- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 28, 2008

BAGHDAD | A deadly new weapon that is beginning to show up on the streets of Iraq, the improvised rocket-assisted mortar, or IRAM, may be technologically crude and inaccurate in its aim, but its potential for death and destruction is so great that soldiers on combat operations around Baghdad conduct daily patrols to disrupt any attempt to plant the devices.

“Its mobile, it´s concealable. Those two things make it very dangerous,” said Lt. Col. John Digiambattista, operations officer for the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division.

“In the right place, at the right time, it can be very lethal,” Col. Digiambattista said. “Our biggest challenge is to keep it out of an area where it can do the most damage.”

IRAM thus has joined IED (improvised explosive device), VBIED (vehicle-borne improvised explosive device) and EFP (explosively formed penetrator) as the latest acronym in the arsenal for Shi’ite extremists battling U.S. forces in the Baghdad area.

In essence, the IRAM is a flying IED. It consists of a canister - a propane gas tank or cylinder - packed with explosives attached to a rocket tube (body) and powered by a 107mm rocket motor.

An IRAM can be loaded with more than 100 pounds of high explosives. In contrast, a conventional 107mm rocket carries about 3 pounds of explosives.

The device is then placed on rocket rails and fired at its target by a timing device, military officers said.

The rails typically are placed on the back of a low-sided flatbed cargo truck, an ever-present vehicle in Baghdad. The truck is parked and angled toward the target, and the devices are launched, usually four or more in succession, using delayed timers.

Aiming is directional, sort of a line-of-sight lob over the cab or a side of the truck. Distance is about 300 meters to 500 meters, more than a quarter-mile, according to Maj. Geoff Greene, executive officer of the 1st (Combined Arms) Battalion of the 68th Armored Regiment.

In June, Maj. Greene and his troops at combat operations post Callahan in the Shaab district of northeastern Baghdad narrowly escaped an IRAM attack.

The truck had been parked and angled several hundred yards away in a residential neighborhood, but one of the IRAMs apparently malfunctioned and exploded before launch, causing at least four others on the truck to explode as well.

The result, Maj. Greene said, was 16 civilian deaths, 29 civilian injuries and damage to 15 homes.

In July, one soldier and one Iraqi interpreter were wounded at Joint Security Station UR in northeastern Baghdad by an IRAM attack.

In late April, during the height of fighting in and around Sadr City between coalition forces and Shi’ite extremists of anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, more than a half-dozen IRAMs were fired at the main coalition outpost in the area.

“We had some bad guys draw up in a truck behind the [joint security station (JSS) in Sadr City with rocket]-launching rails on the back of it,” said Maj. Mike Humphreys, a brigade public affairs officer who was at the U.S.-Iraqi station then. “They launched acetylene-like canisters from them and then took off.”

Five canisters came over the back wall of the JSS, he said. Four detonated. One blew in the wall on the southwestern side of the station´s main building, where U.S. forces had located their tactical operations center. Another blew in the wall of a billeting area, where, if it had hit at night, soldiers would have been sleeping.

One canister that came over the wall failed to explode. Three others were found in the vehicle after the attack.

In all, there have been fewer than a dozen stymied or successful IRAM attacks since January, but no one is complacent about the emerging threat.

An invisible cordon exists around U.S. outposts, which are patrolled constantly. Troops also regularly search industrial areas and metal shops where the devices could be fabricated.

“If we find a large amount of tubes threaded at one end, wheels to position the tubes to position the rockets, combined with a Bongo truck or other large truck, those are the characteristics of finding an IRAM,” Maj. Greene said. “To find them all together is either a coincidence, or people are building an IRAM.

“Right now, we assess the distance as 500 meters (about one-third of a mile),” he said. “At first, we estimated it at 300 meters (less than one-fifth of a mile), but they have gotten better at it. I suspect the enemy will improve upon them even more.”

The improvised rocket-assisted mortar (IRAM) is “mobile, it´s concealable. Those two things make it very dangerous.”

- Lt. Col. John Digiambattista

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