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Taking On Sadr City in a Pickup Truck

Martin turned to another gunner who had been two Humvees behind the Nissan. He cut away the man's shirt, revealing his punctured right shoulder.

"My shoulder, Doc," he said. "I can't feel my shoulder."


Ahmed Khaleb, a guardsman and driver, was hospitalized after the bomb blast. His commander said civilian vehicles are "not right for the army." (Steve Fainaru -- The Washington Post)


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U.S. officials requested that the names of the three Americans wounded by the bomb not be released, because their families may not have been notified.

In the meantime, two American soldiers got Khaleb onto a stretcher and placed him in a Humvee.

U.S. commanders quickly began to clear the area, fearing another attack. The truck was abandoned. The Humvees raced out of the southeast side of the lot, a cloud of dust rising in their wake. The two that had led and followed the Nissan headed back down Canal Road in the same order, now minus the pickup.

Within a half mile of the lot, the shrapnel-pierced right rear tire of the front vehicle began to disintegrate. Black smoke and the smell of the burning tire trailed behind it, filling the air. Outside Sadr City, in a more secure area of Baghdad, the two vehicles pulled over to the side of the road. An hour passed as the soldiers struggled to jack up the heavy vehicle and replace the oversize tire.

The skin on the right side of both vehicles was gouged with holes the size of marbles. The right rear windows were also punctured, but shrapnel did not appear to have penetrated either vehicle.

Pfc. Dion Butler, 20, was riding in a rear passenger seat in the Humvee in front of the Nissan. He said he had opened the door slightly before the blast to test it because it had been sticking.

A piece of shrapnel appeared to have entered through the slight opening. It narrowly missed the head of Sgt. Jason Pries, 28, of Rochester, N.Y., who was seated in the front passenger seat. The ball bearing hit the front window, gouging the glass and spreading a web of cracks from the point of impact.

"You almost got me killed, man," Pries joked in relief when Butler said he had left the door open.

Sgt. Nick Varney, of Lancaster, Calif., was driving the Humvee behind the Nissan. He called Sadr City "an IED planet," using the shorthand for the military term improvised explosive device, and said an attack in the lot had been likely because U.S. tanks frequently park there. "It was only a matter of time before the Mahdi militia was going to try to stage an ambush," he said.

The vehicles made it back to Camp Cuervo, a forward operating base about six miles southeast of Sadr City, at 5:30 p.m.

"I've never needed a cigarette more in my life," said one of the soldiers.

"I've never needed to drop acid more in my life," said another.

Lt. Col. Florentino "Lopez" Carter, the task force commander, said that until the Iraqis received better equipment he would no longer send them into Sadr City.

Before the June 28 transfer of political authority to an interim Iraqi government, the Iraqis accompanied the American soldiers on patrols, often taking vacant seats in their Humvees. They now ride in their own vehicles -- not just used pickups but civilian transport trucks and minivans provided by the interim government's Defense Ministry. They use old AK-47s and RPK light machine guns.

"They're still using those old World War II-style helmets," said Carter. "Truth be told, they're better off without them, because they don't provide the ballistic protection that our equipment provides."

Carter said the lack of adequate equipment is "the biggest challenge" to the goal of integrating the Iraqis into U.S.-led operations.

As Carter spoke, Maj. Hugh McGloin, his operations chief, walked into his office. Earlier in the day, McGloin had been wounded by a separate roadside bomb. Shrapnel hit him in the back of his helmeted head. As he bent over, he said, his blast-resistant glasses fell off, then began to pool with blood.

McGloin's head was bandaged. Carter handed him a cell phone to call his family, then examined the injured soldier's helmet.

"That saved your life, bro," said Carter.


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