Talking Proud --- Military

“Black Sunday” in Sadr City, Iraq

By Ed Marek, editor

October 19, 2004, revised November 8, 2004 based on new information received from an Army spokesman; revised again for the same reason on November 12, 2007. Updated on February 26, 2012 to highlight the important role played by the 1-12 Cav medics.

(Note bene: Most photos of "battle scenes" that follow are not from the April 4 fight. They are provided for descriptive purposes only, to help readers envision the fight)

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April 4, 2004 was a bloody day for American forces in Sadr City, Iraq, a suburb of Baghdad. Eight US Army soldiers were killed in action that day. We do not know the count of wounded. We are aware that one company alone suffered 14 wounded, all of whom were serious enough to be medevac'd back to the US, and we have seen a media report that said 50 were wounded total.

Major General Martin Dempsey, Commander, First Armored Division, called the fight of April 4 in Sadr City “ the biggest gunfight since the fall of Baghdad a year ago.” The battle was one of the worst single losses for US soldiers since the fall of Baghdad a year before.

We are distant from the battlefield with no direct access to those who fought the Sadr City battle of April 4 so valiantly. This editor is in awe of the soldiers who braved that city on that day, and we remain in awe of all our fighting forces deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan.

The fog of war is always very hard to explore, by anyone.

Nonetheless, we have had sufficient access to a sufficient amount of information to draw some conclusions and express some concerns.

Three background points to under stand

Before trying to ascertain what happened on that April 4, Palm Sunday for Christians, three major points need to be made.

First, Sadr City is one of the poorest districts in all Baghdad, and one of the most densely populated. There is an estimated 2.0 million people living in an 8-sq-mile district, about the population of Houston. About half of Baghdad's population lives here.

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The first Landsat photo shows you a glimpse of Sadr City in relationship to the rest of Baghdad. It is in the northeastern sector. The second Landsat photo zooms in on Sadr City. It is 19-sq-miles in area, and, as you can see, is mostly homes and businesses. Some call it a “ concrete jungle." Saddam Hussein had it built. It is said he visited once, and never came back. Camp War Eagle just outside the city proper, to the east. The troops living and working there suffered continuous mortar attacks.

The "gunfight" in Sadr City we mentioned at the opening that occurred on April 4, 2004 involved an ambush of the 2-5 Cav. The 2-5 Cav was a newly arriving unit, having come to Camp War Eagle just weeks before the ambush, in March 2004. The 2-5 Cav was replacing the 1st Sq 2nd Cav to take responsibility for Sadr City. As it turned out, the 2nd Cav was extended.

The point we wish to make is that a troop changeover was occurring at this time at War Eagle. We will talk later about the troop changeover that was occurring in the spring 2004, will return to Camp War Eagle later, and will also mentioned the 1st Sq 2nd Cav later when we talk a bit more about the battle.

We want to show you one more Landsat photo of the city.

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This zoom view gives you a sense for the density, and, if you are in the military and responsible for patrolling these streets, you can see how easy it might be to get yourself in a jam.

Experts who have studied this country say that the people of Sadr City not only are part of the Shi'ite majority while Saddam Hussein was part of the Sunni minority, but the people of the city held Hussein responsible for their misery. Therefore, many, perhaps most of them were happy to see American forces liberate them from Hussein. However, they had for some time been pressing their government for increased autonomy. Hussein refused that.

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Once the Americans liberated them from Hussein, the people of the city continued to press for the autonomy they had wanted for so long. As a general rule, the Americans were reluctant to grant that because the area was so badly in need of the bare necessities of life, reconstruction and it was a highly volatile area politically, prone to instability and insecurity. Therefore, from the time the Americans arrived between the residents and the occupiers, a tension evident on the face of this young girl peering from her home in Sadr City (Photo credit: Jewel Samad, AFP).

It's worthwhile getting a sense for the poverty, through these few photos that follow, all credited to Andrea Brice Woodall,
The Washington Post.

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Sewage flows in the streets of Sadr City, Baghdad's large Shiite slum, where cleric Moqtada Sadr has wide support.

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A woman empties her garbage near the street in the sprawling Shiite area of Baghdad known as Sadr City. Garbage collection and disposal are rare in this poverty-stricken side of the city.

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Goats graze in the garbage left in the roadside as sheep and goat herders tend their flock in the poverty stricken side of Baghdad known as Sadr City.

For much of the time, however, the tension was held in check. There were multiple reasons. One reason is that the Army, private businesses and non-government organizations had poured several million dollars into the city to get it up on its feet with the minimum essential things like water, electricity and sewage systems. Indeed there was progress made, as everyone clearly understood the need to improve conditions in the city as quickly as possible. People used the municipal center as a place to voice their opinions and meet, a real embryo for democracy.

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In this photo, for example, you see American forces handing out aid to local residents in Sadr City. You cannot see the length of the truck's flatbed, but it is long and has a lot of aid on it.

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In this photo, which we believe was taken outside Camp Eagle, which we think is in the background, US troops are putting a group of Iraqi lads through warm ups prior to a soccer match. We have seen many photos like this and the one above to indicate there was real solid progress to bring peace to Sadr City.

The second point has to do with the posture of our military forces in Iraq, and specifically Baghdad, at the time of the April 4, 2004 Battle of Sadr City. Said briefly, they were in the final throes of the most massive troop rotation in the history of the US military. It was known as Operation Iraqi Freedom 2, or OIF2 for short. This was the first major force rotation of the war and was the largest, fastest combat cargo movement since WWII. The rough numbers were 130,000 US troops going out, and 110,000 US troops coming in, plus everyone's equipment and weapons systems traveling in each direction.

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The turnover in Baghdad can get a little confusing, because the major units have similar names" 1st Armored Division replaced by the 1st Armored Cavalry Division.

The 1st Armored Division, "Old Ironsides," home-based in Germany, had been in Iraq since the war began. It was responsible for Baghdad. A unit not normally part of the 1st Armored was responsible for Sadr City.

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On April 15, 2004, a quiet turnover of official responsibility for Baghdad occurred. The 1st Armored Cavalry Division, known as the "Ironhorse Division," also known as "The First Team," America's largest Army division, took responsibility for Baghdad, replacing the 1st Armored Division.

Even though Old Ironsides had been relieved of responsibility for Baghdad, its tour of duty was extended for three months due to increased enemy operations in the south. It redeployed units out of Baghdad to the southern cities of Najaf, Diwaniya, Kut and Karbala. It finally returned home to Germany in July 2004.

Formal changeover of responsibility for Baghdad and Sadr City occurred on April 15, 2004. For the April 4 battle, most soldiers had been there for only a week or two, and most of the officers had been there only a month. The commander responsible for the main thrust into Sadr City officially took command about 15 minutes after the battle got nasty. He fought valiantly, as did his soldiers, but one cannot ignore this timing when analyzing the April 4 battle.

The third and final background point relates back to ear lier comments about continuous tensions between Sadr City residents and American forces. As we have already indicated, poverty was not the only hot-button issue in Sadr City. Initially seen as liberators, American forces by April 2004 were seen as occupation forces, unwanted by many; not so much because the residents hated Americans, because there is plenty of testimony that they did not hate them, but more because they had always wanted autonomy for themselves and they feared the Americans would overstay their welcome.

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A rather obscure and unpopular “ religious cleric,” named Muqtada al 'Sadr, took advantage of this tension, and the city's poverty and the people's lack of education, to light a fire under an already hot kettle.

This man surprised the Americans, and has been a thorn in the side of the American-led Coalition and the interim Iraqi government since Saddam Hussein was taken down. His father, Grand Ayatollah Mohammed Sadiq al-Sadr, was the most powerful Shiite cleric in Iraq in the late 1990s. His uncle, Ayatollah Mohammed Baqir al-Sadr, was a leading Shiite activist. Saddam Hussein's forces murdered both, the uncle in 1980, the father, along with two brothers, in 1999.

Muqtada al-Sadr is described as " fiercely anti-American." We're not sure why, but suspect it has something to do with his ties to Iran. Religiously, he commands very little respect among other clerics, and has been trying to lay his claim to fame on the basis if his lineage to his father and uncle.

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While a young man in his thirties, he has been cleverly able to blend his anti-Americanism, his understanding of the politics in Sadr City, and the fact that there are so many impoverished and uneducated Shiites in Sadr City to gather quite a following. He has built a militia, known as the Imam

Mahdi Army, he has attracted people sharing his sentiments from other countries to come and fight, he has actively promoted and rewarded violence against Americans, and for reasons that escape this editor, he has managed to stay alive after seriously disrupting Iraq for about a year. He has been wanted by Iraq authorities on a charge of murder.

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Major General Dempsey, the 1st Armored Division commander, seems to agree that we should have taken down al-Sadr a long time ago. He said in a press conference on May 11, 2004 in Baghdad that the US was reluctant to take him, because of family name, various religious issues, etc. This sounds to this editor very much like "State Department speak." General Dempsey has pointed out that the net effect of leaving al-Sadr alone was that he had six months to train troops, acquire resources, gather a following, incite people, and stockpile ammunition. In retrospect, the general said:

"I think we missed the opportunity -- it wasn't a missed opportunity as much as it was a rational decision which perhaps we would do differently now.

Someone some day needs to explore that "rational decision," who made it, and why. That al-Sadr was left to do his thing has caused the deaths and wounding of many, many American soldiers, and this American does not like the so-called "rational decision" one bit.

But, that's water over the dam. It is worth noting that prior to April 2004 the tensions that existed did not turn into major armed confrontations. We fear someone in charge on the US side was lulled to sleep.

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On March 28, 2004, the Coalition shut down al-Howza (some spell it Hawza), a newspaper published by Sadr's organization, for 60 days on charges of “inciting violence.” One result of this action is that Sadr supporters went into the streets to protest. For the most part, however, the protests were peaceful.

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We are not certain precisely who in the Coalition gave that order. We have seen one press report that said Paul Bremer ordered the closure as an attempt to provoke al-Sadr into a fight. We do know that as early as January 2004, Lt. General Sanchez, the on-scene Coalition commander, had said that al-Howza was at risk of being shut down if it were operating outside the laws of Iraq. He said Iraqi security forces would take the action, if required, and Coalition forces would support them if needed. So it is clear that there were strong tensions between the Coalition and the newspaper.

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This is an actual photo of one of the cars that was attacked in Falluja on March 31, 2004. It is provided courtesy of EastWestSouthNorth Global Culture and Politics. If you click on that link, you will see terribly gruesome photos of the mutilation of four American civilian contract workers. These photos are very graphic, but should be viewed to better understand the nature of the enemy we face in Iraq and the character of these Iraqi people. We are told by American authorities that many Iraqis have voiced their outrage and shame.

On March 31, an Iraqi mob killed and mutilated four American civilian contract workers and dragged them through the streets of Falluja. One corpse was carted through town as people slashed it with knives, beat it with sticks and jabbed it with poles. A burning body was doused with gasoline to raise the flames. Two charred bodies were hanged from a bridge over the Euphrates River. Body parts were hung from wires. US commanders vowed a massive response. We are unsure if such a "massive response" has ever occurred. Perhaps the answer lies in how one defines "massive."

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Then, on April 3, Coalition forces surrounded al-Sadr's house in Najaf and arrested Mustafa al-Yaqubi, a senior aide to al-Sadr. This photo, from CNN, is said to be an actual video cut of the raid.

We have seen one press report that said Bremer also ordered this action. Oddly, Iraq's Minister of Communications was flabbergasted to learn of the arrest, and said no one had alerted him to it prior to execution.

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On April 3, enemy militia took control of some five police stations and the municipal building, which heretofore had been a location of city pride and a place where democracy was starting to take root. Violence also broke out in Najaf, Nasiriyah, and Amarah, all led by Shi'as, not Sunnis, and it now appeared that the Coalition had at least a two front military problem on its hands, majority Shi'a and minority Sunni.

The Battle for Sadr City, April 4, 2004

So, here we are. It is now April 4, 2004. The stage is set for some kind of violent confrontation. And that's exactly what happened on this day. It's worth repeating that it is extraordinarily hard to reconstruct what happened in a battle, no matter who you are, or where you are. The fog of war is always thick. We are at the disadvantage of not having been there, and having to rely on media and personal accounts, though following publication of the story, we were contacted by a representative of the 1st Cavalry Division who helped clarify a few outstanding questions we had.

All that said, what we know for sure, however, is that eight American soldiers died that day in the fight. One commander said, "Uncommon valor was common that day." It is with these eight that we want to start:

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This is the memorial service held for seven of the eight who fell, conducted by the 2-5 Cav. Sgt. Mitchell's ceremony was conducted by his unit earlier. Photo credit: Michael Abrams, Stars and Stripes

A brief introduction to those who fell:

Spc. Robert R. Arsiaga, 25, San Antonio, Texas, 2nd Battalion, 5th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Armored Cavalry Division, hereinafter referred to as the 2-5 Cav.

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Tracie Arsiaga and Robert were married five months when he left for Iraq. Tracie said, "I'm not angry. I'm just hurt. I believe I should have had more time with him. He was taken too soon. He's our hero and we love him very, very much." Angel Munoz, Arsiaga's older sister who has served in the Army, said

Arsiaga was passionate about helping the Iraqi people. "The soldier in me says, 'That was his job,'" Munoz said. "And he did his job well. The sister in me is angry at losing him. I don't understand why he had to die."

Spc. Ahmed Cason, 24, McCalla, Alabama, 2-5 Cav

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He was known as Mel. Wanted to be military, like both parents. Family members said his loyalty to country came naturally, he didn't always agree, but always accepted the challenge and responsibility of what he had to do. He is a hero to everybody.

Sgt. Yihjyh L . " Eddie" Chen, 31, Saipan, Mariana Protectorate, 2-5 Cav

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Eddie was the oldest of those killed this day. His unit thought it was rotating out, but his platoon was called on to go in and help. Sgt. Chen was an infantryman with the 2-5 Cav, 1st Cavalry Division, working from a Humvee fighting vehicle when killed.

Spc. Israel Garza, 25, Lubbock, Texas, 2-5 Cav

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Good friends with Robert Arsiaga, who also died this day. Survived by his wife, Guadalupe Silva, two sons, Israel Jr., 2, and Michael, 4 months (at the time). Garza also had a daughter Brianna, 9 and a son, Stephen, 8. Israel's mom,

Dinah Rodriguez, tried to dissuade him from joining the Army. A week before he went to Iraq, she told him she finally accepted his position, and told him how proud she was of him. This is not a good photo of him, but is the only one we could find.

Spc Stephen D. Hiller, 25, Opelika, Alabama, 2-5 Cav

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Nicknamed "Dusty." Volunteered to go to Mexico in the summer to build homes for the poor. His mom says, "He was a true soldier. He volunteered for the mission he was on. If I had to choose a way for him to go, this would have been it. He was a military career man and I am very proud of him."

Cpl. Forest J. Jostes, 22, Albion, Illinois, 1st Battalion, 82nd Field Artillery Regiment, hereinafter referred to as the 1-82 FA, assigned to the 1st Armored Cavalry Division, supporting the 2-5 Cav.

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Wanted to be in the military since grade school. Two months after 911, he joined the regular Army. His mom and dad said, "He believed in what he was doing. He went in proud and brave to serve his country and fight terrorism, and we want him to be honored. We expressed all of our love to him. Although we mourn his loss, we are in good spirits."

Spc. Casey Sheehan, 24, Vacaville, California, 1-82 FA, assigned to the 1st Armored Cavalry Division, supporting the 2-5 Cav.

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An Eagle Scout, devout Catholic committed to his parish, saw the Army as another way of serving. His mom says, "My son was brave; he didn't want to go to war. But he joined the Army and he volunteered to go on the mission that killed him because his buddies needed to be rescued. "

Sgt. Michael W. Mitchell, 25, Porterville, California, C Company, 2nd Battalion, 37th Armor, 1st Armored Division

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His coach remembers him as "a scrappy, tenacious competitor." His dad is a Vietnam vet. His older sister, Christine Jaroe, remembers him as "my little playmate. I used to drag him and play in the dirt."

We are only going to deal with what happened on April 4, 2004, in Sadr City. We have tried to understand which outfits were in this fight. This is what we have reconstructed:

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The 2-5 Cav was there. It was commanded by Lt. Col. Gary Volesky. Alpha, Bravo and Charlie Company were all in the fight. Bravo Co. "Banshees" were out with their Bradleys taking care of business with the militias, and did plenty of fighting this day. Charlie Co.

"Comanches" were on patrol and got ambushed. Alpha Co. was standing ready as a Quick Reaction Force (QRF) in case anyone got into trouble. The 2-5 Cav had just rotated in. Most soldiers had been there only two weeks, its officers for a month or so, most of whom were just finishing their orientations. Lt. Col. Volesky took command of the 2-5 on this day. He was in the fight, reported at one time trying to talk to HQ by radio while at the same time gunning down enemy. For purposes of this report, our focus will be on the Charlie Co. "Comanches."

Charlie Troop., 2nd Battalion 37th Armor Regiment (C/2-37), an element of the 1st Armored Division, was in the fight for sure as well, attached to the 2nd Armored Cav Regiment (ACR) as a tank component. Captain John Moore, troop commander, wrote:

"On the afternoon (of April 4), elements of the Mahdi army engaged multiple elements of 2d Battalion, 5th Cavalry Regiment (2-5 CAV), 1st Cavalry Division, nearly simultaneously throughout Sadr City in northern Baghdad. Twenty soldiers from Comanche
Red Platoon, 2-5 CAV, had become isolated in the northern central portion of Sadr City, and available vehicle assets prohibited the unit’s exfiltration. Soldiers from C Troop, 2d Battalion, 37th Armor (Crusaders) … conducted a hasty attack into Sadr City to relieve the isolated infantry platoon."

Moore noted Charlie Troop had been operating in the city since October 2003 and constant operations there familiarized the Crusaders with the local terrain, which proved vital during the attack."

It is our understanding that the 2 ACR did not have any armor, but was organized as a Light Cavalry regiment. The 2-37 was in the process of rotating out of Iraq, but did send in Bravo Co. to help.

We fought with this story for two weeks, unable to resolve one issue. Based on an Army press release about two Silver Stars awarded for valor during the April 4 fight, we concluded that
the Army had launched an operation nicknamed "Operation Lancer Fury" in Sadr City on April 4 and terminated on April 9. We concluded that the eight soldier s killed on April 4 were part of this operation and we could not under stand how they could be surprised, ambushed and trapped. We concluded it was not a well planned operation.

We have since lear ned that Operation Lancer Fury did start on April 4, but it was a response to the ambushes and attacks that killed the eight and wounded so many others. It was a counter- attack.
The facts seem to be that the patrols sustaining the most serious attacks on April 4 included a routine patrol and rescue patrols that attempted to help that routine patrol once it came under a surprise attack. Operation Lancer Fury was then an organized counterattack that lasted until April 9 and took back a group of targets enemy forces were holding. We will return to it later.

We'll first try to describe what we think happened on April 4.

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Sergeant First Class (SFC) Jerry Swope, a platoon sergeant with Company C, 2-5 Cavalry, said the following about April 4:

“The day turned ugly real quick. We just tried to stay alive and get out of there ... We were so glad when those vehicles (a group of armored vehicles) came to help us and get us out of there. I just took all my guys and got out of there as quickly as we could.”

Melinda Liu, a well known and well respected reporter for
Newsweek magazine, a woman who was there during the initial invasion and came back a year later, in March 2004, and was still there in April, reported on this fight in Sadr City on April 4. She said this:

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“April 4 began as a routine day in the slum. A 19-man patrol in four Humvees was escorting three Iraqi 'honey wagons' on their rounds collecting sewage.”

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Company C, 2-5 Cav's First Sergeant Casey Carson has described events of April 4 in Sadr City this way:

“Operating out of Forward Operating Base 'War Eagle,' twenty two members of the 2-5 Cav were on patrol to protect Shia Muslim worshipers during the holy period of Arbayeen. The troopers were in heavily armored Humvees in the Sadr City slums of Baghdad when they were ambushed.”

Set aside the discrepancy on the purpose of the patrol, whether to accompany sewage workers or protect worshippers, and the numbers of soldiers involved.

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Liu reported that 1st Lt Shane Aguero was the platoon leader for the sewage escort. This is photo of him taken in Iraq sometime later. SFC Swope was in Lt. Aguero's platoon, riding the last Humvee.

So, for Comanche Co., 2-5 Cav, Aguero is at the lead and Swope is in the rear of a four Humvee patrol. Liu quotes Aguero saying he knew something was not right:

“People were throwing more rocks than usual at the (sewage) trucks and at our gunners. Our (sewage) work crews were threatened at each stop. At the last place about 400 people said [to the work crews] 'if you come back we'll kill you.'”

Liu then commented that all three drivers hauled their cargo to the disposal site, dumped it and quit on the spot.

Aguero's patrol continued on. According to Liu's account:

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“ The patrol encountered a number of armed men in a mosque and told them the weapons would have to be confiscated. The militants refused, and the Humvees moved on after some muddled negotiations about how the weapons would be turned in at a future date. Around 5:40 p.m., the patrol rolled past the Sadr Bureau, headquarters for the political wing of his (al-Sadr's) organization. Aguero noticed at least 200 men out front who 'quickly ran away when we arrived. Another 15 or 20 people outside were waving their hands at us-but to say stay away? Or to say hello? We couldn't tell.' A block later, the soldiers heard a few rounds of small arms fire. 'We couldn't tell where it came from, it was just three to five rounds,' says Sgt. Jerry Swope of Austin, Texas, who was in the last vehicle, 'we figured it was a lone gunman.'

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“Aguero decided to try to detain the shooter. But as they tried to determine the source of the gunfire, suddenly more gunmen joined in from street-level and from second-story balconies. 'We began to engage the enemy, then got back in our vehicles and headed north,' he says.

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"Suddenly, Aguero found his unit heading into a Mad Max gauntlet of burning tires and road obstacles of every imaginable description: concrete blocks, metal market stalls, air conditioners, scrap metal, truck axles, even refrigerators. The burning debris put out so much choking black smoke that visibility was down to 300 meters. The street had become 'a 300-meter-long kill zone,' recalls Aguero. The vehicles swerved and ran onto sidewalks, rolling on the rims of flat tires, as gunmen kept up the barrage of bullets.”

So what we have here is a routine patrol ambushed by surprise and suddenly trapped. On the surface, it appears enemy forces anticipated American patrols coming through this area and had a plan to attack them. Given that there had not been serious confrontations for so many months before, indeed given that the city had been relatively peaceful for many months, our soldiers were surprised.

A soldier with the B Co. Banshees has told us that once the ambush got underway, C Co. called for help and Alpha Co., the QRF force, responded but was brought under attack on its way to C Co.'s position. As a result, the Banshees were told to break off and get over to help C. Co. The Banshees, however, had to wait for a medevac to arrive before getting over there, and had to pick up the vehicles they had left in their area.

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First Sgt. Carson seems to ditto that. He said:

“The fact that a roadblock was set up, and that the original ambush used RPGs (rocket propelled grenades) and small arms from roof-tops and buildings indicate it was a planned attack, and not a spontaneous event.”

It is at this point, and we are close to 6 pm by this time, that Sgt. Chen was hit and killed on the spot. Another soldier was wounded.

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Then, according to Liu's account, two of the four Humvees were disabled. Aguero directed his people to dismount and get to protective cover, which they did. Aguero went with them and led his soldiers into a building where they could set up machine-gun positions on the roof.

SFC Swope was in this fight as well. He stayed in his Humvee, despite heavy fire, in order to keep his radio open to battalion and arrange for help.

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Swope later received the Silver Star for his bravery and the coordinating actions he took to get help. The photo to the right is of Swope on September 30, 2004, after receiving his award from Lt. General Thomas Metz, Multi-National Corps-Iraq Commanding General (Photo credit: Spc Erik LeDrew, US Army photo)

First Sgt. Carson reported that “ word got around (at Camp War Eagle) fast that the patrol was in trouble.” He said that their public affairs officer, Captain O'Malley, said this:

"They had guys who normally don't fight who volunteered to help their buddies. There were guys fighting to get on that convoy."

This is substantiated by the mother of Spc. Casey Sheehan. She has said that:

“And the sergeant said, 'Sheehan, you don't have to go,' because my son was a mechanic.' And Casey said, 'Where my chief goes, I go.' "

It is right about here that nailing down who did what to whom gets a little cloudy writing from here. We have received some critiques from men who fought there and will try our best to integrate what they have said with what we have read.

We have said that both A/2-5 Cav and B/2-5 Cav mounted QRFs, ran into trouble, and were delayed. Lt. Colonel Mark Calvert in command of 1-2 ACR, selected two platoons from C Troop, 1-2 ACR and they headed out from Camp War Eagle as a QRF. Calvert took these two platoons out for a reconnaissance assessment. Tanks from B/2-37 attached to the 1-2 ACR were then ordered to get ready for combat along with four Light Scout Platoons and a mortar infantry platoon from C Troop 1-2 ACR. At 2000 hours (8 PM), they all rolled out and conducted a direct assault into Sadr City. They reached their initial objective and eliminated enemy forces holding that objective. The C/1-2 ACR troops and B/2-37 tanks continued to attack through Sadr City engaging enemy forces until they were ordered to return to Camp War Eagle.

It should be said here that the 1-82 FA, to which Sheehan and Jostes (both participated in a QRF this day) were assigned, is field artillery, normally employing guns as shown here:

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These are powerful guns with very long range. Please recall that at least part of the 1-82 FA was at Camp Eagle, on the edge of Sadr City. So certainly such guns would be of little value at such close range. We have seen personal accounts that say that the 1-82 FA soldiers at Camp Eagle were not there to operate these weapons, but rather were there to supplement infantry. While that will strike most of us as yet another indicator that something was wrong, we would comment that our experience in Vietnam was that you use what you have, to do what you have to do, and sometimes one runs short of exactly the right resources. This is common in battle. But if this personal account is true, then it does seem to be an example of the criticism that we did not have suf ficient forces there to do the job.

According to Liu's account, Swope heard on the radio that the first QRF was ambushed two streets away. This seems to underscore that these QRFs entered the fray without a pre-determined plan and perhaps even with little support, like air or armor.

Swope saw that his patrol was stuck and would have to remain put and fight to survive. You will recall his saying:

“The day turned ugly real quick. We just tried to stay alive and get out of there.”

Swope, manning the radios, also came to realize that similar fighting was underway all over Sadr City, with other patrols ambushed, trapped and in a fight for their lives.

In the mean time, our analysis of the various accounts we have is that the first QRF was in trouble, and this second makeshift QRF also got into trouble. Our information is that it was composed of more Humvees and LMTVs, with no armor. The QRF headed down a street, turned a corner, the street was blocked, people started throwing obstacles behind them, including burning tires, and the QRF began taking fire from rooftops and windows. Before it was over, two soldiers were down. Spc. Casey Sheehan was dead. Cpl. Foster Jostes was badly wounded and was dead by the time he returned to Camp Eagle. We have a report that Sheehan was riding in an LMTV with no protection, while Jostes was in a Humvee.

Apparently a third QRF was called out of Camp Eagle at 10 pm. Liu said this QRF was composed of Humvees, Bradley Fighting Vehicles, and two L M TVs. First Sergeant Car son, and we think he was referring to this QRF, said it was composed of “two columns of Bradley Fighting Vehicles and M-1 Abrams tanks." The force in the main was drawn from the 1st Squadron, 2nd Cavalry Regiment, mainly the squadron's Comanche Troop (C Troop). Carson said it took three hours for this fairly powerful force to get to the patrol. Such a delay is hard to understand.

Spc. Ahmed Cason, we believe, was in the second QRF. He was a Humvee gunner, and was hit. He dropped down, then got up and started shooting more. He then ran out of blood and passed out. A medic tended to him and urged that they get Cason out right away. But the team was not able to move, caught in a stinging ambush. Cason bled to death.

Not widely acknowledged is the role played by the 1-12 Cav medics. They treated most of the casualties, and some of theirs even went out into the fight to assist the wounded. One of them has told us, "Soldiers were piling up in the back of the LMTVs and coming back seriously wounded. In fact, 35-40 minutes into the battle all wheeled vehicles were stopped from leaving the FOB because it was too dangerous."

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Aguero and his men remained on the rooftop, and successfully fought off attacks.

A Kiowa helicopter came over, the smoke and darkness were too much to distinguish between friend and foe, Aguero's men set up emergency panels designed to be seen at night, they set disabled Humvees on fire, and detonated smoke grenades. Some soldiers even ripped off segments of their uniforms and set them on fire to help the helicopter spot them.

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At long last, the heavy stuff arrived, tanks and Bradley fighting vehicles. The area began to quiet and the troops, assembling with the cover of the tanks, began to feel more secure.

While our focus has been on April 4, we do have a few photos from April 5, the very next day.

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Once the rescue forces got everyone out of their predicaments, including killed and wounded, Operation Lancer Fury was organized and set into motion as a counterattack. The mission was to seize and defend all municipal buildings, including police stations, in order to deny al-Sadr's militia from controlling any key infrastructure in the city. Lancer Fury kicked off late in the night on April 4. The report we have is that it took about an hour to gain control of all the police stations and the municipal building. The American force then defended all these until April 9, when the attacks had subsided and Iraqi Police were able to take over on their own. US tanks stood in front of the municipal building for several days as a show that American forces prevailed.

Combat operations of all sorts continued in and around the city until June, and started again on August 5, continuing to mid-October.

We had originally reported that a major effort ensued to buy arms from city residents as one means to pacify the area. Our information was that as of October 19, 2004, the US military had paid out about $1.2 million for weapons, which were being handed in at the central stadium. Our latest information is that the Army had paid for weapons in May 2004, but did not do so after that. Such weapons buys were instead made by the Iraqi government with US people working as advisors.

Iraq's interim prime minister, Iyad Allawi, showed courage to visit the city on October 18.

We're not sure how to close, so we'll close with this photo we found which has a little "prayer" inscribed on the wall, a prayer that has been around soldiers for a long time:

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And when he gets to Heaven, To Saint Peter he will tell,
"Just another soldier reporting Sir. I have spent my time in hell."