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NYTimes.com Article: Up to 1,000 Iraqis Confront U.S. Troops in Surprise Attack
by threehegemons
27 March 2003 22:56 UTC
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This article from NYTimes.com 
has been sent to you by threehegemons@aol.com.

The elan with which the Iraqis are resisting the Anglo-Americans would seem to 
require a readjustment in our understanding of what the political dynamics 
within Iraq look like.

Steven Sherman


Up to 1,000 Iraqis Confront U.S. Troops in Surprise Attack

March 27, 2003


NASIRIYAH, Iraq, March 27, - Even as marine officers
proclaimed that this river city would be soon secured after
four days of street fighting, Iraqis launched the largest
and most organized surprise attack yet on the American
battalions south of the Euphrates River as the sun fell

United States infantry units reported as many as 1,000
Iraqi soldiers assembling at a railroad depot just south of
Nasiriyah. Artillery units responded, but the Iraqi
fighters had already fanned out, southward, toward major
marine outposts. The regimental headquarters and the
central command of the valuable artillery batteries both
received machine gun fire and faced the harrowing threat of
being overrun. 

There were 31 injuries - most of them non-serious, like
mild concussions and lacerations - and no reported deaths
among the few hundred marines involved in last night's
fighting. Iraqi casualties were unknown, and in keeping
with the murky identities of the enemy forces in Nasiriyah,
their numbers were called into question. It appeared that
around 1,000 gathered at the railroad, but less than 100
actually fought. American military officers said it was
impossible to tell in the darkness. 

The attack startled an artillery unit heretofore removed by
miles from flying bullets, from the almost-hoarse colonel
cursing, standing and slamming his combat radio on the
table in frustration to the young corporals ordered to the
camp's perimeter berm with their rifles and night vision

When the long night ended with today's dawn, the camps went
on the defensive. Artillery batteries pulled slightly back,
closer to their headquarters. Bulldozers plowed thick berms
around the camps. Throughout the day, the marines dug
"fight holes" deep enough to stand in with only the head
and shoulders exposed. 

They dug in physically, and psychologically. 

A plan to
pull back to a safer spot further south was rejected by the
artillery's commanding officer. 

"I don't want to appear to be running from the battle,"
said. Col. Glenn Starnes, who has led the attacks and
counter fire at Nasiriyah since Sunday morning. Also, he
said, further distance from the infantry will threaten
already temperamental communication lines. Radios routinely
fail, and are quickly replaced in the middle of a battle. 

It began at sundown on Wednesday. Marine units have been
blocking roads that could be used by Iraqi fighters, but
apparently ignored the railroad line. Inside the cramped
command tent, an intelligence officer, Lt. Josh Cusworth,
looked up from his map. 

"That's how they're coming in," he said, pointing. "That
railroad. We're not monitoring it whatsoever. We don't
think they're using it. That's how they're getting in." 

Suddenly, a captain from one of the howitzer batteries
shouted over the radio that his unit was taking machine-gun
fire. "I'm seeing green tracers," he said, referring to
glowing rounds that help rifleman direct their aim. Marines
use red tracers. The artillery battery returned fire. 

South of there, at the headquarters camp, several marines
heard the distinctive whining whoosh of small arms fire
passing overhead. Officers ordered all spare bodies to the
perimeter. "All marines are on the berm," an officer told
the tent. "We've heard rocket sounds." 

Nearby, the regimental headquarters was also taking fire,
and officers quickly arranged to transfer command of the
Nasiriyah fight to the artillery unit if the headquarters
was overrun. In the dark, it was impossible to tell how
close enemy fighters were, whether they lurked within a few
hundred yards. A major, one of the senior officers of the
artillery headquarters, passed his pistol to a younger
marine, grabbed a rifle and ran for the berm. The Iraqis
had chosen the first calm night in some days for their
attack, and the camp was quiet and dark, all unnecessary
light extinguished. 

Throughout the night, artillery fired. Two infantry units
fought very close together, with the enemy fighters in
between so closely that, at one point, there was fear that
friendly artillery may have struck marines. Today, that did
not appear to have been the case, officers said. 

An ambulance left the headquarters camp to collect wounded.
"You've got to be careful sending your ambulance in there,"
Maj. Phil Boggs told a marine doctor, simulating rifle fire
with his free hand. 

A communications officer entered the tent and pulled
several small, electronic boxes from a safe: the codes for
the cryptographic system used to keep radio transmissions
hidden. In the event of the command tent being overrun,
they would be destroyed. Beside the boxes, he set a stack
of papers detailing the coding system, and on top of the
stack, one of the green books of matches that comes with
every ready-made meal that feeds the troops. Under the
table was an empty ammunition box, for burning the
documents. "On your command, sir," he told Colonel Starnes,
who nodded. 

A marine on the berm spotted several civilian vehicles with
his heat-detecting goggles. "The west side? That's this
way," Major Boggs said inside the tent, pointing. "There
should be no friendlies there." After a tense several
minutes, the group of vehicles looked to be people who
lived in the area. "There are mud huts, what do you call
them, shanties," said Capt. Walker Field. "This is
occurring where they are." 

Then, as quickly as it began, the threat of an attack
seemed to ebb as midnight approached. Men finally headed
off for their cots, tucking into sleeping bags under the
stars, their boots and helmets within arms reach. 

Major Boggs looked up at the colonel. "Tonight was a large,
coordinated attack," he said. 

"I think so," the colonel replied. 

Wreckage from the
battle remained along the road north to Nasiriyah today.
Two burned-out Humvees belonged to marines. Several shelled
tanks belonged to the Iraqis, their top hatches thrown
open. Flames spit from a gash in the side of a large oil
tank; a marine artillery misfire dating back to Sunday, and
still burning. 

Fighting slowed today, but did not stop. "We had a good
day," said Lt. Col. Brent Dunahoe, commanding officer of an
artillery battalion outside Nasiriyah. "We captured a
general, we captured an army captain. We found a Baath
headquarters and captured about eight billion documents." 

Colonel Starnes has said that there was always the
expectation of resistance in Nasiriyah, since weeks ago,
when the city's two bridges became part of the grand plan
to move troops north toward Baghdad. But under him, younger
marines were just today accepting the fact that they will
stay bogged down outside Nasiriyah for perhaps days to
come, looking over their shoulders. 

"It's going to get worse," said Lt. Mark Empey. "Everybody
thinks so. They know we're here now."


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