BAGHDAD AIRPORT – A call came over the radio at 2:30 p.m. Saturday: Two
truckloads of Iraqi civilians, displaced when the US Army took over the
Saddam Hussein International Airport in Baghdad late Thursday night, would
be moving through the lines escorted on either side by Army vehicles.
The call was a warning not to shoot; the civilians had already been
interrogated by the 3rd Infantry Division 1st Brigade and were cleared to
relocate inside the city.
This call was necessary because US troops, fearful of terrorist attacks,
have orders to shoot any civilian vehicle attempting to come through the
These instructions are well placed. Three US soldiers were killed by two
Iraqi women suicide bombers on Friday and four soldiers were killed in a
suicide car-bombing a week ago. There have been numerous attempted attacks.
During the 3rd Infantry Division's advance across the Karbala Gap on the way
to Baghdad Wednesday night, the Iraqis repeatedly tried to ram US forces
with pickup trucks rigged with explosives. Two white pickup trucks were
destroyed by tanks as they drove full speed toward them.
'I think the Iraqis are pathetic,' said 1st Brigade commander William
Grimsley. 'What can a '74 Datsun do against an M-1A-1 tank? They don't seem
to understand that these tanks can see as well at night as they do during
the day and can shoot exact targets from 3,500m.'
Fear of harming civilians apparently kept the air force from bombing special
Republican Guard enclaves around the airport ahead of the ground forces'
advance on the target late Thursday night. These Republican Guard units then
used the bases to attack soldiers from the 1st Brigades' 2-7 Mechanized
Infantry Battalion on Friday morning. One soldier was killed and six were
wounded during the ensuing exchanges of fire.
The battalion commander, Lt.-Col. Scott Rutter, expressed anger at the
reluctance to bomb the Iraqi bases prior to his battalion's entry to the
'If you are expecting casualties, you have to be willing to accept
collateral damage,' he said. For his part, Rutter focuses his men on one
simple goal for their mission: 'Kill the enemy,' he exhorts his officers and
soldiers at every opportunity.
When reports came in Friday afternoon that the Iraq government was calling
for civilians to march on the airport at 3 p.m. that day to retake it,
Rutter was unmoved.
'You have to assume that in any civilian crowd there will be one guy with an
RPG for every 10 civilians. Your mission is to protect the force and kill
the enemy,' Rutter told his troops.
Iraqi civilians stayed away from the airport Friday – and Saturday's
civilian convoy passed through the line without a hitch.
Originally published in The Jerusalem Post.