150 KM. SOUTH OF BAGHDAD – US forces continued to secure the suspected chemical plant in Najaf on Monday, as 12 civilians were caught attempting to transport a truckload of AK-47 rifles to the site. The 12 were added to the 54 Iraqi officers and enlisted men – including one general – who surrendered to the 2-7 mechanized infantry battalion during Sunday's raid.
Senior army sources revealed to this reporter that the army is concerned with the sensitive status of the site. Specialists from an army 'exploitation team' will arrive at the complex Tuesday to conduct comprehensive inspections. In the meantime, the 2-7 battalion of the army's Third Infantry Division's First Brigade has concentrated its main effort on protecting against Iraqi militia forces from the Al-Quds (Jerusalem) Brigade that have been conducting guerrilla warfare operations against them from Nasiriyah to Najaf. These forces are estimated to number between 600 and 1,200 soldiers in each of the Shi'ite cities of Karbala and Najaf.
American troops have been subjected to sniper fire as well as RPG and mortar attacks. The First Brigade has to date taken 247 Iraqi prisoners. Many captured Iraqis from the Al-Quds Brigade were holding thick wads of cash. Battalion commander Lt.-Col. Scott Rutter explained to his officers on Monday that the purpose of this money is to bribe townsmen and civilians to allow the militiamen to use their homes as launching grounds against US forces.
Because of this, psychological operation troops, or 'Psyops,' broadcast recorded messages on their loudspeakers ordering civilians around the US troop encampment to vacate their homes. By and large, the civilians complied.
Soldiers inspecting an onion field near an encampment found rifle mounts hidden among the crops.
The forces are feeding the Iraqi prisoners and providing them with water from their own rations.
On Monday night, a tank worked to prevent hostile forces from approaching US encampments. In one instance, soldiers shot at a vehicle attempting to drive past their roadblock on the highway. In another instance, the company engaged an armed individual attempting to crawl past the soldiers.
US forces are currently halted in their positions 150 km. south of Baghdad as the air force conducts air raids against Republican Guards deployed on the southern outskirts of Karbala. These ground forces, which just completed a three-day push from Kuwait, are often under fire and are positioned to continue their northward advance.
The reports of US POWs in Baghdad have frustrated and enraged US forces. These reports, together with the guerrilla tactics being used by Iraqis against US soldiers along the roads and in their encampments, have given the forces great impetus to continue forward.
'It is clear that we are fighting an enemy that shares none of our values. We don't expect to change them. We expect to defeat them,' Lt. Mark Schenk said.
'I guess we are the only ones who follow the Geneva Conventions. The way they treated our POWs doesn't surprise me. It just makes me want to get on with this,' said St.- Sgt. Patrick Taylor.
As for the road ahead, the American forces expect it will not be an easy ride. Capt. Sam Donnelly explained that the Iraqi tactics have shown him that these forces are 'smart.'
'In our two previous engagements, the Iraqis showed they know of our reluctance to go into cities, not because we cannot fight, but because of the high rate of casualties such engagements involve. Though I think that shoot-and- scoop, cut-and-run is something we will see a lot of as we approach cities and towns.'
'At the same time, I have no doubt we will win,' said Donnelly, as he quoted Sun Tzu, the ancient Chinese military strategist.
'See yourself, see the enemy, see the terrain – you will not lose.'
Originally published in The Jerusalem Post.