Patrolling GIs Gaining Confidence in Iraqi Troops

Ar Ridwaniyah, Iraq – Hunting farm-to-farm for insurgents, Staff Sgt. Jeremy Daniel tramped through chest-high green wheat, drenched in sweat under his armor and helmet, boots caked with mud.

He sang, “Got to get some way out of here, said the joker to the thief.”

The 25-year-old from West Fork, Ark., said the slog through the field was probably what soldiers must have felt like in Vietnam. His father fought in Vietnam and returned home to jeers after thousands died on counterinsurgency missions like the one he was on now.

On a recent sweep south of Baghdad, the Colorado-based 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment began a mission intended to help stabilize the country without getting bogged down in a complex scenario similar to Vietnam’s.

Daniel and fellow soldiers from the 3rd ACR teamed up with 140 Iraqi soldiers – putting an Iraqi face on the fight against insurgents. So to his left and right and left, Iraqi troops also searched the wheat field.

One of the American soldiers found two Kalashnikov assault rifles and two green Russian crates full of ammunition stashed in the wheat. At a nearby farm, Iraqi Lt. Col. Jassim Abbas decided to question resident Ayad Talal about his neighbor.

At first Talal had said his neighbors were “good people.” But when told the neighbors had illegal weapons and ammunition stashed in their field, along a road where soldiers had been regularly attacked, Talal pretended not to know them.

Abbas had Talal kneel in the dirt with his hands tied behind him.

His brother, Faisal Talal, insisted they knew nothing. “If we knew anything, we would tell the American soldiers. Bad people put bombs on the roads. We are afraid of them.”

Abbas still pressed, alternatively standing over Talal, then squatting close to him and peering into his face.

U.S. 1st Lt. Carlos Montalvan watched the encounter. Talal “is probably thinking these guys could shoot me in the back of the head,” said Montalvan, 31, a burly ex-cop from Rockville, Md. “It is especially good in this case, because it is an Iraqi taking him away. It is Iraqi enforcement of law. Everyone in this area will know about this, and they will know that Iraqis, and the Americans, mean business.”

During a break on this recent day, Daniel and his cohorts slumped against the front bumper of a Humvee in 100-degree heat eating pre-packaged meals, sizing up their new partners.

“Last time, you wouldn’t hang out with any Iraqis,” Daniel said, comparing this with the cavalry’s first deployment in 2003 and 2004. “Now, we got ’em walking with us. I almost feel like a waste here.”

These Iraqi soldiers from an elite brigade seemed disciplined, said Daniel, the father of an 8-month-old girl. “If we could get a couple thousand more Iraqis like these, could be good.” One Iraqi that morning seemed eager to learn how to run a metal detector.

Staff Sgt. Gerald Betances nodded. “It’s easier having them with us, (to) deal with the detainees.”

These Iraqis eventually “could do this mission by themselves,” Sgt. 1st Class Robert Metzger said. “I’d have no qualms with that. That’s what we want. Then we could go home.”