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Anatomy of a raid

Successes in Iraq receive little public attention

Issue: "Iraq and terrorism," Nov. 11, 2006

Successes in Iraq receive little public attention. Did you read anywhere that in dawn raids on Oct. 20 a team of Iraqi soldiers and coalition advisors nabbed eight suspects from three terrorist cells specializing in kidnapping and murder? Or that the day before a similar force conducted an air-assault raid, capturing three men suspected of kidnapping and murdering Iraqi citizens?

Such raids prevent the multiplication of grisly incidents such as the Oct. 16 beheading of a kidnapped Orthodox priest in Mosul. But what goes into a successful raid? Here's an inside story about a raid last May 19 that led to the arrest of the alleged kidnappers of a journalist, Jill Carroll. (Carroll had been released on March 30, but these members of the "Revenge Brigade" allegedly also kidnapped others.)

As a young Marine Corps intelligence officer, Lt. Jake Cusack, tells the story, a convoy of armored Humvees carrying a raid force of 20 Marines rolled into a small village near Qaryat al Halabisah, west of the Euphrates River, near an abandoned train station and almost within sight of a large U.S. base. The target neighborhood seemed peaceful, but the Marines, proceeding on a tip, zeroed in on a home bearing the telltale green metal scrolling around the door mentioned in intelligence reports related to the Carroll kidnapping.

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Cusack and other Marines called politely at the door: "We presented ourselves as being on a routine visit, sort of 'Hey, we're just here to talk and see what's going on.'" The Iraqi man who answered the door opened his home hospitably to the fully armed, desert-camouflaged Marines who entered. He invited two of the Marines and a translator into a parlor off a long hallway. There they sat on floor mats and were offered bread and tea.

"I'm sure [the Iraqis] were very much on edge," Cusack said. "But the strength of any insurgency is the ability to blend in anonymously with the population. They were trying to behave like any other citizens at home."

The isolation of the parlor from the rest of the house made it easy for Cusack and other Marines to slip away quietly to search the other rooms. They proceeded down the hallway into the bedrooms and bath where they found what they were looking for: a slip of paper with Carroll's name written on it, $3,600 in American currency, and a false ceiling above the shower concealing a space that had been used to hide explosives. A further search found some still-classified items, along with an AK-47 assault rifle hidden in a car.

The Marines arrested all three men on the spot. The raid also yielded information that led to the rescue of two Iraqi hostages and the capture of three others involved in the kidnapping ring. The difficulty for U.S. forces involved in such raids is what they call "friction," Cusack said, "all those things that separate war in the abstract from war in reality. The villains don't all look evil and the heroes don't all look the part. . . . It's difficult and frustrating to pick out who the enemy is. It's important to have an external frame of reference, something to anchor your perception of what's going on and the choices you make."

-Lt. Jake Cusack is the son of WORLD board member Kevin Cusack

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