Prior to fighting breaking out in Kadhamiyah, there were no signs of the possibility of special group cells targeting Iraqi security and coalition forces. The biggest threat at that time appeared to be vehicle borne improvised explosive devices.
However, once violence began in Basra and east Baghdad, local citizens in the area began acting differently themselves. Apparently, criminal elements began spreading the word to the local Iraqis to go into their homes and not come out.
These criminals even marched in Kadhamiyah chanting, â€œDeath to Maliki. Death to Maliki.â€
Coalition forces even received a tip March 28 that ISF checkpoints would come under attack, said 1st Lt. Sam Rosenberg, a native of Fort Myers, Fla., platoon leader for 2nd Platoon, Company D, 1st Battalion, 502nd Infantry Regiment. In response, three platoons pushed out into sector and took their positions to help reinforce the checkpoints â€“ where they sat for a few hours until it was determined there would not be an attack.
â€œThe streets were empty, but it was quiet and the (Iraqi army) was doing what they were supposed to be doing,â€ said Capt. Brad Henry, a native of Andover Township, N.J., who is the commander of Co. D, 1-502nd Inf. Regt. â€œIt was weird, but nothing was out of the ordinary.â€
Once Henry got back to the base, he received another tip that 20 to 25 men were massing in Kadhamiyah. He ordered the companyâ€™s 4th Platoon to investigate the tip. As soon as the platoon came to the intersection, they were ambushed by special group criminals.
â€œThe entire area basically blew up,â€ Rosenberg said. â€œThey called out â€˜we are in contact; we are in contact.â€™â€
Fighting Breaks Out
Fighting broke out throughout the area. The platoon was attacked with rocket propelled grenades and PKCs, and immediately started laying down fire on positively identified enemy combatants, said 1st Lt. Paul Brown, a native of Canfield, Ohio, who is the platoon leader for 4th Platoon. â€œAs soon as my gunner was able to PID a guy, he just started engaging him. They did an awesome job.â€
â€œWe werenâ€™t running from the fight,â€ said Henry. â€œWe were going to secure the intersection and engage targets of opportunity.â€
With Brownâ€™s platoon under contact and decisively laying down the enemy, Rosenberg sent his platoon forward to support the Soldiers in their engagements.
â€œWe sent our trucks right in behind them,â€ Rosenberg said. â€œThey had interlocking fire on the enemy. There was a lot of fire, mostly RPGs.â€
As the platoon moved toward the site, its Soldiers were also fired upon at an intersection. With the amount of RPGs and smalls-arms fire being fired, said Henry, and the numerous caches hidden by the criminals in the area, the right side of the road caught fire.
The Soldiers of Rosenbergâ€™s platoon then saw an opportunity to push forward into a market to get a better angle of fire on the enemy. Fourth platoon shifted fire as Rosenbergâ€™s platoon pushed up into what they now call â€œDeath Valley.â€
â€œOn the right side, there was a huge fire, and to my left were alleyways,â€ Rosenberg said. The Soldiers pulled security down the alleyways and were receiving fire from there also.
â€œIt was a shooting gallery; guys were popping out of everywhere,â€ he said. Criminals were popping out from corners and firing rounds, while others stood atop balconies and rooftops and snuck in pop shots; however, it had no effect on the Soldiers.
â€œThe gunners did an awesome job,â€ said Rosenberg. Initially, the platoon sergeantâ€™s truck was in the lead.
One RPG hit right in front of his truck; then, as the criminal came back from behind his corner to fire, he was hit with .50-caliber rounds. The gunner, Pfc. Hunter Bruns, saved his fellow comrades from being hit with an RPG.
â€œHe saved my truck,â€ said Rosenberg.
â€œPfc. Bruns was absolutely incredible,â€ said Rosenberg. â€œHe was unloading on guys 150 meters away from him and shooting controlled pairs at their head.â€
He said he really couldnâ€™t say enough about how his platoon and the rest of the company performed that night and over the next couple of days.
â€œMy guys did awesome. With the exception of fours guys, it was everyoneâ€™s first time in contact,â€ said Rosenberg, â€œso you expect everyone to be nervous, but their training kicked in. Everyone was calm, controlled and did their job perfectly. Youâ€™ve got 18- and 19-year-old Soldiers dealing with getting shot at for the first time, and they did as well as anybody could have ever asked.â€
For Pfc. Eric Weekly, a native of Urbana, Iowa, and a gunner for 1st Platoon, Co. D, it was his first time coming into contact with the enemy â€“ and he made the most of it.
â€œWe were sitting on Route Vernon facing northeast and an RPG flew over the truck from the west,â€ he said. â€œWe swung around to PID the guy, and he shot another one. We got positive identification and engaged him with about ten rounds of .50-cal. and shot the guy as he went to shoot the third one.â€
Altogether, Rosenberg said he believes the company killed an estimated 12 terrorists.
Iraqi Army Stands Firm
However, the U.S. troops werenâ€™t the only ones who stayed in the fight, doing what they could to eliminate any enemy activity.
Henry said he believes the special groups criminals expected the Iraqi army soldiers from the 5th vattalion, 22nd brigade, 6th Iraqi army division, to lay down their arms; however, that was not the case. Once the terrorists saw that the IA Soldiers were staying, they had to change their game plan.
â€œThey proved they were there to stay and fight,â€ Henry said. â€œThe first night out, all their guys were manning their (tactical checkpoints); they were securing the intersections they needed to secure.â€
The Iraqi army battalion is responsible for manning checkpoints in the out muhallahs around Kadhamiyah, said Henry, who added he felt they did a good job not letting anyone within.
They secured alleyways, which the criminals were using to maneuver and fire upon Iraqi security and coalition forces, Henry said.
â€œThey are reliable,â€ he declared
Perhaps it is a true testament of how far the Iraqi army has come. Nearly a year ago, when Co. D, 325th Airborne Infantry Regiment of the 82nd Airborne Division controlled the area, the Soldiers also faced a similar attack from special groupsâ€™ forces, said Henry.
The Soldiers in the unit went to arrest a group of criminals at a building in Kadhamiyah and were ambushed as well, he said.
At that time, however, the IA did not help with the fight at all.
â€œWe didnâ€™t see any of that happen this time. They were here to fight,â€ said Henry.
The IA soldiers played vital role securing a key checkpoint during the engagements, he said. Along the Tigris River, on one of the main routes in Kadhamiyah, the IA secured the tactical control point, which allowed freedom of movement for coalition and ISF to push combat power into the fight at any given time.
â€œI think the IA did very well during the incidents,â€ Brown said. â€œThey manned their checkpoints and didnâ€™t run and leave. They did what they thought was right. The Iraqi army withstood enemy contact and helped secure key terrain during the conflict.â€
Troops Avoid Trap
The attacks set by the criminal elements were very complex, to say the least, said Henry, adding that he believes the special groups set themselves up around the Kadhamiyah shrine and set up boundaries around them as their defensive perimeter.
The terrorists used explosively formed projectiles as a protective barrier on the outside perimeter, he added, hoping coalition and ISF would cross their outer boundary, at which point they would come under attack from EFPs and other explosives, with RPGs and small-arms fire used as their inner perimeter security.
However, that was not the case.
â€œWe smacked them pretty good,â€ said Henry. â€œWe were very careful not to push into their perimeter.â€
As a result of the damage inflicted on the criminal forces, Henry said he believes they have either left town or gone into hiding, which is allowing life to get back to normal in Kadhamiyah.
Local citizens are once again moving throughout the area, and the shops are open. The markets are not as busy as they usually are, which is understandable because the people are still a bit apprehensive.
Iraqi army soldiers will continue to man checkpoints in Kadhamiyah to deter any enemy combatants from entering the area as the daily lives of the people return to normal, said Brown.