Nur al-Cubicle

A blog on the current crises in the Middle East and news accounts unpublished by the US press. Daily timeline of events in Iraq as collected from stories and dispatches in the French and Italian media: Le Monde (Paris), Il Corriere della Sera (Milan), La Repubblica (Rome), L'Orient-Le Jour (Beirut) and occasionally from El Mundo (Madrid).

Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Searching for Car Bombs in Baghdad

AFP reporter Mehdi Lebou Ashera follows a military team around Baghdad as they look for car bombs. Once again, dogs! But the pooches tucker out pretty quick in that Arabian sun.

With plastic wands and heavy-duty wire cutters, battering-ram in hand, 300 Iraqi soldiers supported by US special forces enter a back door in a Sunni quarter in downtown Baghdad where there are several automobile garages.

The objective of the mission, conducted as part of Operation Lighting launched on Sunday in which 40,000 troops are participating, is to locate explosives and car bombs which bloody the capital every day. In a largely deserted street in the Sheikh Maarouf quarter of the capital, around the corner from Haifa Street, one of the most dangerous thoroughfares in the city, nervous soldiers progress slowing along the wall of a Muslim cemetery, their rifle ready for any sniper action.

Iraqis conduct patrols every day in this quarter but today is the big offensive, murmurs a US Special Forces sergeant-major as he walks in front of impassive backgammon players seated in the shade of the trees. Further along, in the heart of this poor and overpopulated quarter, where sewer water and garbage collects in the street, winding streets open and narrow. Marksmen are posted on the rooftops ready to shoot anyone who tries to enter the quarter, which has been surrounded.

At the end of a dirt alley, the first “target” is located: a courtyard with dozens of small garages. After the soldiers have positioned themselves around the courtyard, an order in English and Arabic is called out: On your stomachs, now!.

Workers with grease-streaked faces obey immediately. The few women present comfort children who hide their heads in their skirts. One by one, each garage, where dozens of spare parts of all sorts are piled high, is gone over with a fine-toothed comb by Iraqi soldiers and US Special Forces, assisted by three bomb-sniffing dogs. “It’s okay. There’s nothing here.", shouts the US officer in charge, waving at his troops. They head over to the next "target", a courtyard 100 meters away. This place is far bigger with car chassis piled one on top of another. The owners are ordered out of their garages and the dogs start to sniff every car and every cranny. This mission is too dangerous. Anyone could toss a grenade over the wall, says a US soldier, looking up at the sky.

After one hour’s work under a baking sun, the dogs, the only ones able to detect explosives, begin to tire and show their tongues. No car bombs were found. 22 people, suspected of links to the insurgents are arrests. [Haphazard round-up, more likely.--Nur]

We’ve been able to conduct a 2-hour operation in this quarter, one of the most dangerous in Baghdad, without incident. That’s a good thing, congratulates the officer in charge, now safely back at his base.


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