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Breaking Military News Alerts
September 22, 2004
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By Lisa Burgess,
Stars and Stripes European Edition
|Soldiers from Company C patrol Haifa Street
on Sunday. (Lisa Burgess / S&S)
|Cpl. Alan Gonzales, a 21-year-old from
El Paso, Texas, and medic for Company C’s 3rd Platoon, scans
for danger Sunday in a Bradley fighting vehicle while waiting
for casualties at an evacuation point near Tallil Square in
Baghdad. (Lisa Burgess / S&S)
|Capt. Chris Ford, commander of Company
C, 1st Battalion, 9th Cavalry Regiment, pauses Sunday as he
leads a foot patrol through the Sheik Marouf neighborhood of
Haifa Street in Baghdad. The patrol came under attack, but no
one was hurt.(Lisa Burgess / S&S)
BAGHDAD — Until last week, the world knew little about Haifa Street.
Then came the spectacular car bombs in front of the Iraqi police
station, and suddenly, Haifa was Iraq’s
newest war zone.
But to the soldiers of the 1st Battalion, 9th Cavalry Regiment,
who must patrol the sector that includes Haifa Street, that area
has been an all-out war zone for months.
In fact, soldiers with the 1-9 Cav don’t call it Haifa Street.
To them, it’s “Grenade Alley,” or “Purple Heart Boulevard.”
In Baghdad, “there are two areas that are highly contested,” said
Capt. Chris Ford, commander of the 1-9’s Company C, “Sadr City and
here,” in the Haifa area.
“Every time we go out, we expect contact,” said Staff Sgt. Jimmie
Thomas, a platoon sergeant for Company C, 1/153rd Infantry of the
Arkansas National Guard, which is attached to the 1-9 Cav.
“Almost anything you do out there is movement to contact,” Thomas
said. “Presence patrols, whatever. You’re expecting to get hit.”
More than half the company’s soldiers have qualified for Purple
Hearts, and Thomas knows personally just how “getting hit” feels.
He was on a mission just two weeks ago, which ended in an hours-long
firefight, with six of the platoon’s soldiers, including Thomas,
wounded by grenades. Thomas took shrapnel in the neck and a leg.
A Haifa mission on Sunday afternoon was shorter and less lethal,
but not without incident.
Company C was originally directed to conduct a dismounted patrol
that would begin in Tallil Square (“one of the more dangerous areas”
in the Haifa sector, Ford said) and end a mile or so away, at the
police station where a bomb went off last week.
Just as the convoy was leaving Forward Operating Base Headhunter,
Ford got a call to stop everything, unload the troops, and return
to the Tactical Operations Center for new instructions.
As it turned out, when he returned to tell his troopers to “mount
up,” the mission had changed. The foot patrol was still a “go,”
but local Iraqi police forces were working on a “snatch-and-grab”
of an insurgent, and the unit’s soldiers were needed to assist,
|Capt. Chris Ford, commander of Company
C, 1st Battalion, 9th Cavalry Regiment, tries to discern the
direction of a volley of gunfire as he prepares to lead a foot
patrol Sunday on Haifa Street in Baghdad.(Lisa Burgess / S&S)
|Soldiers from Company C, 1st Battalion,
9th Cavalry Regiment are either on the move during Sunday’s
foot patrol mission in the Haifa Street area of Baghdad, or
they are taking temporary shelter and waiting to make the next
move.(Lisa Burgess / S&S)
Off the convoy went, with most of the Bradleys heading for Tallil
All went well for about a minute, until the hatch dropped on the
fighting vehicles. The troopers dashed out. They established a perimeter,
and then began to move down an alley.
No sooner had the patrol gone about 100 meters when “It turned
into World War III out there,” Ford said.
For the next 90 minutes, “We had contact the majority of the mission,”
In addition to “direct fire, grenade attacks and all types of harassing
(fire) ... we were taking well-aimed shots from well-trained individuals,”
Yet this time, Company C was lucky: No one was hurt.
In fact, on a scale of one to 10, with 10 being the worst possible
day, Ford rated Sunday’s mission “about a six.”
But it hasn’t always been such a “good” day for the unit, which
has responsibility for most of the patrols on Haifa Street. Some
60 out of the 118 men in his company have qualified for Purple Hearts,
And the 1-9 Cav has had three soldiers killed in action since arriving
in March, said Maj. Chris DeGaray, the 1-9’s executive officer.
Located in central Baghdad, just a few miles from the tightly controlled
and patrolled International Zone where U.S. Embassy and other coalition
personnel live and work, Haifa Street and its surroundings are a
mix: Sunni and Shia Muslims living and working together.Like many
places in Iraq, Haifa Street acts as a dividing line between the
“haves” and the “have nots.” On one side are the British Embassy,
a revered Islamic cemetery and nice homes.
On the other: poverty.
The stench of garbage and untreated sewage permeates the street.
Piles of trash are everywhere. Houses and apartments on the poor
part of Haifa Street are crumbling, some from the effects of last
year’s war, but most from neglect.
It’s a perfect place for insurgents who need cover from powerful
American weapons, because “it’s a labyrinth in there,” Ford said.
“There are winding alleys all over, no rhyme or reason to the streets,
and no clear shots” for anyone trying to fight back — especially
with a population of more than 100,000 civilians crammed into the
“It’s classic urban warfare,” Ford said.
The part of Haifa Street where Sunday’s fighting took place has
always been poor and problematic, according to local Iraqis and
1-9 Cav members.
“These are the same people Saddam had problems with, but he used
much more brutal tactics than we can to control them,” said Capt.
Reggie Kornegay, a civil affairs officer with the 478th Civil Affairs
Battalion but who is attached to the 1st Battalion, 9th Cavalry
Nevertheless, since the end of the war, it wasn’t that bad for
coalition troops patrolling Haifa Street, said soldiers from the
“When we first got here, we walked around giving candy to kids
and talking to people,” said 2nd Lt. Rick Caldwell, a Company C
Staff Sgt. Jimmie Thomas, a Company C platoon sergeant, agreed.
“At first it wasn’t too bad,” said Staff Sgt. Jimme Thomas a Company
C platoon sergeant. Thomas said his platoon has done “hundreds”
of missions to Haifa Street since March.
But two months later, the situation started to change.
Insurgents began to make inroads with local Iraqis by spreading
money to poor families, Kornegay said. Suddenly, people were less
interested in talking to American soldiers. Residents watching passing
U.S. convoys stopped smiling and began scowling.
Then, in early May, Kornegay — whom DeGaray praised for his special
ability to relate to local Iraqis — and his small team were attacked
on the corner of Haifa and a place known simply as Street #17.
In a five-hour fight, Kornegay was wounded in a leg by grenade
shrapnel while another soldier was wounded in the stomach.
As the summer wore on, the situation worsened.
By August, 60 percent to 70 percent of his platoon’s missions to
Haifa Street “were resulting in enemy contact of some sort,” Thomas
But even as patrols continue to turn into firefights, DeGaray said
he has faith the situation will turn around, especially as the Iraqi
Security Forces improve its abilities.
“The ISF has really come a long way in the five months we’ve been
here,” he said Sunday. “They have grown in training and experience.”
Meanwhile, “We’re going to keep the pressure on,” Ford said. “We
will not give (the insurgents) the opportunity to publicly, openly
plan or present themselves.”
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