By Master Sgt. Rick Brown, Military Transition TeamJanuary 10, 2007
BAGHDAD (American Forces Press Service, Jan. 8, 2007) - As the New Year dawns bright, soldiers from 3rd Battalion, 5th Brigade, 6th Iraqi Army Division, are stepping up pressure on insurgent leaders in the Karkh section of Baghdad.
The soldiers of the 3rd Battalion take the responsibility of protecting all citizens, both Shia and Sunni, very seriously. The leadership, working with intelligence gained from the residents of the neighborhoods, have developed a top-three list of insurgents who operate in the area that they intend to capture.
Adil Tamra, a man who reportedly kills people for the sport of it, is at the top of that list. Stories abound about Tamra and rival leaders playing a deadly game of "one-upsmanship" where each man taunts the others to kill more men today than he did yesterday. "He's just like Saddam Hussein", said an Iraqi intelligence officer who works with the battalion. "He sits there and shoots people in the head, because they don't share the same beliefs as him."
Much to the frustration of the battalion, Tamra has proven to stay just one step ahead of the Iraqi Army. "We raided Adil Tamra's house yesterday," said team leader Iraqi Army Maj. Ahmed during a combat patrol through the area Jan. 4. "We found his (explosive) vest, some mortars and an RPG. The information we had told us he was in the house minutes before we arrived."
Clearing insurgents from Baghdad's neighborhoods comes with a price. Some members of the 3rd Battalion have received death threats against them and their families from Tamra and the others on the list. "They know we're getting very close to them," said one Iraqi officer, who asked not be identified for security reasons. "They are worried. We are becoming very effective against them."
While the battalion conducts many missions on its own, they are sometimes joined by a Military Transition Team (MiTT) from the 2nd Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division. The Jan. 4 combat patrol through the area was such a case.
The MiTT and the two Bradley fighting vehicles they brought with them, were a welcome asset to the patrol because contact with the enemy was expected. Even though contact was expected, Maj. Chris Norrie, the MiTT leader hoped, "maybe because they haven't seen Bradleys here in so long, they'll just lay low and it'll be a quiet day out there." But experience also told him that contact was more likely the case.
Bradley's were last seen on neighborhood streets more than 16 months ago.
With Ahmed leading the combat patrol, the large convoy headed through an intersection known as Talil Square. This intersection is such a popular spot for enemy snipers to engage Iraqi and coalition troops that shell casings litter the intersection.
Just off Talil Square, Ahmed stopped the patrol and signaled for his troops to begin cutting open the sandbags that block the alleys. He then requested assistance from one of the coalition fighting vehicles to help out with a larger, more complex position.
"You could see, as we tore down the sandbags, there were hundreds of empty (shell casings) from AK-47's," Ahmed later explained through an interpreter. "The insurgents use the sandbags to stand up and shoot at the Iraqi Army and coalition, then they duck down and hide so we can't shoot them."
The narrow alleyways and close proximity of the buildings in these neighborhoods make it difficult to use heavy fire-power, according to MiTT members. They say they just can't risk the possibility of hurting or killing innocent civilians that live in the congested area.
While tearing down one of the fighting positions, an explosion occurred about 20 meters from where soldiers were completing their task. It was a small explosive device and only one minor coalition injury was sustained. The soldier was treated and released immediately following the mission.
The Jan. 4 mission was a success for two reasons. The first was three insurgent fighting positions were destroyed by Iraqi and coalition forces. The second is far more important but less tangible. Ahmed said local citizens began walking up to the patrol to talk to them.
"These people from the Sheik Marouf area, they glorified the Iraqi Army today," Ahmed said, "and they were grateful for what we do in setting (traffic control points) and for patrolling the area. They told me they pray to God to bless us and they asked the Iraqi army to protect them from Adil Tamra and the others because they are terrorists."
Ahmed said one of the local citizens told him that while he and his men were tearing down the sand bags, insurgents a few blocks away were trying to kidnap a group of civilians. The local citizen also told Ahmed the insurgents caught wind of the combat patrol moving through the area and released the victims and ran for cover.
"Today's mission was very successful and the evidence I can give you is that the people were very grateful for us being there," Ahmed stated.
He also understands that he and his troops face an enemy that, for the moment, is better armed than his fledgling team. "We've had a lot of progress in the past year," he said. "A year ago, the Iraqi Army didn't have the Humvees, we didn't have a lot of equipment. Today, we are still short on weapons. The enemy has RPGs, mortars and grenades, so we still need proper weapons," he continued, "weapons that are at least equivalent to our enemy's. Soldiers are telling me 'if we have a grenade or an RPG, I will kill all the insurgents.'"
The battalion's noncommissioned officer in-charge, Iraqi Army Sgt. Maj. Sarmed, said he recognizes the strides his team has made, but also acknowledges that there's a long way to go. "With the 6th Division, we never took the lead until recently. Now we're doing missions on our own. Back in the day we were led by the coalition," he recalled through an interpreter. "It's a lot better now, but we would love to have the coalition (come out with us) more. It's not because we're weak - everybody knows about the fights we get into every day. To be very honest, I still want the (coalition here) so we can keep going forward and not slip backward."
Ahmed said his team will continue to put pressure on Tamra and the other insurgents that take up residence in this area of Baghdad. "What we seek is to help the Iraqi people that have no power - from the Sunni side, from the Shia side - to help these civilian people, these innocent people that are under the threat of these insurgents," he said. "So our job is to help these people, to release them from the insurgents who are putting pressure on them and putting them in danger."