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Army Sweeps Through South Side of Baghdad

April 4, 2003

NEAR BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) _ The soldiers of Attack Company made steady progress through the southern outskirts of Baghdad, coming upon small pockets of Iraqi resistance and destroying them, one by one, for more than four hours, leaving pillars of black smoke rising in their wake.

The armored juggernaut of sand-colored Bradley fighting vehicles and M1A1 Abrams tanks rolled down the narrow, single-lane farm roads and overwhelmed the Iraqi defenders, who fired small arms and rocket-propelled grenades from palm groves.

Attack Company _ or A Company, part of the 2nd Brigade of the Army’s 3rd Infantry Division _ was one of a number of units to take part in a sweep of the roads outside Baghdad on Thursday.

Overall, U.S. troops and warplanes involved in the sweep destroyed more than 13 tanks, three armored personnel carriers and four civilian trucks used by Iraqi fighters.

While the Iraqis wounded one soldier with Attack Company, and a soldier from another unit, Attack Company’s infantrymen destroyed three tanks and two trucks and killed more than a dozen Iraqi soldiers.

``It felt good to be doing our job, knowing that what we train with in peacetime worked in war,″ Staff Sgt. Roy Lawson of Tuscaloosa, Ala., who hit the three tanks and killed three Iraqis. ``But it didn’t feel good killing people.″

The only U.S. death came when U.S. troops mistook one of their own for an Iraqi.

The roads around Baghdad were filled with burning trucks and military vehicles, the acrid black smoke creating a haze in the otherwise sunny day.

The fighting, on the hottest day experienced by U.S. soldiers so far, often became confused, as Iraqi troops tried to mix with civilians and fought from mosques and schools.

``He’s got a weapon, oh ... there are civilians in the way,″ Staff Sgt. Bryce Ivings told commander Capt. Chris Carter over their Bradley’s intercom during the firefight. ``He’s using those people as human shields.″

At two bends in the road, the Iraqis had set up ambush points. They hid their armored vehicles in the treelines more than 200 yards from the road, across farmers’ fields.

But by looking through high-magnification sights on the Bradleys, and sometimes switching to thermal sights, the Americans easily picked out the tanks and armored personnel carriers and destroyed them with 25mm cannons or TOW anti-tank missiles.

The one exception came when two Iraqis, working as a team, fired rocket propelled grenades simultaneously at the lead Bradley. The Bradley commander was wounded and the vehicle slightly damaged.

The soldier climbed out of the turret and lay on the ground. The infantry squad riding in the rear of the Bradley scrambled out the back ramp and pulled him to safety. Another Bradley opened fire on the Iraqis, who were fighting next to a mosque.

But most of the day, the infantry squads remained in the back of the Bradleys, sweltering in 100-degree temperatures while wearing heavy chemical protection suits that do not let out moisture. The men were soaking wet, and three suffered from heat exhaustion.

Outside, the Bradley drivers, gunners and commanders had their hands full as Iraqi troops ran through the fields, looking to get a good shot.

Ivings spotted a group of four Iraqi fighters carrying Kalashnikov rifles but dressed in civilian clothes.

``Fire, fire! Kill ’em!″ Carter ordered. ``Got it, good.″

The soldiers later wondered why the Iraqi forces didn’t use their heavy weapons, such as the 30mm cannons on their Soviet-era armored personnel carriers.

Sgt. Johnny Ray Monroe of Abbeville, S.C., theorized that either the Iraqis were poorly trained or their equipment did not work.

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