As the conflict in Iraq continues, U.S. News has dispatched Pentagon correspondent Julian E. Barnes for a frontline view. Barnes, who has periodically reported from Iraq since the war began in 2003, is blogging his impressions for usnews.com.
The "no-roll" went into effect in Mosul today. In advance of Thursday's elections, the Iraqi and American authorities banned all vehicles from driving in Iraq's cities, to try to minimize the threat of people planting bombs on roads or near polling sites.
But of course there were people who did not get the word. Some were bound, blindfolded, and searched for explosives before being escorted to a checkpoint at the city limits. Others were told to go on their way. And when there was no translator present, things got confusing.
One man and his son were stopped outside Mosul after they were mistakenly let through a checkpoint. After searching the pickup truck, the Americans decided to let them go and tried to tell the man to turn around and head to his home outside Mosul.
"Drive to the Arches," said one soldier, referring to the checkpoint.
"No English," said the man.
"Listen to me. Drive to Arches along Santa Fe," said the soldier, referring to the American code name for the road he was driving onnames most Iraqis do not know.
"No anything," the man said. "Don't speak English."
"Okay. Drive Arches," the soldier said, making a steering motion with his hands.
"Mister go?" the man replied.
"Go that way," said a second soldier pointing down the street.
Back inside the platoon's vehicle, Pfc. Kevin Koepke turned to Spc. David Long.
"No el rollo in el carro," Koepke said "Maybe if we speak Spanish they will understand."
Long looked at him. "I wonder when we are going to learn they don't speak English."
A toy and a doctor for a little girl
Sgt. 1st Class Michael Steffey and his platoon returned to the home of the girl injured last January in a roadside bomb attack. This time they had in tow a new stuffed animal for Amal Khalil Ibrahim as well as Capt. Jessie Norton, the battalion's physician assistant. Norton, with the help of a translator, reviewed Amal's medical records. According to Norton, the girl's main problem is that her leg, still filled with shrapnel, healed improperly and her bone is bent.
The injury makes it difficult for her to bend her knee properly, and she cannot climb stairs. The bone will need to be rebroken and a pin stuck in. At Steffey's urging, 2nd Lt. James Snoddy, the platoon leader, Norton, and other battalion officials are trying to see if the military combat hospital will do the surgery.
"We are trying to make a special case and take her to our hospital," Norton told the girl's father, Khalil Ibrahim. "If that doesn't work we will try to get the money for her to go to Al Jamouri." Al Jamouri is a local hospital in Mosul.
The military's rules prevent Iraqis who were not injured by American actions to be treated in the combat support hospital. But Snoddy said later that while it is impossible to help every Iraqi who has been injured by a roadside bomb, when it comes to the case of Amal, he is going to back his platoon sergeant up.
"Sergeant Steffey has a softer heart," Snoddy said. "But Sergeant Steffey has 20 years in the military, so I defer to him."
And again today, for the second time this week, the platoon's work on behalf of the girl was rewarded by a roadside bomb, this one detonating next to Steffey's vehicle. But neither bombs nor military bureaucracy are going to stop Steffey.
"Before I leave Iraq," he says, "I am going to help that little girl."