Defusing Saddam's Leftover Legacy
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
BAGHDAD, Iraq, May 5, 2003 It was a bizarre scene: hundreds of Iraqi civilians walking blithely past a park chock full of artillery, mortar and tank rounds.
"I count 171 rounds right here," Staff Sgt. Jeff Elliott said to Staff Sgt. Bryan Harrington. The two men were a team from the 18th Ordnance Company (Explosive Ordnance Disposal).
The company, based at Fort Bragg, N.C., has teams in Iraq finding and ensuring all ordnance is safe. The 3rd Infantry Division's 10th Engineer Battalion supports the EOD crew.
"Most of the ordnance is leftover Iraqi," Elliott said. "We have a couple of U.S. pieces that were dropped and failed to explode, but very few."
But it's the unexploded pieces that are very dangerous. The team located a 2,000-pound precision-guided bomb that penetrated a building and brought down the roof, but did not explode.
"The ceiling is resting on it," Harrington said. "We need to dig around it to see what type of fusing there is on it and how we can render it harmless."
However, the scene at the park was more typical. An Iraqi artillery unit had set up in the park and placed ammunition at various places around the park. The two NCOs surmised that the Iraqis would fire a gun, move the piece to another spot, fire it again, and continue the process. "It was probably the only way they could avoid getting hit," Elliott said.
Besides the other ordnance in the park tank rounds, rocket-propelled grenades, mortar rounds and some small- arms ammo burned-out military trucks and discarded uniforms and helmets littered the area as well.
The site was in the middle of a neighborhood and across the street from a girl's school. A main thoroughfare bisected the park and cars, buses and pedestrians cut through it.
"This is very bad," said an Iraqi man who stopped by to comment to the NCOs. "Young children may get hurt by this. It must go. Will you take it today?"
The two NCOs agreed. "We need to recover this today or tomorrow," Harrington said.
"I'll plot this and get back to the (tactical operations center)," Elliott said.
"Here's more," said Sgt. James Seibert, the escort from the engineer battalion.
The final count was more than 1,700 rounds in the park. The NCOs estimated it would take four trucks to haul all the ammo away.
But it wasn't all huge caches. Another job called for the EOD soldiers to find and secure an Iraqi hand grenade. An Iraqi citizen told a civil affairs soldier about a grenade in a park. That soldier "plugged" the location of the grenade with a Global Positioning System receiver. The grid coordinate came down to EOD.
The two-Humvee convoy drove through a number of neighborhoods in western Baghdad looking for the site. It finally found the site and checked out the grenade. The soldiers secured it with a bottle cap and tape and placed it in their vehicle for disposal.
The engineers found an AK-47 assault rifle and turned it in to the ammunition storage point. That site, on one of Saddam's innumerable palaces, was filled with Iraqi ordnance taken from hundreds of sites throughout the city.
Three weeks after the fighting stopped, the full measure of Saddam Hussein's preparations was really becoming apparent. U.S. Army officials estimated they move 20 to 25 large truckloads of ammunition each day from Baghdad. This covers everything from shotgun and small-arms ammunition to Roland rocket systems.
In one garage, rocket-propelled grenades were stacked like cordwood. In another, cardboard boxes contained thousands of shotgun shells. In still another, thousands of mortar shells filled the entire back wall.
And soldiers are still finding them. "We walked up to houses and told the folks that their neighbors said they had a gun they were using unsafely," Seibert, the engineer, said. "I think every weapon we get off the streets make this place safer."
Other units have found other caches. Most schools had caches of regime arms stashed in them. Most of those are gone, but soldiers are still moving some arms out of these structures.
Other caches were in the same shape as the one in the park. "We surveyed one down by the river that has thousands of mortar shells," Elliott said. "We need to get that out of there."
The final mission of the day was to check on a position down by the river. The EOD specialists found the ammunition by a ruined bunker. "Most of this is burnt out," Harrington said. "I'll check it."
As he and Elliott looked at the ammo, Seibert called out, "I think there are missiles here." He was looking at another bunker. Elliott and Harrington quickly identified them as partially destroyed SA-7 missiles shouldered- fired anti-aircraft missiles. "We're going to have to get Chapman (another EOD NCO) out here for this," Elliott said.
"Right," Harrington replied. "And we can take care of the mortars at the same time. Some of them are only partially burned."
The EOD specialists work long hours in difficult circumstances to ensure the population of Baghdad is secure. They are eliminating Saddam regime-imposed dangers. In one example, a family was trying to use the propellant from a Soviet FROG missile to heat their food. In others, children were playing in the middle of thousands of rounds of ammunition and some propellant had leaked.
"This is part of what the military can do that no other organization can," Elliott said. "We have the expertise. No one else really does."