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In Mosul, a Battle 'Beyond Ruthless'

Keating said Ruiz "pretty much wrote the book on this particular style of unit. This is the first time it had ever been done, and he basically figured out how that system works."

Among soldiers in Mosul, Ruiz's aggressiveness is legendary -- both in attacking the insurgents and gathering intelligence. Keating said Ruiz "plays by the rules of Iraq, not by the rules that are written by some staff guy who's never been on the ground. He's never crossed the line, but he'll go right up to it time and time again."

Sgt. 1st Class Domingo Ruiz, on patrol in Mosul with the unit he leads, was once a gang member in Brooklyn. He says the rules of the street also apply in Mosul. "What I see here, I saw a long time ago," he said. "It's the same patterns." (Steve Fainaru -- The Washington Post)

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After recently hearing that a security guard was allowing insurgents to meet at night at a school, Ruiz said, he confronted the principal by "taking over his personal space" and threatening to shut down the school down if the meetings continued. At a store whose owner he believed was aiding insurgents, Ruiz threatened to park a Stryker out front and post a sign saying that the man was abetting terrorism.

Ruiz said he "never crosses the line." But he said one reason for the platoon's success was his willingness to act decisively and ruthlessly. "It's important for my soldiers to know that we're not going to hesitate to annihilate the enemy," he said. "A bullet coming toward you means that they want to kill you. What are you supposed to do, come back with flowers? But believe it or not, you have people here that want to give them, you know, a little bag of candy."

Acting swiftly, he said, "sends a message to the enemy that we're not playing games. If you engage us, you are going to die."

Born said Ruiz, like the comic book hero Spider-Man, seems to possess "a spidey-sense that starts tingling when bad stuff is going on."

Laying the Ambush

Before the March 12 ambush, Ruiz set up an observation post in a remote house, telling his skeptical platoon, "This is where they'll come." The insurgents in the three cars had attacked a convoy of Iraqi soldiers, then gathered in front of the house to consolidate their weapons -- all the time unaware they were being watched by Ruiz and his men.

In the fury of the ambush, the three cars managed to drive off. In addition to the man who was killed instantly, the Americans concluded that at least one other insurgent was killed and carried off because an abandoned vehicle discovered nearby contained "a lot of blood and brain and skull matter," Born said.

Born said he thought the ambush likely had "a huge impact on [the insurgents'] morale. Getting ambushed like that -- they're usually the guys doing the ambushing."

Ruiz said the decision to pick up the skull fragment and take it back to the base was a "sarcastic" gesture to confirm the kill to the battalion. Born, who was not present during the attack, said the soldiers picked up the fragment not as a trophy, which is prohibited under military regulations, but to confirm "that we had the remains of a terrorist."

As March continued, the 4th Platoon's reputation only grew. Four days after the ambush, on March 16, Ruiz ordered a "flash" checkpoint to search vehicles on a road in southeastern Mosul.

Soldiers who described the incident afterward said the platoon blocked traffic with three Strykers and approached the vehicles on foot. As they did, three men in an Opel sedan opened fire with automatic weapons. One soldier, Spec. Jarrod Romine, 25, of Branson, Mo., was struck several times and absorbed a bullet fragment in one of his eyes.

Romine was still advancing when the car accelerated and ran over him. His armored vest caught on the Opel's bumper, preventing his head from going under a tire, but the car began to drag him.

Just then, two soldiers from the 4th Platoon closed in from both sides and shot the three men with automatic weapons at point-blank range.

Romine, who is recovering in the United States, lost parts of two fingers, but so far his eye has been saved, said Staff Sgt. Jose Cortez, 32, of El Monte, Calif., one of the two men who killed the vehicle's occupants. Two other soldiers were also wounded but are recovering.

Ruiz said he once went to a palm reader in Colombia, and "she told me I got a three-meter angel hanging around me all the time. I believe that crap, too, man. Everybody shares my angel."

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