[Marxism] The Najaf cemetery battle
lnp3 at panix.com
Wed Aug 11 07:10:23 MDT 2004
Cemetery Fight Haunts Some U.S. Troops
'It Doesn't Feel Right Sometimes,' Soldier Says of Eerie, Perilous
Battle in Najaf
By Karl Vick
Washington Post Foreign Service
Wednesday, August 11, 2004; Page A01
NAJAF, Iraq, Aug. 10 -- Bats flapped out of crypts, startling soldiers
creeping through the cemetery with guns up. Graves opened beneath their
combat boots. And an old enemy displayed a new professionalism, darting
in clearly practiced moves between tombstone and mausoleum to stalk the
Americans from above ground and below.
In the battle to control one of the world's largest graveyards, U.S.
Marines and soldiers say they are coping with a lot, including lingering
regret. The vast cemetery in Najaf is sacred to Shiite Muslims, perhaps
2 million of whom lie buried in miles of desert adjoining the shrine of
Imam Ali, son-in-law of the prophet Muhammad.
Soldiers involved in the fighting described how many of the most recent
graves are marked by photos, which crumble when U.S. forces shell the
cemetery walls to reach the militiamen hiding within.
"Wives, daughters, husbands," said Sgt. Hector Guzman, 28, of the 1st
Cavalry Division's 5th Regiment. "You just know you're destroying that
The Houston native shook his head. "It doesn't feel right sometimes."
"We feel bad that we're destroying, that we're desecrating graves and
such," added Staff Sgt. Thomas Gentry, 29, of Altoona, Pa. "That's not
what we want to do."
The jumble of tombs, mausoleums and catacombs also made it treacherous
ground to fight on. Militia fighters hid underground and overhead,
soldiers and Marines recalled. "Most of the time," Guzman said, "it was
like jungle warfare, only without the jungle."
Soldiers said the insurgents showed signs that they had been training
during a cease-fire that had kept violence here to a minimum since early
June. U.S. units accustomed to the disorganized, hit-and-run strikes of
insurgents in Baghdad and elsewhere were impressed to see the black-clad
fighters of the Mahdi Army moving in coordinated units of five:
typically three armed with rifles, which they fired to provide cover for
the launch of rocket-propelled grenades, the weapon that has been most
damaging to U.S. forces in Iraq.
Additional evidence of training: flash suppressors on rifles, simple
Starlight-brand night-vision scopes and the evacuation of wounded.
Weapons were secreted throughout the cemetery.
"These people are a trained militia," said 1st Lt. Ronald C. Krepps of
the 1st Cavalry, who added that one mausoleum contained photos of Mahdi
fighters performing battle drills.
"More professional," said Miyamasu, the 5th Regiment battalion commander
whose troops provided Najaf reinforcement. "I don't mean to give them
too much, but they're good. These guys really make us work to kill them,
but in the end, they're dead."
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