Saturday, January 28, 2006

Embedded With U.S. Marines


If the guardrails weren't all smashed, you might believe you were riding down a new highway somewhere in southwest America.

There's smooth asphalt and three lanes neatly separated by lines of white paint cutting through miles of desert on this stretch of road just outside the western city of Ramadi. This part of Highway 10, which cuts across from Amman, Jordan to Baghdad, stood out; I'm accustomed to riding roads marked with craters from powerful bombs that regularly throw blocks of asphalt into the air. I thought of a trip I made to Baqouba last month, where one night I saw a wedding party of singing guests packed in tiny decorated cars swerve around craters along a downtown street.

Roadside bombs are the most common form of insurgent attack in Iraq: According to U.S. military statistics, there were nearly 11,000 roadside bombings here last year, or about 30 per day. Most American casualties come from such attacks.

These bombings, along with the threat of suicide car bombers, have resulted in one unfortunate reality for Iraqi drivers: they must pay attention and suddenly turn off onto roadsides or keep a safe distance every time a U.S. patrol or convoy passes by.

The drivers on this highway were alerted to the convoy I was riding with by a blaring siren that signaled them to pull over.

At one point the gunner's legs dangling from the hatch above tensed up, which I've seen before as soldiers prepare to fire their 50 caliber gun from the top of the Humvee. Fortunately, the suspect car turned away."


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