Sunday, February 18, 2007

Perspective: Suddenly, an invisible enemy

In Baqoubah, in the Iraqi province of Diyala, unpleasant questions get answered very quickly. There is a startling pop, and then: 'Who fired that shot? Did you fire that shot?'

One of the American soldiers of Bravo Company of the 1/12 Cavalry is shouting at the accompanying Iraqi army troops, hoping against hope, it appears, that a weapon has been accidentally discharged. We are standing in a narrow dirt street lined with single-storey houses. In places sewage has pooled in oily green puddles on the road's surface and there is a nasty smell.

The tense soldiers had been advancing in a column down the street, hugging the walls on either side, while the Iraqi troops tried to engage householders in conversation, handing out 'tip-off' cards with numbers to call anonymously with information on suspected terrorists and asking for the home of the mayor of Burhiz. The welcome is almost friendly at first. People come out. But no one strays far from the doors of their homes.

A second shot, closer and sharper in tone. It was no accident but sniper fire that quickly turns into something more dangerous still as the soldiers advance, beginning to jog towards the source of the shooting. The first group bunch and duck behind an Iraqi Humvee for cover, as the firing intensifies into repeated blasts. Fifty or so metres down the road, at a garbage-strewn crossroads, it is suddenly clear that they have been led towards a crossfire and, perhaps, a trap.

Read the rest at the Guardian