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Night Raid in Baghdad


Blake Powers, the Laughing Wolf and's Civilian-in-Residence, is in Iraq reporting for PMI/The Long War Journal and Blackfive...donations to PMI (a non-profit media organization) keep independent reporting possible from the Long War.

"Come on, come on," mutters the raid commander in a low voice, talking almost to himself as the convoy began moving into the target area. Moving into the target area of Baghdad, everyone can easily imagine the people in the first clumps of buildings calling ahead to warn what was coming.

The column moved in, all the parts of the raid arriving at the target area together to try and seal it off.  Those in overwatch scan not just for threats, but for people running, trying to get away.  The designated teams move in, hitting the targets almost as one.

Intelligence had been developed indicating that assets of JAM, a terrorist organization that is as problematic -- if not more so -- than Al Queda in some areas, were in the area.  The decision to try and take these assets had been made, and I found myself riding with the commander as the mixed column of Humvees and Bradleys moved rapidly through the streets to link up with others at the target.

Almost as quickly as our vehicle stopped, I could hear reports of teams moving out.  Shortly after, I could hear the sounds of gates being forced.

In Iraq, as is true in many places outside of the United States, the homes have an exterior courtyard that is walled and has a metal gate. In more well-to-do areas, there may be a gate for a vehicle and a gate for people, but most have just one gate for both.  The doors into the homes are most often metal, and have multiple locking systems.  The walls of the courtyard may have obstacles on top,ranging from somewhat decorative to broken bottles in cement.

Exactly how one enters a home or building depends on what is being done.  Sometimes, the troops simply knock and or ask that the gate and doors be opened, and the people do so.  One soldier may even go over the gate or wall, and simply open it from inside.  In cases where one is dealing with not-so-nice people, sledge hammers and other tools are employed.  In extreme cases, small explosive charges or even vehicles can be used to pop a gate and allow a team quick entry.

Our raid used tools for the most part, though I heard later from the troops that one enterprising soldier did indeed go over and help make things easy at another target.  The gate and door at the target closest to the commander had been reinforced, and the entry was difficult.  The commander followed the team, and we moved in behind, making sure those clearing the building knew that we were there.

It was clear that someone had been there very recently, perhaps even minutes before the teams arrived.  Cell phones are ubiquitous here, and the concern from earlier as our column had moved in were not far fetched.  Other teams had much better luck, and once the homes and buildings that were the subject of the raid had been cleared, teams began to search.

Meantime, people were secured as well. In homes, whole families from youngest to oldest may sleep in a large common room, and other homes may have visitors as well.  Other things happen, which means that the teams may have to deal with detaining and talking to a dozen or more men -- which is what faced this raid.  One home was used for holding and interviews, with the men who had been rounded up kept out in the courtyard, separated, and in flexi-cuffs for safety.  Inside, the commander and others talked first with the women of the home, both reassuring and learning as much as they could.

Older males were allowed to use the bathroom if/as needed, which often is a separate room/building near the outside wall.  They were then brought inside, flexi-cuffs removed if they were on, and allowed to sit on the chairs and sofas that line the walls of the house's common room.  As I watched, they were asked about any medical problems, and encouraged to relax as much as they could.  At a questioning movement from one older male, it was made clear that they could indeed smoke if they so desired.

One at a time, the men in the courtyard were brought in, taken to a room, and questioned.  Faces were compared to those wanted, information gathered, and decisions made.

This is both a boring time and a tricky time in a raid.  The soldiers who have done them a while know that all may not be as it seems.  In many cases, they have realized that the women may be literally sitting or lying on the things they seek, or even holding packages and materials up under their robes.  The iniitial talking to, and subsequent watching, can often spot such things.

In the case of our raid, the home checked out clean, and the women did not appear to be holding anything.  Early on, the commander had allowed one of them to go upstairs to get an infant they said was there, and while obviously concerned about things, they focused a good deal on the children in the room.  Most of the children slept right through everything, while the child from upstairs happily crawled around and drank from a bottle, fascinated with the goings on.

While the raid missed some of the human targets they had been hoping to arrest, other targets were grabbed.  Once those were clear, the remaining people were released, and we departed the courtyard, one of the women making shooing motions towards us.

Returning to the vehicles, there was one more job to do that night. The team was asked to examine an Iraqi checkpoint in the area that had come under suspicion.

The situation here is complex, and what is happening with the Iraqi Police is but one example.  You have areas where they do very well, showing the best of what we think of as law and order.  Then you have other areas, where they are either ineffectual, corrupt, or even working with JAM or other groups.  I was told that when we approached an Iraqi Police or other similar checkpoint to cover my ears and crunch a bit, as that was frequently when you would be hit by an IED -- sometimes placed and triggered by those in the checkpoint.

That didn't happen this time, though there were clearly problems. After searching the area and talking to the people, we called it a "day" and left.  The report on the post would be turned in, for other people to deal with.

For the leaders of the raid, going back meant a time of paperwork and calls.  For the troops, it meant a time to take care of gear as needed, relax a little, and get some rack time.  Taking out terrorist assets of various types is just one part of the job here, but it is one they do well.