEWS AGENCY


NAJAF, Iraq U.S. Marines backed by tanks and aircraft seized the heart of the Iraqi holy city of Najaf yesterday in a major assault on Shi'ite rebels that helped drive world oil prices to record highs.
Warplanes pounded militia positions in a cemetery next to the Imam Ali Mosque while U.S. forces stormed the home of Sheik Muqtada al-Sadr, the radical cleric at the center of the weeklong uprising that has killed hundreds in seven cities.

Sheik al-Sadr was believed to be holed up in the mosque along with hundreds of his Mahdi's Army militia, witnesses said.
Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, a Shi'ite, urged the militiamen to lay down their arms and leave the mosque, a site sacred to millions of Shi'ites around the world.
The U.S.-led assault in such a sacred city for Iraq's majority Shi'ite community could spark a firestorm for Mr. Allawi, who needs to crush a rebellion that has disrupted vital oil exports and threatened to undermine his six-week-old government.
"This government calls upon all the armed groups to drop their weapons and rejoin society. We call upon all the armed men to evacuate the holy shrine and not to violate its holiness," Mr. Allawi said in a statement read by a senior official.
Oil prices hit new highs on the offensive, which the militia has warned could trigger more attacks on oil infrastructure. Crude oil futures in New York peaked at $45.75 a barrel, the highest price in 21 years of trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange.
Late in the afternoon, U.S. warplanes bombed targets near Sheik al-Sadr's house as Marines battled militiamen in the area. Black smoke billowed as combatants exchanged heavy fire. U.S. forces stormed Sheik al-Sadr's house just before nightfall.
Marines also blocked entry to the Imam Ali Mosque. After nightfall, witnesses said the city appeared largely calm.
In the southeastern city of Kut, at least 72 persons were killed in U.S. air raids and fighting between Iraqi police and Mahdi's Army yesterday, the Health Ministry said.
The U.S. military said it had deployed its heavily armed AC-130 gunship to attack insurgents in the area and that more than 20 buildings had been destroyed.
The Health Ministry said 25 persons were killed in clashes in Baghdad and 21 in other cities in the past 24 hours. There were no immediate casualty figures from the Najaf offensive.
Protests broke out in Baghdad and the southern city of Basra after the start of the offensive.
Wary of igniting more anger, the U.S. military said the assault would exclude the Imam Ali Mosque. Government officials said only Iraqi forces would disarm militia inside.
But Mahdi's Army raised the prospect of a bloody battle, vowing no surrender and saying Sheik al-Sadr was leading the defense at the shrine and vast cemetery, one of the Middle East's largest.
"The morale of the fighters is very high," said Ahmed al-Shaibany, a senior al-Sadr spokesman in Najaf.
Despite threats from the militia, Iraq reopened its main southern oil export pipeline after a sabotage attack Monday and expected full supplies by late last night, an official said.
Militiamen responded to the American assault in Najaf with rocket-propelled grenades and mortars. Many civilians fled the center of the city, some escaping on carts pulled by donkeys.
Some 2,000 U.S. servicemen and 1,800 Iraqi security forces are deployed around Najaf, a city of 600,000 about 100 miles south of Baghdad.
The U.S. military said Iraqi forces were actively involved in the offensive, although witnesses said American troops were doing most of the fighting.
As news of the offensive filtered in, thousands of Shi'ites took to the streets in Basra and a Baghdad district to protest.
"Long live Sadr; America and Allawi are infidels," thousands of protesters in Basra chanted.
A Reuters photographer said he had seen dozens of dead militiamen in houses in Najaf. He said the bodies had been taken from the battle zone and covered with ice to preserve them before burial. It was not clear when they had been killed.
Iraq's most influential Shi'ite cleric, Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, who is in London undergoing medical treatment, called for an immediate end to the fighting in his hometown, aide Hussein Shahristani said.
"All efforts should be directed to finding a peaceful solution. A military solution will resolve nothing," he said.
In Damascus, a Syrian official said Iraq's next-door neighbor Syria is "deeply disturbed" by the fighting in Najaf, and especially by the U.S. raids.
The unidentified official, quoted by the official news agency SANA, said Syria was "worried about the growing number of civilian victims."

http://www.washingtontimes.com/world/20040813-123215-5230r.htm


Ellie

thedrifter
08-13-04, 02:16 PM
U.S. Switches Tactic in Najaf, Trying Isolation

http://graphics7.nytimes.com/images/2004/08/13/international/iraq.xlarge1.jpg


By ALEX BERENSON and JOHN F. BURNS

Published: August 13, 2004

NAJAF, Iraq, Aug. 12 - Faced with a populist Shiite cleric who has bunkered a heavily-armed militia force in the sect's holiest shrine, American commanders in this city of 500,000 resorted reluctantly on Thursday to a scaled-down objective, throwing a wide cordon of troops and armor around the city's heart and announcing that they planned to "further isolate" the militiamen.

Only days after the new Iraqi prime minister, Ayad Allawi, flew into Najaf on an American military helicopter and announced that there would be "no negotiations or truce," he and the American officials in Baghdad who are his indispensable partners in power appear, for now, to have backed away from a showdown. Instead, they are pursuing a combination of negotiations and a tightening blockade around the mosque.

Raising the morale of the militiamen, loyalists of the cleric, Moktada al-Sadr, have spread their insurrection across central and southern Iraq, the country's Shiite heartland.

[Reuters reported Friday that Mr. Sadr was wounded in the American bombardment of Najaf, but his exact condition remained unknown. Mr. Sadr "was wounded in American bombing," Ahmad al-Shinabi, a spokesman for the cleric, said. "He suffered three injuries to his body. We don't know his exact condition or to where he was taken.'' Another spokesman confirmed the report, but there was no independent confirmation.]

His militiamen have attacked in Sadr City, the Baghdad slum, as well as in Diwaniya, Kut, Al-Hayy, Nasiriya, Amara and Basra, towns that are among the largest Shiite population centers, each of them a way station for American and British troops in the invasion 16 months ago that toppled Saddam Hussein.

The fiercest fighting, apart from Najaf, appeared to have been in Kut, a city about 150 miles south of Baghdad that was briefly taken over by Mr. Sadr's fighters in the spring.

According to Qassim al-Mayahi, the head of al-Zahra hospital, 84 people were killed and more than 170 wounded, many of them civilians, in fighting that began with rebel attacks on government buildings on Wednesday. A police commander said the attacks subsided only after American warplanes staged a two-hour bombing raid before dawn on Thursday of a district where Mr. Sadr had a militia base. At a news conference on Thursday evening, the Iraqi interior minister, Falah Naqib, painted a grim picture of the situation created by the Sadr forces, calling it "a war." Dismissing Mr. Sadr's claim to be the leader of a national resistance movement, he said: "This doesn't fall into the category of national resistance. It is an assault on the Iraqi people."

Qassim Daoud, a minister of state in Dr. Allawi's cabinet, said there could be only one response. "The only solution is the rule of law," and bringing an end to attempts by Mr. Sadr to seize power, he said. "These people are trying to deprive the Iraqi people of their rights," he added.

The situation in Najaf was redolent of events in April , when American commanders, confronted then as now by an uprising stirred by Mr. Sadr, built up a powerful strike force around Najaf with a vow to uproot the cleric and his fighters from the Imam Ali mosque, then decided that the political costs of attacking or damaging the shrine compelled an accommodation.

Then, Mr. Sadr won agreement to an "exclusion zone" in Najaf's center that left him free to build his militia and advance himself as the authentic leader of Shiite resistance to American military occupation.

This time, senior American officials in Baghdad said, the aim will be to constrict the fighters much more tightly, moving in from the initial cordon, set about a mile from the mosque at the closest point on Thursday, to a blockade line closer in, with Iraqi police and national guardsmen moving farther forward.

The officials said the aim would be to halt the flow of men, weapons and ammunition, as well as food and other supplies, into the area around the mosque, and to prevent any fighters from leaving until they have surrendered their weapons.

Simultaneously, the American force of about 3,000 Army and Marine troops, appeared to have orders to pursue and kill any militiamen outside the old city.

At nightfall on Thursday, American troops outside the cordon stormed a cluster of buildings that formed one of the Sadr strongholds. Backed by American warplanes that pounded the area and unleashed a huge plume of black smoke, a Marine strike force battled through to a house used by Mr. Sadr, which the Americans said had been abandoned before the attack, and to a school and hospital taken by the militiamen.

About 50 rebels were inside, said Maj. David Holahan, second-in-command of the Marine unit involved, and nearly all were killed.

"The city's going to get cleared out," he said, voicing the spirit of the military units preparing for a full-scale assault on the inner city.

It remained unclear what Dr. Allawi's government and the Americans might be willing to negotiate - and what might be offered by Mr. Sadr, who has retreated into hiding since a news conference in the shrine earlier in the week in which he vowed to "fight to the last drop of my blood."

A representative of Mr. Sadr's in Baghdad, Sheik Mahmoud al-Sudani, said Thursday that "when the threat to the holy shrine is ended, the Mahdi Army will dissolve." Mr. Sadr made similar pledges in the spring.

continued............

thedrifter
08-13-04, 02:17 PM
In a statement issued in Baghdad, Dr. Allawi, whose vows to crush the insurgents are a hallmark of his first weeks in office, made it clear that concerns about Shiite reaction to an assault on the mosque had given him pause. "I would like to relay to the noble people of Iraq that the holy shrine will remain safe from all attacks that could possibly harm its sacredness," he said.

The goal now, he said, would be to get the rebels in the shrine to surrender their weapons and leave, taking advantage of a 30-day amnesty for rebels announced last weekend.

One aide said that Dr. Allawi, himself a Shiite, had been influenced by a growing number of calls for restraint from other leading Shiites in the new political establishment in Baghdad. As well, they said, he had taken note of a statement issued from a London hospital on behalf of Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the most revered of Iraq's Shiite religious leaders, who left the country just before the uprising reignited. Aides have said that Ayatollah Sistani, who is 73, is suffering from a heart condition.

Throughout Mr. Sadr's insurrections, dating to March, Ayatollah Sistani has remained noncommittal, a stance many Iraqis say reflects both his contempt for Mr. Sadr as a religious upstart and an acknowledgment that he has a widespread following that may have to be factored in to any future political arrangements.

The ayatollah said Najaf and other Shiite cities were "experiencing tragic circumstances now, in which sanctities are violated, blood is shed, and properties destroyed, with no deterrence." He went on to call for a negotiated solution. "His eminence calls on all factions to work seriously to end this crisis soon, and lay principles to ensure that it does not occur again," the statement said.

By late Thursday, negotiations were reported to have begun in Najaf between representatives of Mr. Sadr and a personal emissary of Ayatollah Sistani's, Hussein Shahristani, a nuclear physicist. Also in the city, and joining Mr. Shahristani in the negotiation effort, officials in Baghdad said, was Muwaffak al-Rubaie, national security adviser to Dr. Allawi.

Mr. Sadr, a shrewd tactician, may feel that he is negotiating from a position of strength. Western reporters who found a way through the American cordon on Thursday and reached the mosque said there were hundreds of militiamen in the surrounding streets and alleyways, with many fighters ensconced in the mosque itself, perhaps as many as 1,000 in all.

One reporter, speaking by telephone, said the fighters appeared to have plentiful food, water and ammunition, and to be in relatively good spirits, despite eight days of often heavy fighting in the vast cemetery adjoining the shrine and frequent air attacks. "They're sitting in their foxholes, their basements and their hotels, with their rocket-propelled grenades, their mortars and their Kalashnikovs, just waiting for the Americans to come," said the reporter, who asked not be identified. "They're a little nervous, of course, but they don't seem to be exhausted. Much of the time, when they're not praying, they're laughing."

The reporter saw many of the men, armed, inside the mosque - confirmation, seemingly, of claims by Dr. Allawi's government, and American commanders, that it has become a fortified base. But he said that, after 12 hours inside the mosque, moving around its vast courtyard and areas leading from it, he had seen no sign of major weapons stockpiles, though there might have been some in parts of the 1,000-year-old complex that he was not in.

"There are a lot Kalashnikovs leaning against the wall," he said. "And there doesn't seem to be any shortage of ammunition."

The ease with which reporters reached the mosque, using side roads and alleys to skirt American tanks, suggested that closing access to the shrine for militiamen may not be easy. But the impact on the residents of the Old City seemed likely to be severe. Many were seen fleeing the area on Thursday, responding to Humvees that had toured the city earlier urging people to leave areas where fighting was likely. One American unit turned back a man leading a donkey loaded with food toward the Old City, saying the supplies could be heading for the rebels.

Sadr City was mostly quiet on Thursday, with American tanks guarding all main access roads into the capital, and closing highway overpasses and bridges. But the sense of crisis that has kept parts of the city effectively shut down for days was heightened by American helicopters and combat jets that patrolled ceaselessly above.


Alex Berenson reported from Najaf, Iraq, for this article and John F. Burns from Baghdad.

http://www.nytimes.com/2004/08/13/international/middleeast/13iraq.html?pagewanted=2


Ellie

thedrifter
08-13-04, 03:54 PM
Thousands Of Shiites To Form Human Chain In Najaf Guarding Shrine, Sadr

BAGHDAD, Aug 13 (AFP) - Thousands of Shiite Muslims vowed Friday to flock to the holy city of Najaf to form a human chain around the revered Imam Ali shrine after militia leader Moqtada Sadr was reportedly wounded in battle.
In a peaceful demonstration outside the heavily fortified Green Zone, which houses the US embassy and some government offices, the Shiite men, women and children vowed to guard the shrine and shield Sadr in the fighting at Najaf.

"We are a group of 500 women, many of whom are young students, and we plan to go tonight to Najaf and be part of a large human chain that we will form surrounding the shrine and also Sadr," said 20-year-old Rajaa Khayum, a resident of Sadr City, the Shiite stronghold of northeast Baghdad.

Dressed in a traditional abaya, Khayum said hundreds of Sadr supporters would leave in groups Friday evening and participate in the holy war, but in a peaceful way.

"We do not have arms, but our bodies will be armour for the Imam Ali shrine and Sadr. We will take the bullets of the Americans and are ready to die martyrs for our religion and its son, Moqtada."

The gold-domed tomb of Prophet Mohammed's son-in-law Ali held by Sadr's Mehdi Army has for centuries made the city of Najaf a place of pilgrimage for Shiites seeking his blessing.

The religious importance of Najaf to Shiites, who make up the majority in Iraq, was highlighted in early April 2003 when US troops invading Iraq entered the city of half a million.

They were confronted by hundreds of angry civilians who blocked soldiers from approaching the shrine, which is off-limits to non-Muslims.

A spokesman for the Shiite Muslim militia leader urged thousands of partisans in Baghdad to march to Najaf on foot after Friday prayers.

"As we gather here, outside the headquarters of the agent of the occupation who have brought nothing but death and destruction to this country, we order you to march to Najaf on foot," said Sayed Hazem al-Araji.

The besieged holy city lies 180 kilometers (110 miles) south of Baghdad.

Khayum, along with dozens of other women and thousands of men gathered outside the Green Zone, were dancing and shouting slogans in support of Sadr and his militant Mehdi army.

Demanding an immediate stop to the fighting at Najaf, Khayum said the Iraqi and US forces should quickly exit the city.

"The government calls Sadr an outlaw. How can he be?" asked Khayum's friend Aayam Mohammad, who had come to the demonstration despite a shoulder injury, while a young supporter sprinkled rose water on the sweating crowd.

Mohammad was also headed to Najaf later Friday.

"He (Sadr) is son of this land, of this religion. It is (Prime Minister) Iyad Allawi who is the outlaw, an American spy. He and his ministers should quit and also exit Najaf without any more bloodshed."

As the crowd gathered, dozens of American soldiers and Iraqi national guards took positions outside the gates of the convention centre in the Green Zone.

"Go away, go away. Stand far. Don't come close," one gun-toting soldier said.

"We are not here to fight. We are here to give a message to the government and the Americans that they should quit Najaf," said Mortada Mohammed, a 25-year-old student of French literature.

"I challenge the coalition forces. Let them call Sadr an outlaw again and see what happens."

Pro-Sadr demonstrations were held across Iraq, while in the main southern city of Basra, a Sadr aide called on Iraqi police and national guards to join the ranks of the Mehdi army.

"Either you are with us or against us," warned Sheikh Ahmed al-Maliky, the deputy governor of Basra, as more than a thousand faithful gathered for weekly prayers held on the street in the city centre outside Sadr's office.

Thousands of Shiites also marched towards Najaf from Kufa, while demonstrations supporting Sadr were being held in most key cities of Iraq.

Ellie

thedrifter
08-13-04, 07:28 PM
Death, duty
in forgotten
corner of war
Remembering Gunny and the Kid,
hard-hit unit goes back on patrol
A Marine holds two flags the Corps colors and the Stars and Stripes during a ceremony for Gunnery Sgt. Elia Fontecchio, known as "Gunny," and Lance Cpl. Joseph Nice. The two Marines were killed while on patrol in western Iraq near the Syrian border.

By Doug Struck

Updated: 10:34 a.m. ET Aug. 13, 2004QAIM, Iraq - Word spread fast. It was Gunny. And the young kid, Nice.

Fontecchio didn't have to go out. His duties taking care of the company meant he was usually busy at the camp, with no time to patrol. Gunnery sergeants, always called "Gunny," occupy a special place in the Marine Corps. Part supply officer, part morale booster, part problem solver, the gunnery sergeant is responsible for the well-being of the unit. He ranks high enough to get things done, but not so high that he doesn't work and play with the enlisted men.

Fontecchio was ideal for the job. He led with humor, which made him popular. When the company commander, Capt. Trent Gibson, gave him his most recent evaluation, the two men smoked cigars as Gibson told Fontecchio his only fault was he sometimes was too nice. Glowing reviews had moved Fontecchio up the ranks quickly; to be a gunnery sergeant after 12 years in the Corps was impressive.

So was his physique. A weight lifter, he kept a detailed calendar by his bed of his near-daily workouts, along with Arnold Schwarzenegger's "Encyclopedia of Modern Bodybuilding," with pages marked by Post-its. "He was what you think all Marines are supposed to look like," said the assistant operations officer, Capt. Rory Quinn, 29, of the Bronx. "He was a physical stud."

He also did not like to stay in camp too long. As his comrades recalled the events in interviews, that Wednesday Fontecchio joined a patrol.

At an Iraqi police station, they were told that Checkpoint 43, a two-room cinder-block police shelter, had been bombed. The checkpoint is in a lush fringe of the Euphrates River, where the desert suddenly yields to green fields of corn, okra, peppers and tomatoes. It is a pretty spot. And low: Small cliffs nearby offer a clear view of the road below. Four vehicles with about 25 men went to investigate.

As trained, the Marines dismounted and dispersed, scouting for clues or other bombs. After about 25 minutes, they started to pull back. The men walked toward their Humvees. Someone perhaps on the cliffs above, perhaps hidden in a field, maybe passing on a nearby road decided this was the moment to explode the foot-long, 155mm artillery shell that had been buried near Fontecchio's vehicle.

"You don't hear the blast. It doesn't register," said Staff Sgt. Shelby Lasater, 32, of Plano, Tex., who was about 150 feet away. "It happens so fast. You see a ball of fire, black smoke, then shrapnel, dirt, trees and branches flying. You feel the heat."

Lasater followed his sprinting medical corpsman toward the center of the blast and found Gunny. "I asked him how old was his son. He told me. I said, 'You're going to see him.' "

Within minutes, one of two attack helicopters that were supporting the patrol dropped onto the road. Marines shoved in Fontecchio's litter and loaded two of the wounded into seats. The "Golden Hour" so critical for survival of trauma victims was barely 20 minutes old when Gunny arrived at Camp Qaim. The Marines who unloaded him said he was talking. He would be all right, they believed.

The patrol resumed its hunt. A half-hour later, the men heard the blast of another roadside bomb about a mile away, near the police station. A patrol from W Company was closest. They began to block off the area. Lance Cpl. Nice pulled off a roll of the razor-sharp concertina wire strapped to the hood of one of the Humvees. With heavy gloves, he unfurled the coil of wire, dragging it across one of the roads to stop traffic.

Like all the Marines, Nice wore a heavy vest with hardened plates in the front and back, the body armor that has saved many lives in this war. But as he turned to grapple with the wire, a single shot rang out. It pierced his side, under his raised arm, where the vest has only canvas webbing to allow flexibility. The bullet passed through his lungs and heart and exited the other side. He dropped on his back in the dust.

Staff Sgt. Chris Bengison, 31, heard the "crisp, clear pop" and calculated that the shot came from a cluster of two-story buildings in the distance. He and others laid down withering fire with their M-16 automatic rifles and a machine gun. Cpl. Jason Lemcke, 23, a squad leader, raced his Humvee toward the fallen Marine. Just as he opened the door, a shot crashed into the side mirror, just missing Lemcke's head. He fell back.

Another Humvee pulled beside Nice, and Cpl. Robert Wells dragged him with one hand, firing an M-16 with the other. They raced toward the open area where Fontecchio had been airlifted. A Black Hawk helicopter was on the way.

As they waited, corpsmen Adam Clarke and John Patrick Crate began mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. For each breath they gave, they got a mouthful of blood. They took turns, vomiting between their efforts. Nice's eyes were glazed, his heart stopped, the life drained from the gaping wounds in his sides. He was dead before the helicopter landed.

The Marines assaulted the buildings. The sniper was gone.

'The Wild West'
Anbar province, where the Marines are responsible for security, is larger than Virginia. It is a creased desert with hills and wadis dry riverbeds this time of year cut by the Euphrates River. Towns and clay-house villages follow the river south.

The 3rd Battalion is split between Qaim and Husaybah, which sits on the border with Syria. The men deal with the same shadowy enemies found elsewhere in Iraq: ex-army officers and Baath Party functionaries who saw their power evaporate with the fall of Saddam Hussein; Muslim zealots who slipped into Iraq; and Iraqis willing to fight for anyone who pays them. Added to the mix is a long tradition of smuggling and lawlessness.

"This is the Wild West, the frontier," said Capt. Dominique Neal, a Naval Academy graduate whose Lima Company is in Husaybah. Neal, 29, became the company commander April 17 when Capt. Richard Gannon was killed in a gunfight along with four other Marines. When he got the news on the radio, Neal, the executive officer, followed procedure and took the call sign of the commander: "Lima 5 is now Lima 6," he transmitted.

"It was the hardest message I ever sent," he said. Their base is now named Camp Gannon.

A tough loss
The helicopter that whisked Fontecchio toward Camp Qaim settled onto a concrete landing pad 150 feet from the tents of FRSS the Forward Resuscitative Surgical System. This is the modern version of the M*A*S*H unit, where surgeons operate as close to the action as they can get. There are only three such units in Iraq; Qaim's casualty rate merits one of them.

Marines sprinted from the helicopter with a litter bearing the gunnery sergeant. "He was in very bad shape," said Navy Capt. H. Don Elshire, 53, a surgeon who left a private practice in Orange County, Calif., to come to Iraq. "He was 15 feet from a high-explosive shell designed to destroy a tank. He should have come in here in pieces. It's probably only because he was in such good shape that we even got him at all."

Gunny was talking, trying to sit up, but he was pale, his heart was racing, and he had almost no pulse in his extremities. To the doctors, these were the neon-bright signs of shock; they meant massive loss of blood, somewhere. When Gunny's uniform was cut away, it was clear the blood was not going out the wounds in his legs. But his belly was horribly distended, filled with internal bleeding.

Navy Capt. Kermit Booher, 60, an orthopedic surgeon, would assist in the surgery. When he saw the patient, he was startled to recognize a man he had met a day or two before, in the gym, who had been gregarious and friendly.

"He's laying there, and you think, 'Why is it the nice guys?' "

Fontecchio's litter was lifted onto the brackets of the portable operating table in the tent. Halogen lights were swung over the patient. With no blood circulating, Fontecchio was already getting cold, so Elshire turned off the tent's air conditioning. The 118-degree heat quickly nuzzled in.

Elshire slit open Gunny's belly. "It is kind of like slicing into a water balloon. You can't see what's going on. You have to visually imagine where the blood's coming from, and you have a few precious moments to do it."

Elshire did the best he could. He found a sliced aorta, the body's largest artery. He was able to stitch that. Then he found shrapnel that had entered Gunny's leg and swept through the thin-walled veins in the pelvic region. "It had turned that area to shreds." With no single wound to stitch, Elshire furiously packed the area to put pressure on the bleeding. As the minutes became an hour, then two, Elshire was sweating, soaked and starting to feel dizzy from the heat. Finally, he closed the incision.

"We had done everything we could," Elshire said. Already, outside, the blades of a Black Hawk were spinning to take Gunny to the Army hospital in Baghdad. But Elshire and the others knew his odds were bad. They had already pumped nearly eight liters of blood into him replacing his body's entire volume.

continued........

thedrifter
08-13-04, 07:30 PM
Booher described it: "All of a sudden everything stopped. His heart stopped beating, the blood stopped oxygenating. He died almost immediately."

For the doctors, it was a tough loss. In five months, the unit had seen 90 shock-trauma patients and operated on 20 of them. "Every single Marine who has come in here alive has left here alive," Booher said. "With Gunny, it was more personal because we couldn't save him. We spent a lot of time thinking about everything we did.

"People say, 'You did your best. You did everything you could.' All those platitudes they are all true. But it still hurts."

A different war
Last year, this Marine battalion began the war in Kuwait and fought its way north to Baghdad, without losing a single member in combat. The troops had about five months at their home base in Twentynine Palms, Calif., then returned to Iraq. They came back to a different war.

"I knew it was going to be more deadly. But nothing to this degree," said Gibson, the Kilo Company commander, over midnight rations of beans and rice. A wiry, intense man with a shaved head, Gibson, 35, said that on their first day out, a roadside bomb went off beside another captain's vehicles. The next day, Gibson's vehicle was hit. "I told the men, 'This is a guerrilla war, an insurgency. Marines are going to die. But we have a duty and we'll do it.' "

The Americans insist the majority of residents want them here to keep peace. Abed Ali Habad, who works for the Marines as an interpreter, disagrees. "People feel they suffered from the dictatorship of the Tikritis," he said, referring to Hussein's hometown clan. "Now we suffer from the dictatorship of the mujaheddin and the Americans. We need both to go."

Lt. Col. Matthew Lopez, commanding officer of the nearly 2,000-man battalion, says he has seen Iraqis' lives improve since the Marines arrived. Shops have reopened in Husaybah. An Iraqi police force is struggling to its feet. More than 80 schools have been rebuilt, along with water and electric facilities. Violence, while still fitful, has generally decreased.

"By all accounts, we have been very successful," he said. "But the success has come at a cost."

The debriefing
Back at the base, the Kilo Company platoons gathered for a debrief, an exhaustive minute-by-minute rehash of what happened. This is standard the U.S. military lives by script, rehearsal and review but this meeting was heavy with loss. The men sat in plastic chairs in a room with filthy walls, their faces still smudged with dust, their eyes downcast, their guns beside them on the linoleum floor.

They debated the moves they had made. They reviewed their positions. They compared their observations. In the end, they concluded, the fatalities did not happen because of something they did wrong.

"We took casualties today," Staff Sgt. Lasater told the men. "But you did your job."

Gibson, the company commander, looked ahead: "There's a sniper out there. We need to find him and kill him."

Saad Ali, a grizzled Iraqi military veteran now part of a special unit working with the Americans, spoke through an interpreter. "The people of the area, I can read their faces," he said. "They hate the American forces. Even pregnant women want to give birth earlier to fight you. The respect we show them, they don't deserve. We should kill from every house one person and not be sad. We should kill from every house one man. The enemy is ruthless. We must be as ruthless."

Silence greeted him as though he had thrown a dead dog on the floor. The Marines looked at one another in amazement at this Hussein-era prescription and rolled their eyes.

After the meeting, the platoon officers and the sergeants lingered to discuss how to handle the losses.

"Hell, I don't want to get killed," said Staff Sgt. Chris Bengison, 31, of Frederic, Wis. "But I've got a whole platoon that is looking at me. I can't go soft on them. So you put your uniform on. You put your boots on. You put your flak jacket and helmet on, and get back into the vehicle and do it again. That's the only way you can make it."

'He was a kid'
Later that night the men were in their barracks, a train depot divided with plywood and hanging tarps to create an illusion of privacy. No one is more than an arm's reach from the next bunk. The place is decorated with pinups and slogans painted on the wall, and jammed with gear and heaps of clothes and magazines.

"When you are back here, you think, 'I was standing right next to Nice,' " Bengison said. "Why him, and not me? What if the sniper had a little different angle?"

In Marine parlance, Nice was a "boot drop" someone who had just joined the unit from basic training. He was raised in Ohio, and when his parents divorced he went to Oklahoma with his mother and grandmother. He got good grades in high school, but decided to follow his father and grandfather into the service, like many Marines do.

"Nice was a good kid. That's what he was a kid," Lasater said gently. "He grew up fast being here for six months, but ... he was a kid. He didn't smoke. He didn't drink."

"He always had a smile on his face," added Lt. Chris McManus. "He was one of those guys that you ask to do stuff and it's already done." Others in the barracks used him as a "scribe," to write letters. He was a whiz with a computer, and figured out the unit's complex new electronic tracking system in a day.

"He was the kind of kid his father and mother could be proud of," Lasater said.

In the officers' section, a four-foot-wide corridor packed with four cots, 1st Lt. Rudy Salcido, 29, of Tucson, slowly sorted through the items in the empty bunk below his Fontecchio's bunk.

The first group from the 3rd Battalion was supposed to begin flying back to Kuwait, and then California, in two weeks. Within a month, the whole battalion, including Fontecchio, would have been on their way home.

"He was going to read these on the plane home," said Salcido, thumbing through two how-to books on child rearing. "He talked about his kid all the time. He would sit and chat about how he has been away so long and wanted to make it back to them. He was really devoted to his family."

continued............

thedrifter
08-13-04, 07:31 PM
The men knew that just about then two Marines in dress uniforms were giving the news to Fontecchio's wife, Kinney, who was visiting her mother in Virginia Beach with 2-year-old Elia Jr. Two more were at the home of Nice's mother in Prague, Okla.

1st Sgt. Michael Templeton, 40, was a longtime friend. He shook his head. "I held Gunny's hand as he came in on the litter. I told him his last lie: 'You'll be okay.' "

Back on patrol
The sun rises. The war goes on. Patrols go out. By the next day, the 6 a.m. touch football game had resumed in the parking lot. A squad jogged by in unison, wearing their rifles, chanting in cadence. The e-mail blackout imposed after every casualty to stop rumors from flying home was lifted, and within minutes, 26 Marines lined up at the computer tent for their turn to send messages home.

"The first killed-in-action we had, everybody was quiet for a long time," said Lt. Daniel Casey, 30, a former Peace Corps volunteer from Chicago. "They stood around the hallways here, and nobody even thought of going for chow. It's sad what you get accustomed to. Unfortunately, now we have a casualty and the routine just goes on. You feel guilty, but that's how it is."

Two days later, a Kilo Company patrol rolled out of the gates. The men called it an "H and D" patrol a search for "hate and discontent." They would stop anyone who looked suspicious, search any house where their waves were returned by a sullen glare. Maybe they would find some weapons. Maybe someone would react.

"We're out there trying to draw fire. That's the only way we can get them, if they come out to fight," said Cpl. Jack Self.

Their workspace was a hot, jammed vehicle covered inside and out with dust. The interior was crowded with metal ammo boxes, a rocket launcher, grenades, boxes of water, radios sprouting plugs and cords. In their vehicle, a gunner stood in the swiveling turret with a 7.62mm machine gun and a TOW missile launcher. The other men rode with their M-16 rifles at the ready.

They said little as the Humvees rolled, turning off the main highway and prowling the dirt roads of the village of Sadah. Children poured out of the houses to watch. Some waved and clapped. One little girl put her thumbs in her ears and wagged her hands, sticking out her tongue. In the back seat, Lance Cpl. Christopher Blissard, 21, of Brandon, Miss., shrugged.

The insurgents' rocket launchers and roadside bombs are often ingeniously made, so the patrol stopped at a machine shop in the village. The Marines rousted eight workers, standing them in a line, checking their identity papers. One door was locked. A Marine with a hammer broke the padlock, revealing a small shop stocked with candy and ice cream.

The patrol moved on, their trail of dust drifting over the surrounding houses. They passed heaps of garbage, trucks and tractors in disrepair, vegetable gardens and sheep.

The village seemed placid, pastoral. The residents sleep at midday, awaiting the relative cool of evening. But it is not always calm here, the Marines said. There have been six roadside bombings at a spot near where Gunny was killed. And see that alley? It was rocket alley a few weeks ago, when an American patrol was met by a volley of rocket-propelled grenades.

As they climbed a bumpy street, one Marine said he saw a young man hastily throw something over a low wall. The Marines surrounded a house and brought out seven young men. The Americans ordered them to lie on the ground facedown, with their hands behind their heads. Other Marines searched behind the low stone wall and went through the house, room by room. Four children, two women and an old man sat on the porch, apprehensive and silent.

The Marines found nothing and left. The young men got up, dusting off their clothes and glancing sidelong at the departing Humvees.

House after house was like this. Young men lined up sullenly when ordered. Only the old women were fearless, scolding the Americans in loud Arabic. "Shut up," a Marine snapped in English.

The Marines returned to their Humvees. In the heat, rivulets of sweat appeared from under Kevlar helmets, mingled with dust and disappeared under armored vests. The discomfort added to the tension of being exposed to attack.

"Having a sniper out there scares the hell out of me," confided one Marine. "He's a pretty good one, too. Only three shots, and he got one of ours Nice. And he almost got Lemcke."

Four hours after leaving, the patrol returned to base. The Marines had found no weapons, made no arrests. Some were disappointed.

"It's always nice to get a bad guy," said Cpl. Travis Struecker, 21, of Algona, Iowa. "It's pretty frustrating when we can't find them. A lot of the guys were pretty ****ed after Gunny's death. They wanted to kick some ass."

Roll call
The men of the 3rd Battalion formed up Saturday morning in crisp, straight lines. The first notes of the "Star-Spangled Banner" brought them rigid, their arms cocked in salutes. In front of the formation, 1st Sgt. Templeton called roll three times. At the names Fontecchio and Nice, the only answer was the snapping of the American and Marine Corps flags.

An honor guard stabbed the absent Marines' rifles, bayonets down, into sandbags on the parking lot. Their helmets were placed on the rifle stocks. Empty boots in front. "The more of these we do, the harder it gets," said Lopez, the battalion commander. "And the harder we get."

The officers said a few words. Gibson, the company commander, acknowledged Fontecchio's priorities: "He was a father first and foremost. And he was a Marine." Nice, he said, "never said much, but you always knew he was there, taking care of your back."

Templeton added: "If there's a gym in heaven, Gunny's there."

Fontecchio was never much for sermons. At the last ceremony, the chaplain's words didn't capture what was important to the men, he thought. So he wrote out detailed instructions for his own ceremony just in case. No sermons. He added a few words of goodbye on his own:

"I loved every one of you. You will forever be my brothers in arms."

The Marines broke ranks and filed past the upended rifles, each man touching the helmets in farewell. They were slumped. A few shed tears. Salcido crossed himself. Lopez, the last before the honor guard broke, saluted each rifle.

Slowly, the men drifted back to their bunks. Those on duty picked up their helmets and shrugged on their heavy flak jackets.

Sixteen minutes later, the next patrol headed out the gate, trailing a plume of dust in the desert.

2004 The Washington Post Company

http://msnbc.msn.com/id/5688996/

Ellie

thedrifter
08-13-04, 09:18 PM
Aides: Al-Sadr Wounded in Clashes
Friday, August 13, 2004

NAJAF, Iraq Iraqi officials and aides to a radical Shiite cleric negotiated Friday to end fighting that has raged in Najaf for nine days, after American forces suspended an offensive against Muqtada al-Sadr's (search) militia. Al-Sadr's aides said he was wounded by shrapnel, but Iraqi officials said the cleric was involved in the talks.

In the southern city of Basra, gunmen briefly seized a British journalist and threatened to kill him unless coalition forces withdrew from Najaf (search), but they let him go after al-Sadr's aides intervened.

A top al-Sadr aide, Sheik Ali Smeisim, said the cleric wanted a U.S. withdrawal from Najaf and the freeing of all Mahdi Army fighters in detention in exchange, among other demands, for him disarming his followers and ending the fighting.

U.S. troops and Iraqi officials want to ensure that any new truce would eliminate the flaws of the previous truces, which ended a two-month uprising in early June. Al-Sadr militants repeatedly violated that cease-fire, shooting at police and burying caches of weapons in the cemetery and using the time to regroup, according to U.S. officials and witnesses.

With negotiations under way, the U.S. military said it suspended offensive operations against al-Sadr's Mahdi Army militiamen, who are holed up in the city's vast cemetery and the Imam Ali shrine, one of the holiest sites to Shiite Muslims.

"We are allowed to engage the enemy only in self-defense and long enough to break contact," said Maj. Bob Pizzitola, executive officer for the 1st Battalion, 5th Cavalry Regiment of the 1st Cavalry Division. "That was a blanket order for everybody."

He said the militia appeared to have stopped most attacks as well, and the city appeared quieter just one day after the U.S. military launched a major offensive.

"Hopefully, the talks will go well and everything will be resolved peacefully," Pizzitola said.

By Friday afternoon, there was no sign of U.S. or Iraqi forces inside the old city and there were no sounds of clashes.

"We are now celebrating the victory. This means the defeat of the other side," al-Sadr aide Ahmed al-Shaibany said.

The U.S. military said it was still maintaining a loose cordon around the old city, but had repositioned troops after the offensive was suspended.

The U.S. Defense Department (search) said about 2,200 Marines, along with 500 to 1,000 soldiers and an undisclosed number of U.S.-trained Iraqi troops, were involved in Thursday's offensive.

Also Friday, U.S. airstrikes hit Fallujah, witnesses said. There were no immediate reports of injuries. The U.S. military had no immediate comment, but U.S. forces have fought with militants holed up in that Sunni Muslim city for months.

One of Iraq's most senior Shiite religious leaders called for an end to the Najaf battle, as Iraqis took to the streets across the country to protest the fighting.

"What is going on in Najaf and the rest of the Iraqi cities is a violation of sanctities, an aggression on holy sites and shedding of innocent blood that could lead to a vicious civil war," Grand Ayatollah Mohammed Taqi al-Modaresi said during Friday prayers in Karbala.

"I call on everyone to shun violence, stop all military operations and for the immediate withdrawal the troops from the cities."

Najaf Gov. Adnan al-Zurufi said negotiations were being held between officials of Iraq's interim government and al-Sadr's representatives, without participation by U.S. officials. National Security Adviser Mouwaffaq al-Rubaie and Defense Minister Hazem Shalan were both in Najaf, Iraqi officials said.

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said all activities in Najaf were being "closely coordinated" between coalition forces and the Iraqi leadership.

"What's at stake there is no different than what's at stake anywhere in the country: 25 million Iraqi people that have been liberated are on a path toward a free and democratic system. To the extent that people use violence to try to prevent that, they'll be stopped," Rumsfeld said in Partenit, Ukraine.

Al-Sadr has led an uprising against coalition troops for more than a week. An aide, Haider al-Tousi, said the cleric was hit in the chest and leg by shrapnel as he met with militia members near the Imam Ali shrine early Friday, and another aide said his condition was stable.

The Iraqi Interior Ministry said al-Sadr was not wounded and had been involved in the negotiations since Friday morning. Reports about his injury are "an attempt to incite others aiming at escalating the situation," a ministry statement said.

But in Washington, a senior U.S. official, when asked whether al-Sadr had been wounded, said, "That is our understanding." The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the United States learned of al-Sadr's condition from Iraqi sources and did not know anything about the circumstances.

Al-Sadr urged his followers to remain calm.

"We got a letter from him saying: 'Be steadfast and behave rationally. Don't surrender to your emotions,"' Aws al-Khafaji, at al-Sadr's office in the southern town of Nasiriyah, told Al-Jazeera television.

In a sermon read on his behalf during Friday prayers at the Kufa Mosque, al-Sadr said the United States was intent on "occupying the whole world."

"The presence of occupation in Iraq has made our country an unbearable hell," he said. He called on Iraqis to rebel "because I will not allow another Saddam-like government again."

In Basra, police said 30 gunmen abducted British journalist James Andrew Brandon, 23, of the Sunday Telegraph from the Diafa Hotel late Thursday. A video given to Associated Press Television News showed Brandon standing bare-chested with his head bandaged.

The militants said they took Brandon hostage to protest the U.S. military presence in Najaf and threatened to kill him within 24 hours if coalition troops did not leave the city. But he was later brought to al-Sadr's office in Basra and freed.

At an impromptu news conference, Brandon said the kidnappers' attitude changed when Ahmed al-Khalisy, head of the al-Sadr office, condemned his kidnapping and called for his immediate release. He said the gunmen had beaten him and at one point even used an unloaded gun in a mock execution.

Kidnappers in Iraq have seized dozens of hostages in recent months, threatening to kill them in an effort to force out coalition forces and companies that support them.

http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,128865,00.html

Ellie