Holding the airport

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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

 

lines.

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

 

area.

 

 

'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.

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