[Marxism] An invisible enemy

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Thu May 12 07:52:10 MDT 2005


LA Times, May 12, 2005
THE CONFLICT IN IRAQ
An Unseen Enemy
Marines find themselves vulnerable as they search for insurgents in desert 
villages of remote western Iraq.

By Solomon Moore, Times Staff Writer

The Marines of Kilo Company were on the fourth day of an offensive against 
insurgents in western Iraq, but they had seen little action Wednesday until 
a loud boom rocked this Euphrates River village, followed by the frantic 
screams of young troops.

They stopped their convoy and looked back to see an amphibious vehicle 
engulfed in flames. They knew that about 18 Marines from Lima Company of 
the 3rd Battalion, 25th Regiment, were in the vehicle, which had apparently 
struck a roadside bomb.

Within minutes, the vehicle's gas tanks exploded, setting off mortar 
shells, grenades, bars of C-4 plastic explosives and thousands of 
machine-gun rounds inside. Rockets randomly shot out of the vehicle. The 
explosives would crackle and thunder for the next hour.

Marines from Kilo, traveling 500 yards ahead of Lima, rushed to rescue 
their comrades trapped inside the burning wreck. A Times reporter traveling 
with Kilo Company followed them.

Some troops ran through thick, black smoke and pulled out wounded men, 
lining up some of them within feet of the fire.

Some of the wounded suffered third-degree burns. Seared flesh hung from 
their bodies. Most of the wounded had severe burns on their arms and faces. 
Others had shrapnel wounds. A 3-inch shard of metal protruded from one 
Marine's abdomen.

Marines who survived the blast said they believed that four troops died in 
the vehicle. Officials on the scene and in Baghdad declined to confirm the 
casualty toll.

Lt. Sam McAmis, who commanded a Marine platoon in the operation, recounted 
trying to pull a wounded sergeant from the fire, but the man's ammunition 
pouch was stuck in the vehicle's hatch. McAmis said he yanked him out.

"When he came out, my hand was inside his leg, inside his muscle," he said.

Another wounded man inside was not as lucky.

"One of my lance corporals went in to try to get some more people, but 
there was too much fire," McAmis said. "One Marine had burns over his face. 
The last thing he did was reach his hand out and an explosion went off" — 
killing him.

Sgt. Dennis Wollard of Biloxi, Miss., who survived the explosion, sat 
glassy-eyed and bare-chested against a building on the edge of the field. 
He lamented that he couldn't save all the men inside.

"I was at the back door," Wollard said. "I couldn't get 'em all. There had 
to be six still in there. I don't know how they could've gotten out."

Another Marine, speaking with a senior officer, held back tears. "I 
couldn't get to them all, sir. It was just too hot," he said, shaking his head.

As the Marines treated their wounded comrades, retired Marine Lt. Col. 
Oliver North, the Iran-Contra scandal figure, filmed the operation with a 
digital video recorder issued by his employer, Fox News. North, who was 
dressed in Marine camouflage, is traveling with Kilo Company.

About half an hour after the explosion, two Black Hawk helicopters swooped 
down to take the wounded to the base at Al Qaim near the Syrian border.

The Marines in Abu Hardan stood near the blast scene. Some appeared 
stunned. Others were angry.

"It was my fault, it was my fault!" shouted a Marine who identified himself 
as the driver of the amphibious vehicle. He appeared to be uninjured.

Wednesday was the fourth day of a major U.S. assault to rid remote western 
Iraqi villages of guerrillas. More than 1,000 troops are participating in 
the offensive.

Since Sunday, Marines said they had killed at least 110 insurgents. Three 
Americans had been killed and 25 wounded before the attack on the 
amphibious vehicle. About 20 Lima Company Marines have been killed or 
wounded since the fighting began.

Kilo Company had spent most of Wednesday sweeping through this village of 
farms and two-story stone houses along the Euphrates.

They wanted to take control of the Ramana Bridge, where Marines this week 
took heavy fire from insurgents. Immediately after entering the town, they 
found a house with a red van parked in a carport. Wires hung out of the gas 
tank, often a sign of a vehicle bomb.

"We took constant mortar fire from over here. Anybody who comes over that 
bridge gets lit up," said 3rd Platoon commander Lt. Joseph Clemmey, 26, of 
Worcester, Mass. "This was supposed to be the mission from God, and so far 
we've been out here and we haven't seen nothing. This was the climactic 
moment we were all waiting for, and no one is here."

Two eight-wheeled light armored vehicles broke out of the convoy to train 
their heavy guns on the vehicle.

"Yeah!" one eager Marine called out.

A few moments later, the guns pounded the van into flames. The rounds burst 
holes through the front of a nearby house.

A few blocks to the south, rebel fighters fired on Marines. Troops manning 
tank-mounted machine guns fired back. The rounds blasted holes through a 
house on the far side of a field.

When the shooting stopped, Marines blared warnings in Arabic from 
loudspeakers atop a Humvee, demanding that the villagers leave their homes 
and surrender.

Men in traditional dishdasha robes, women carrying babies, youths in 
basketball shorts and an old man with a walking stick emerged from their 
homes and began walking toward the Marines with their hands raised. Several 
residents waved white flags out of their windows.

Clemmey ordered his men to search the people and put them in a walled-off 
garden.

"Our house is beside the river. Some people we didn't know came and entered 
our house and shot from the house. And then the Americans shot at us," said 
Hassan Rashash, a retired local government official who was sitting against 
the wall.

He was exasperated. "We cannot go, this is our home. We fight them. We 
argue. We tell them, 'We have women. We have children.' But we cannot force 
them to go. What can we do?" he complained.

"You know this is the main road. From here the terrorists come from Syria, 
and they can go all the way to Mosul," said Mohammed Salah Sulayman, a 
retired professor who was also being detained. "The terrorists, they move 
into our houses in the night. We can't do anything. Most of these people 
here came to my house because they can't go to their own homes."

Other residents also described, in halting English, how foreign fighters 
intimidated the community.

"Most people here are like me," Rashash said. "You can't love these people 
who come in your house, in your garden. Who would want this? We are glad 
the Americans are here."

Clemmey's platoon was followed by a tank. Its main barrel bore its moniker: 
Stink Fist.

"Remember," Clemmey shouted to his troops in a New England accent, "anyone 
who has not left the city can be considered hostile."

Marines fanned through waist-high wheat fields looking for mines and bombs. 
Locked doors were kicked in or blown through with explosive charges. 
Cabinets were opened and clothes bags emptied in the search for weapons and 
bomb-making equipment.

But the city was deserted.

"We're fighting an invisible enemy," said Sgt. Jeffrey Swartzentruber of 
Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. "They're like the 
 CIA."

--

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