Insurgency Leaves U.S. Forces Baffled
The blazing rooftop ambushes that greeted his men were an unequivocal sign that the cease-fire had not taken hold. Searching for a way to get above the fire, Silk and his men charged into a private home, apologized briefly to the flustered owners, and headed to the roof to set up gun positions.
"I thought they'd be angry, upset," said Silk, an amiable 35-year-old from Boston who had spent his career in the enlisted ranks until commissioned before the war. "The next thing I know, they're serving us food and tea while we were fighting."
In the streets below Silk's position, the battle worsened. He and his men left the surprising hospitality and joined the fight, at times engaging insurgents in hand-to-hand combat. But Silk was also receiving a shocking new daylight perspective on the kind of combat that had been hidden in darkness for weeks.
"When we returned to camp that afternoon, me and my gunners were all shaking," Silk said. "It was the first time we'd ever seen what our guns were doing to them."
Capt. Geoff Wright, who commands a tank company, was in the fight with Silk that day in Kufa. And he, too, was taken aback after seeing the faces of his enemy, much younger than he had imagined, up close.
To Wright, known for his wry sense of humor, the daylight fighting also clarified in a disappointing way the halting progress the Americans had made with Iraqis during the occupation.
In this case, it seemed to Wright, the Shiite Muslim majority that had largely welcomed the U.S. invasion after suffering under ousted president Saddam Hussein's Sunni-led government had turned.
"It was interesting to think about," said Wright, 31, of Emmaus, Pa. "These were the same people that all year you have been trying to cultivate, and now they are either sitting on the fence and quietly hoping you succeed or working against you."
Many division soldiers suggested that the tactics employed by the insurgency shaped, unfairly or not, their view of Iraqis who were not technically part of it. The distinction was often a challenging one to make on the urban battlefields they encountered.
Soldiers were attacked during the spring campaign in the south from the roofs of hospitals and the classrooms of schools. Mosques became weapons stockpiles and staging areas for ambushes. Snipers hid in the tops of date palm trees.
"They had good ideas about where they wanted us to fight," said Staff Sgt. Robert McBride, 35, from Roscoe, Tex., and a veteran of the Persian Gulf War.
But rarely, particularly as the uprising developed, did Iraqi civilians step forward with information to save soldiers from an ambush or point out a weapons depot. Part of the reason for that was fear, soldiers said they believed, but also a reluctance to take sides.
After weeks of intense fighting near Kufa's Salah mosque, Capt. John Moore, a tank company commander, said people emerged from their homes to greet the soldiers. No help had been forthcoming in the previous weeks, but to Moore it appeared that a new popularity flowed from their apparent victory.
"Maybe they were just happy we weren't shooting off heavy weaponry in their neighborhood anymore," said Moore, 33, of Chesapeake, Va. "But it also seemed like they were happy the SOBs were gone."
© 2004 The Washington Post Company