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Friday, July 20, 2007

Article: Iraq Is Lovely -- from the Air

Here is a good article from the blog of ABC News' Terry McCarthy.

July 11, 2007 10:06 PM

Today we flew down south in Blackhawk helicopters along the Tigris River over the musical-sounding towns of Mahmudiyah, Iskandariyah. We passed over green fields and huge groves of palm trees watered by the network of irrigation canals coming off the Tigris.

We saw farm houses with cows and sheep outside, and men out in the fields working, not bothering to look up at the metal birds that are now so familiar to them after four years of war. Idyllic as it seemed from the air, on the ground it is a different story. This is the infamous Triangle of Death, an area of land south of Baghdad controlled by al Qaeda extremists who have kidnapped U.S. soldiers, terrorized the local population, and sewn the roads with deadly bombs. Helicopters are the only safe way to travel across this part of Iraq with its invisible threats underground.

Our destination was a couple of U.S. bases -- Forward Operating Base Kalsu and Patrol Base Murray (somehow they lack the musicality of the Iraqi place names). The soldiers here are part of the surge -- the last troops to arrive, in fact, as part of the increase in U.S. troops that began back in February.

Many of the soldiers we met today had only been in their base for three weeks, and were still adjusting to the heat -- over 120 today. One commander had to ship 23 men out to recover from heat exhaustion. Iraqi summers.

The soldiers are moving into areas that had not been intensively patrolled before, but somehow al Qaeda knew they were coming, and put in so many roadside bombs -- IEDs in military speak, for improvised explosive devices -- that a number of roads were regarded as simply impassable.

Rather than risk soldiers' lives in an attempt to clear IEDs from some of these roads, they came up with a typically American solution -- they called in powerful B1 bombers to drop sticks of bombs all along the most dangerous parts of the roads, which blew up and set off a series of secondary explosions wherever the IEDs had been planted. Simple, effective, nobody gets hurt -- and the engineering corps is left with the huge job of building a new road…

The soldiers' primary mission here is to find the factories where car bombs are made for use in Baghdad. In the past three weeks they have found three, which were disguised. As one colonel explained, "They know we have Predator drones and helicopters in the air, so they put the car bomb factories in garages or car washes, which have a reason to have cars inside and so don't look suspicious." From the air, Iraq looks fine and peaceful. It is only when you get on the ground that you see the scars of war.


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