Brothers In Arms
In Fallujah, U.S. Marine advisers are trying to develop a few good men
McCarty says the marines would be better off just giving the Iraqi military formal control of Fallujah. But Marine officers like Huggins and Col. Mark Gurganus, who oversees military operations around Fallujah, disagree. The Iraqis need more skills before control is handed over to them. Move too fast, they say, and that will set up the Iraqis for failure.
Fallujah is very much still a scarred city trying to rebuild after last November's intense battle between U.S. forces and Sunni insurgents. While the bulk of the Iraqi Army's efforts go into conducting patrols and manning checkpoints, there is the occasional modest humanitarian relief mission. As about 250 schoolgirls looked on last week, the jundi unloaded supplies from the back of a Marine humvee including Beanie Babies, jump-ropes, notebooks, and pens into a classroom for the teachers to distribute. Of course, nothing in Iraq is simple: The next day, parents complained that the teachers didn't distribute the supplies and instead took them home. "You can't make this stuff up," says Huggins. "I'd like to think the semester is coming to an end and the teachers decided to save it for the fall, but I am not so naive."
As more civilians have begun returning to Fallujah, so has the scourge of the Iraq war, the improvised explosive device. The Marine advisers for the 2nd Brigade, who just recently received armored humvees, and the Iraqi soldiers, who pile in the back of small unarmored Nissan pickup trucks, have begun to avoid some of Fallujah's main streets because of the threat of bombs. Last week, the 2nd Battalion found several roadside bombs before they could be triggered. The 1st Battalion, which patrols northeast Fallujah, was not so lucky; a roadside bomb went off as a mixed patrol of Iraqi soldiers and U.S. marines passed by, killing Pfc. Joshua Klinger, 21, of Easton, Pa. The Iraqi Intervention Force is just as much a target as the Americans, in part because it is a largely Shiite group in an overwhelmingly Sunni city. (Indeed, some of the jundi say they are former members of Moqtada al-Sadr's militia. When they plastered pictures of Sadr on the company cars, the marines ordered the pictures removed.)
The growing number of civilians and the rising threat of bomb attacks have led to a growing number of confrontations between Iraqi troops and Fallujah residents. Ka-pop! At the sound of an AK-47 firing from the rear of the patrol, Master Sgt. Dan Whitton started moving toward the sound. "Escalation of force!" shouted a Marine infantryman. A white pickup truck continued to approach, and an Iraqi jundi fired a second shot, hitting the driver's door. The pickup stopped. The driver, hit in the leg, was not seriously injured and was sent to the hospital in a taxi. Back at the company base, Whitton praises the jundi : "Very good aim; he did very good."
But a similar confrontation the next day does not go so well. During another patrol, an Iraqi jundi stopped an approaching vehicle, only to have the car behind it swerve and drive forward toward the patrol. According to the Marine adviser, the jundi dropped to his knee and fired at the approaching car. But the car swerved again, and the bullet slammed into the previously stopped vehicle, killing the driver. A few hours after the incident, Huggins huddled with Capt. Jody White, who leads the Marine infantry unit that oversees this section of Fallujah, to discuss the repercussions and compensation for the victim's brother. "We have to take care of him," White said. "If not, he is a prime candidate for the insurgency." Huggins nodded: "If not actively, then passively."