HIGHWAY 8, SOUTH BAGHDAD – At nightfall Monday US forces had taken over
footholds in large swaths of Baghdad.
The 3rd Infantry Division's Second Brigade was located at the center of the
city. The 3rd Brigade was located in northwest Baghdad and the Marines were
located in the city's northeast. The 1st brigade was still securing the
airport, with the exception of the 2-7 Mechanized Infantry Battalion, which
was located in southern Baghdad along Highway 8.
The 2-7 Battalion's soldiers and commanders started the day thinking they
would be able to relax and use the shower facilities in Saddam International
Airport while awaiting their mission set for Tuesday – the storming of the
presidential palace north of the airport.
But shortly past 10 a.m. the order came from division: the 2-7 Battalion
would link up with the 2nd Brigade, whose forces had reentered Baghdad early
in the morning with the aim not simply of driving through, as they had done
on Saturday, but of seizing territory.
'Finally!' shouted the battalion's operations officer, Maj. Rod Coffey.
'They figured out that we don't need four battalions to defend an already
largely secured airport,' he added with no small amount of irony in his
The atmosphere throughout the battalion was one of excited anticipation.
Vehicles drove hurriedly to fuel tankers as soldiers folded up the laundry
they had done the night before. By 11 a.m. the entire battalion was lining
up to move into travel formation. The mission was to travel up Highway 1,
then turn onto Highway 8, to hook up with the 2nd brigade's 3-15 Battalion
in its blocking position along the highway inside southern Baghdad's
industrial zone, less than a kilometer from downtown Baghdad.
Coffey left the airport before the rest of the battalion to coordinate the
handoff with 3-15. The battalion led by Alpha company commander Capt. Rob
Smith moved out first, heading toward Baghdad at 11:15.
'Get out of our way, we're going to Baghdad!' bellowed Battalion Commander
Lt.-Col. Scott Rutter at tanks and other vehicles blocking his forces' move
out of the airport. Shortly after moving onto Highway 1, reports came over
the radio indicating it would not be an easy day.
As the battalion zipped past farmlands and buildings, loosely hidden by
eucalyptus trees, reports streamed in of a battle against 2nd Brigade
battalions that were moving through Baghdad to the north and east. By noon
those forces had engaged and destroyed eight suicide trucks, scores of
dismounted infantry, armored personnel carriers, and tanks.
As information flowed in through the radio, outside visibility deteriorated
as the sky turned white and a sandstorm seemed poised to blow through the
The unit's mission was to secure lines of communication for the 2nd Brigade,
to enable transport of troops and supplies. By 12:30 p.m. the battalion was
speeding along Highway 1 toward Highway 8 in full attack formation. The
remains of white pickup trucks – the Iraqi version of Japanese kamikaze
planes – littered both sides of the road, blown up by 120-mm. Abrams tank
rounds. Then, too, the bodies of enemy infantrymen bloodied the sides of the
'Our mission is to secure the lines of communication by killing the enemy,'
Rutter exhorted his troops. 'Bad guys on our left, bad guys on our right.
Any threat will be engaged immediately and destroyed!' he said.
At 12:50 p.m. the force moved off the road to bypass a minefield. Moments
later the news came over the radio that there were three killed, two
reporters and one soldier, in an attack on the 2nd Brigade's Headquarters
Battalion. It later emerged that the journalists and the soldier were killed
by a missile.
At 1:10 p.m. the battalion reached the industrial zone in southern Baghdad.
Smith reported an ambush against his company. No one was hurt. The forces
destroyed an APC.
Immediately thereafter a truck bomber attempted to attack Rutter's Bradley.
Gunner Jason Trombley destroyed the truck by firing an armor-piercing 25-mm.
round. From then on, the fire on the forces was continuous.
As the horizon narrowed under the weight of the swirling sands and black
smoke, the Iraqi date palms lining the highway gave the scene of burning
suicide trucks, nearby tanks, and Bradleys a surrealistic edge. Alpha
Company reported engaging three suicide trucks and RPG rounds. All were
Moments later Coffey, who was already with the 2nd Brigade 3-15 Battalion,
reported coming under heavy RPG fire. His driver then reported that Coffey
was down – hit in the leg by a shrapnel blast from an RPG. Rutter called for
medical evacuation as he and Alpha Company closed in on Coffey's location.
The shooting against the forces was emanating from an eight-story apartment
building just north of an overpass where the 3-15 had been located. Sniper
fire and RPG rounds were also being launched from a three-story industrial
complex bedecked with a portrait of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein clad in a
keffiyeh, west of the underpass.
Just after Coffey and two radio operators were wounded, the 2nd Brigade
reported that the enemy forces firing by the overpass were not Iraqis at all
but Palestinians and Jordanians. 'They executed an integrated attack,' said
2nd Brigade's operations officer over the radio. 'They utilized snipers and
accurate artillery as well as suicide bombers and RPGs.'
The information on the identity of the forces was gleaned from prisoners of
war caught during the fighting. It was reported later that the defense of
Baghdad is largely being carried out by some 5,000 Palestinian, Syrian, and
Jordanian troops. The Republican Guard's units were already largely eroded,
the Hammurabi unit as well as others down to 25% of their original numbers.
Coffey returned to his radio and continued to assist in directing combat
operations, recommending the eight-story building from where he was shot be
destroyed from the air.
As his gunner killed two enemy soldiers running toward his Bradley, Rutter
told Coffey to move to the rear to be examined by a medic. In the meantime,
airstrikes were called to destroy the apartment building. At the same time
2nd Brigade reported two soldiers killed by a suicide ambush. Later in the
afternoon it was revealed that Iraqis surrendering to US forces had
detonated explosive belts strapped to their bodies as the Americans
A directive went out in the evening to force all surrendering Iraqis to
undress before approaching US forces to prevent a recurrence of such
For their part, the Iraqis were reporting US bombing of the Rashid hotel in
Baghdad. Attempting to understand the report, which had no basis in reality,
2nd Brigade forces assumed the Iraqis were attacking the hotel with RPG
rounds in the hopes US forces would be blamed for attacking the home of the
foreign press corps in Baghdad.
US forces were uncertain Monday of the status of the Iraqi government. It
was unclear to commanders if there was in fact any government, as most of
the fighting was being conducted by foreign and paramilitary forces. The
option of capturing the Iraqi propaganda minister and accepting a surrender
from him was being weighed.
In the meantime, Coffey, having been checked by medics, had limped back to
the battlefield by 4 p.m.
While he was gone the apartment building had been reduced t
o rubble by a
direct hit from an F-16 with a JDAM bomb. The building had been hit on the
west side with high explosive rounds and was smoldering.
Enemy forces killed a US combat engineer, and were run over by an Abrams
tank and killed.
As the battalion assumed position along Highway 8 at nightfall, the
assessment was that the major threats for the night and the next day were
suicide bombers, RPGs, and dismounted infantry men. Paramilitary forces
gathered Monday night at the University of Baghdad along the Tigris River
and threatened to attack US forces in the central and northern section of
the Iraqi capital.
'If you see something move that isn't ours, kill it,' Rutter instructed his
troops after ordering Coffey to go to sleep.
Originally published in The Jerusalem Post.