By DEXTER FILKINS
DIWANIYA, Iraq, March 28 ? At the base camp of the Fifth Marine Regiment here, two sharpshooters, Sgt. Eric Schrumpf, 28, and Cpl. Mikael McIntosh, 20, sat on a sand berm and swapped combat tales while their column stood at a halt on the road toward Baghdad. For five days this week, the two men rode atop armored personnel carriers, barreling up Highway 1.
They said Iraqi fighters had often mixed in with civilians from nearby villages, jumping out of houses and cars to shoot at them, and then often running away. The marines said they had little trouble dispatching their foes, most of whom they characterized as ill trained and cowardly.
“We had a great day,” Sergeant Schrumpf said. “We killed a lot of people.”
Sergeant Schrumpf said that while most Iraqi soldiers had posed little danger, a small number appeared to be well trained and calm under fire. Some, the sergeant added, wore black suits, described by some Iraqis as the uniform of the Saddam Feydayeen, a militia of die-hard loyalists of Saddam Hussein.
Both marines said they were most frustrated by the practice of some Iraqi soldiers to use unarmed women and children as shields against American bullets. They called the tactic cowardly but agreed that it had been effective. Both Sergeant Schrumpf and Corporal McIntosh said they had declined several times to shoot at Iraqi soldiers out of fear they might hit civilians.
“It’s a judgment call,” Corporal McIntosh said. “If the risks outweigh the losses, then you don’t take the shot.”
But in the heat of a firefight, both men conceded, when the calculus often warps, a shot not taken in one set of circumstances may suddenly present itself as a life-or-death necessity.
“We dropped a few civilians,” Sergeant Schrumpf said, “but what do you do?”
To illustrate, the sergeant offered a pair of examples from earlier in the week.
“There was one Iraqi soldier, and 25 women and children,” he said, “I didn’t take the shot.”
But more than once, Sergeant Schrumpf said, he faced a different choice: one Iraqi soldier standing among two or three civilians. He recalled one such incident, in which he and other men in his unit opened fire. He recalled watching one of the women standing near the Iraqi soldier go down.
“I’m sorry,” the sergeant said. “But the chick was in the way.”
The two marines recalled their battlefield experiences as American commanders halted one of the three main columns advancing toward Baghdad today. The commanders said a combination of tenacious Iraqi resistance and overexposed supply lines had prompted them to catch their breath.
Officers with the First Marine Division, whose troops have driven 200 miles into Iraqi over the past week, ordered their troops to stop their northward push up Highway 1. The column, comprising about 14,000 marines, is the middle of a three-pronged effort to attack Baghdad.
The Marine force, strung out along the highway in the Iraqi desert about 100
miles south of Baghdad, has met steadily fiercer Iraqi resistance since it crossed the Euphrates River earlier this week. Soldiers fighting on the front lines near here said they had killed hundreds of Iraqi soldiers and irregulars this week.
American commanders said today that they wanted to consolidate the gains they have made, mainly by attacking pockets of Iraqi soldiers who have continued to harass their convoys 100 miles to the south. They also said the halt was necessary to give the Third Infantry Division, which is engaged in heavy fighting to the west, time to catch up.
“We have run into some pretty stiff resistance here on the highway,” said Col. Joe Dunford. “It has slowed us a bit. We don’t need to move as fast as we have over the past few days.”
Colonel Dunford and other American officers were unable to predict when the Marine column would resume its march. But the commanders said the “operational pause,” as they called it, was nothing more than a pit stop on the way to Baghdad. They also said the halt in the ground advance would likely be offset by the continued bombardment of Baghdad by the Air Force.
Still, the decision to halt represents another sign that American military planners had underestimated the breadth and ferocity of resistance that the Iraqis would offer, particularly in the cities the American-led forces had been hoping to bypass.
Fighting between Iraqi and American soldiers has raged intermittently for much of the week. Last night, under Iraqi mortar fire, American commanders sounded alerts for poison gas three times.
Three Americans have been killed in the fighting here over the last five days, and an unknown number wounded. American soldiers said they had killed hundreds of Iraqi soldiers who tried to block the American advance. For much of the week, the skies here were filled with Cobra gunships circling suspected Iraqi troop concentrations. Fighter bombers dropped 2,000 bombs, which set the earth rumbling.
“I think a pretty fair number have been killed,” Colonel Dunford said.
At an American camp along the highway here, soldiers returning from several days of fighting sketched a consistent picture of the Iraqi resistance, as well as the successes and failures they were having in confronting it. As the Americans pushed northward, they often encountered two types of fighters: large groups of Iraqis who appeared to be untrained and unmotivated, and who posed little threat, and others who fought furiously, even after the marines responded with overwhelming firepower.
Some American soldiers said they had found large quantities of freshly printed Iraqi currency, some in unsealed blocks, in the pockets of captured Iraqi soldiers, suggesting that they had been paid recently in an effort to encourage them to fight.
from the New York Times. I’m sure in most other parts of the world statements like those made by those US soldiers will not be regarded as nonchalantly. I remember the days when the NY Times would be filled with disgust about Serbian soldiers saying stuff like that about the “chick” who got killed. Isn’t it amazing how things change?