- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 26, 2005

A shooter in Iraq

Staff photographer Maya Alleruzzo traveled to Iraq in late August to be embedded with an Iraqi military unit working in some of the toughest areas of the country.

It struck me as a particularly dangerous assignment, no matter how well-trained the American unit working with the Iraqis. But Miss Alleruzzo was set on it and, in any case, she doesn’t report to me.

Since there was no reporter with her, few of us at the paper were sure exactly what she was doing during the two-month assignment. Photos would appear in the paper, including some dramatic shots of firefights.

But it wasn’t until I was asked last week to edit an account she had written to accompany a still-to-be-published page of her photos that I realized just how hair-raising her adventures had been.

Her story had to be cut in half and re-drafted to make more room for her pictures, but the story deserves to be told. Here, in her words, are some passages from the cutting room floor.

Cat-and-mouse game

Sept. 1: I tiptoed into the Iraqi security platoon’s barracks this morning and had the chance to photograph them as they woke, shaved and bathed in the river. Later in the day, I covered a raid on a farm suspected of hiding weapons in a village called Himbus. This is where I experienced my first ambush.

They fired a rocket at our convoy, then shot at us, then after a big chase and some house-to-house searches, set off a roadside bomb beside us.

We were running for eight hours in a cat-and-mouse game through a village, palm groves and fruit orchards.

At some point, I poked my head up from the grass, and I recognized the same Iraqi soldiers I had awakened this morning.

Command Sgt. Maj. James Falkenberry hurt his back. The disabled Humvee had to be towed home, all four trucks limping along as the sun set. But everyone’s OK.

Sept. 21: Tonight the American soldiers set out to find a wanted man. He wasn’t home, but it took a while to determine that it was a waste of time.

While we circled the village, an insurgent had time to lay a homemade bomb in our path. The Humvee closest to the blast was in bad shape, and for a moment the colonel feared the very worst.

The dark street was aglow with fragments of hot metal. The guys started searching homes nearby.

Sgt. Richard Wormsbecher had several injuries but insisted on kicking down doors anyway. It was dusty and furious and fast.

At times like this, they pull out every male in every home nearby for questioning. The Iraqi men were pretty nonchalant about it.

Many of them were Iraqi army soldiers who work in Fallujah and Ramadi but were home on leave. The search interrupted a couple on their wedding night. The bride still had her makeup on. The guys felt bad about it, but rules are rules.

Oct. 13: I went with the Iraqi army today to escort ballots from Baquba back to Muqtadiya for the constitutional referendum.

Capt. Furat was in my truck, and this time I was entirely on my own with the Iraqis. About 15 minutes after we left with what I thought were ballots, one of the cargo trucks was hit by a roadside bomb.

And then machine-gun fire. And then rocket-propelled grenades. It was loud and furious but Cpl. Nazar fought his way across the road to treat the two civilians driving the cargo truck.

Capt. Furat kept shooting, so close to me that the brass casings from his AK-47 bounced off of my helmet. Our ride back was slow, as Kiowa helicopters circled our trucks and dipped low over the palm groves.

On our way into the base, an orange truck passed us. The driver called out “One thousand welcomes!” to the Iraqi army guys.

All this time, the ballots had been on their way to the base in other vehicles, undetected. They were here already. Our convoy had just been a decoy.

• David W. Jones is the foreign editor of The Washington Times. His e-mail address is djones@washingtontimes.com.

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