View Full Version : Marines search for remnants of Iraqi regime at checkpoints

04-13-03, 06:43 AM
April 12, 2003

Marines search for remnants of Iraqi regime at checkpoints

By Burt Herman
Associated Press

ALONG ROUTE 7, Central Iraq (AP) — Seven men sat in the dried mud along the road, hands bound by white plastic cuffs. The men had arrived in an armored vehicle with four loaded Kalashnikov rifles. U.S. Marines guarded them warily.
Detaining the men could have seemed a clear call for the Marines manning the checkpoint on the road outside Kut, where intelligence reports said possibly thousands of foreign fighters were holed up.

But after Maj. Clint Nussberger of the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit questioned each man and their story of being opposition fighters on a shopping trip checked out, the Marines confiscated the weapons and let the men go.

The search for top Iraqi officers and leaders continues at checkpoints like this across the country, with Marines trying to balance the need for security and the risk of potential suicide bombers against the sensitivities of the Iraqi people who will be led by a U.S.-imposed government.

Marine intelligence officers said earlier this week that unconfirmed intelligence reports placed anywhere from a couple hundred to 5,000 foreign fighters in Kut — 150 kilometers (95 miles) northwest of Baghdad.

The foreigners, who “bought a one-way ticket to Allah” in the words of one Marine major, included possible al-Qaida members, and reportedly had come from Syria, Jordan, Yemen and Chechnya.

Helicopter gunships circled over Kut on Saturday as a cloud of black smoke rose from the city, surrounded by Marines.

About nine kilometers (six miles) south of Kut, explosions shook the ground as the Marines blasted a trench alongside the new checkpoint so no vehicles could drive off Route 7, which runs from Baghdad to Nasiriyah. Two Humvees, one with a machine gun, the other with a TOE anti-tank missile, stood guard.

After Iraqi men filed out of their vehicles, Marines asked them to pull up their sleeves — looking for tattoos that could indicate military affiliation. An eagle, the Iraqi national symbol, with rays coming out of it, is one military symbol, while tattoos of two hearts with arrows through them belong to Republican Guard troops. Fedayeen paramilitaries have tattoos running across their knuckles.

Marines pat them down for weapons possibly hidden beneath long shirts and robes and check vehicles. The troops also check identification for military connections; anyone who is a colonel or higher is deemed worthy for detention.

A trio of black-robed women started crying and hugging each other after Marines insisted on searching them, in violation of Muslim religious beliefs. There are no women Marines here to conduct searches, but the troops have to check everyone.

Nussberger, 34, of Ogema, Wis., who speaks Arabic, does what he can not to offend locals.

The men in the armored jeep insisted they were opposition fighters looking to get food for poor families inside Kut, and one had a shopping list in his pocket with items such as sugar and tahini sauce substantiating the story.

“We have to make sure Marines don’t get shot by Saddam Fedayeen or Baath Party militia and at the same time you don’t want to alienate the populace,” said Nussberger.

Copyright 2003 The Associated Press