NEAR AD DIWANIYAH, IRAQDuring a two-day operation using tanks and armored assault vehicles, the Marines have cleared Iraqi forces and irregulars out of three relatively small but important towns to the east of Ad Diwaniyah, according to Lt. Col. B.P. McCoy, a commanding officer with the 3rd Battalion, 4th Marines.
The predominately Shiite towns of Hajif, Afak, and Al Budayr, all in the Al Quadisiyah province, are important to the U.S. forces because they fell with relative ease and also because they help open up an eastward road that connects the two main Marine supply routes heading north in west and central Iraq. "We needed this road for lateral communication and supply," McCoy said following the engagement.
The towns were cleared of Iraqi forces by early Monday morning after a few brief skirmishes and follow-up patrols, with McCoy's tanks and armored assault vehicles coming under attack by predominately nonuniformed soldiers firing small arms. McCoy said that they only encountered real resistance in Afak, the largest town, with around 25,000 residents. The other two towns, each containing fewer than 6,000 people, came under Marine control bloodlessly. He said the heaviest weapon used by the Iraqi forces appeared to have been 50-caliber machine guns during the fight for Afak. About 20 Iraqi soldiers were killed and 23 prisoners taken, he said, noting that his marines suffered no casualties or wounds. "We went in there heavy enough to fight for communication and heavy enough to get out," he said.
His troops also cleared a Baath Party headquarters in Al Budayr. "We did a cordon and a sweep and caught them trying to get out the back door," McCoy said, adding that several important documents were also retrieved containing names of officials. He declined to go into further detail about the documents.
After entering the towns, with what was described as a show of "violence supremacy" to quickly disable any enemy force, McCoy said translators and civil affairs officers were quickly sent out to explain to the townspeople that the troops were not there to hurt them and to let them know "that America is here to stay as long as you need us." He added that his troops have been trained to avoid offending Iraqis they meetfor example, by not speaking to or looking at any women they come across. They have been told to be "respectful and courteous, but not friendly," he said, adding that while many in the towns remained a bit reserved, when things died down, his troops were met by large crowds of well-wishers, including children.
Unlike the crowds that have developed when U.S. forces entered some other Iraqi towns, these were not hiding gunmen. "I had my crap detector out, looking to see whether they were a real crowd or a rent-a-crowd," McCoy said. "But you could tell because there were lots of children," he added. "It was a good day's work.