Cracking An Insurgent Cell
Finding--and breaking--the ruthless killers of Iraq is not a pretty business. An exclusive inside look at how it's done
Beatings. In the One West courtyard, Fox and Alleathe walk up to Majeed. The Iraqi Army is not bound by the three-day limit the Americans have imposed on themselves. Majeed, Fox believes, will be able to get the detainees to talk about IED s, weapons, and other cell members. There's just one catch, though. The Iraqi Army has a reputation for beating prisoners. And Fox knows that if the detainees are hurt, he'll be held accountable. "It is very important," he tells Majeed, "that these guys not be harmed."
Majeed stares back at Fox. "These guys," he says, "got hit hard by the police."
Fox moves on. "If you get any actionable intelligence, let us know, and we will do a joint op."
A shaking Nashwan and Adel are loaded onto the Stryker. As they are placed in the back, one of the American soldiers whispers to the detainees in English: "We are taking you to the peshmerga."
Actually, Majeed's battalion, a former Iraqi National Guard unit, is mostly Sunni Arab, not Kurdish. But as they are ushered off the Stryker and toward Majeed's office, Nashwan and Adel don't know that. As far as they can tell, they're at a Kurdish base. Perhaps as a result, a transformation has come over Adel. The defiant young man who said he wanted to kill the Americans is now sobbing uncontrollably. As he passes Fox, Adel whispers something in Arabic. Later, Alleathe translates: "He said, 'I am sorry about today. I didn't mean it.' "
Inside Majeed's office, Nashwan holds his hands together in prayer. Adel looks nervous. The American officers suspect that Adel had thought relatives might persuade the police to release him. Now he expects to be beaten. "I thought we were staying with the Americans," Adel says.
Fox turns to Majeed: "Find out the information."
As the clock approaches midnight, Fox's gamble pays off. Majeed calls. Nashwan has begun talking, giving his real name, Ahmed Mohammed Ali, and revealing the location of a cache of weapons. Within minutes, Fox arrives at Majeed's base with four Strykers. Majeed outlines his plan. Three of the Strykers--equipped with thermal imaging gear that allows soldiers to see at night--will form an outer cordon. Then one of the Iraqi platoons will form an inner cordon, while the other searches for the suspect vehicle in a parking lot. Fox nods: The plan sounds good. Gently, he suggests that Majeed take a squad of Americans into the parking lot with him. Majeed agrees.
The Iraqis bring along Nashwan, his eyes blindfolded with blacked-out goggles and his hands bound. The parking lot, it turns out, is less than 200 yards from a polling site. It's so close, in fact, that the raiding party passes a group of American engineers installing protective barriers around the voting area. With Nashwan's help, the Iraqis quickly locate a van with weapons concealed in a roof compartment--three rocket-propelled grenade launchers, two sniper rifles, an antitank rocket launcher, and a stash of ammunition, grenades, and rockets. It is, Nashwan says, all of the cell's weapons. Fox turns to Majeed. Both men grin broadly. "This is a major win for the IA [Iraqi Army]," Fox tells him. "This is the best combined operation we've had." Fox is ecstatic. It is his greatest victory yet in his four months in Iraq. This is what the Americans ought to be doing, he thinks: helping the Iraqis help themselves.