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We Remember Iraq: The Easter Uprising – Part 1
By RU Contributor Antonio Aguilar
This story is the story of the April 2004 Shiite uprising in Iraq. It is largely told from my point of view, since I was there in both Najaf and Al Kut and it focuses on my unit, G Troop, 2nd Brigade, 1st Armored Division. I have striven, to the best of my ability, to gather information over the years to detail the experiences of other units there as well. To that end, I was able to get in contact with Herman Kritner and Andre Rivera who were willing to share with me some details that I would not have otherwise been able to ever find out. At some points this story may seem to focus on G Troop and on my own observations, I’ve done my best to include everyone involved. Omissions are only there for lack of information, or from soldiers who never gave me consent to use their names and mention them.
Over the passage of time my memory about these events has faded; and as any soldier who has been there knows, once you’re in a fire fight you get tunnel vision. Every person’s recollection of events is a little different. I’ve tried my best, all the same, to be as accurate as possible here but I cannot guarantee that every little detail will be remembered exactly the same by others. What follows are the events of April 2004, the so called “Easter Uprising”, as best as I can recall them.
The First Assault
It was a warm and sunny day at Al Sajud palace in the area of Baghdad known as the Green Zone, and G Troop, 2nd BDE, 1AD was packing to go home. We had pulled out sensitive items for what seemed like the hundredth time to do yet another inventory and to find that damn LASER designator that kept coming up missing. Extra ammunition was turned in, most of our heavier weapons packed, and every gun truck, (old style M1025s and M1026s with no armor, doors, or back hatches) were stripped down to a single M240B apiece. The commander had an M2, .50 caliber machine gun but that was it. My clothes were at the Iraqi run laundry place and I was wearing my only clean uniform.
The tan trucks of our 1st Cavalry Division counterparts, who had just arrived for RIP/TOA, were lined up out in front of the palace. We hadn’t even given them any real right seat rides, maybe one. I, like my fellow Scouts, was feeling pretty good. We had been in Iraq for a year now, having arrived just before the official end of “combat operations” and we had taken up residency in the rubble that was at one time recreational wing of the palace. Being the Brigade Reconnaissance Troop, or BRT, we were the unwanted bastard children of the Brigade, getting every odd job and shit detail but also operating with relatively little oversight. We got to play with SF and SAS teams on raids one day, and the next day we might be picking up and babysitting some random VIP coming in for photo-ops. We were the Brigade Quick Reaction Force all deployment, and we had escorted the IAEA inspectors to and from one of Saddam’s nuclear facilities while being chased by swarming packs of reporters who would rather risk running over a civilian than miss the chance of getting a good picture, and we’d helped train the Iraqi FPS service. The raids were really the high point of our deployment probably. My platoon sergeant, SSG Corey Isaacs, put it well.
As I recall, not one dirty little bastard we went after got away, and to this day, we still remain the only non-Special Forces unit to capture a member of the black list. I digress though… -SSG Corey Isaacs.
After a year of this, though it was often fun, we were more than ready to go home to Germany and let 1st Cav deal with the random pop shots from roof tops and 140 degree port-a-potties swarming with flies. And so we were packing to go, and then I saw Aaron Raymer come out of the TOC, running to locate Captain Logan, our commander.
I was on TOC duty one afternoon and received a call from Brigade headquarters that I was to tell CPT Logan, our commanding officer, to report to Stryker6 (our Brigade commander) immediately. About the same time I noticed the BDE commanders PSD spinning up (they were detached from our troop but still lived with us) to leave… Basically the gist of the afternoon was to get ready for a mission that would be sustained for an unknown period of time and at a location other than Baghdad… -Aaron Raymer
We went from relaxed and excited, packing to go home, to puckered, controlled panic. One moment we were getting ready to return to Germany, women, and beer and the next moment I was hearing hushed whispers talking about a Salvadoran FOB (Forward Operating Base) in An Najaf being overrun. Supposedly the Salvadorans were holed up in four buildings at the back of their FOB, trying to hold off their Shi’a attackers.
Najaf is a holy city for the Shi’a, the smaller of the two main sects of Islam. The shrine of Imam Ali is there; and Najaf was also home to Muqtada Muhammad Sadiq al Sadr, a self-appointed cleric whose father and brothers had been murdered by Saddam. Instead of welcoming Americans and thanking us for deposing Saddam, he had gotten in bed with Iran and formed his own private Army, the Jaysh al Mahdi, to make a bid for power by both ousting the Coalition Forces and overthrowing or strong arming the Iraqi government. His newspaper spewed hate filled propaganda, he murdered his Iraqi opposition, and his militia regularly attacked Coalition Forces. A few botched attempts had been made to rein him in but nothing had worked and any major plans to take him down had stalled in the planning and preparation phases, for political reasons.
The reports we got were later found to be a little exaggerated, but the proverbial shit had still hit the fan in Najaf. Years later I was able to track down SFC Herman Kritner of the 279th Signal Battalion, Alabama National Guard. He had been an 11B in the regular Army previously, and was now in charge of a small detachment in Najaf, providing telecommunications support for the Spanish contingent there. The area around Najaf fell under a multinational unit of mainly Spanish, Salvadoran, and Honduran soldiers.
Saturday April 3 was a normal day. The El Salvadoran Special Forces provided the main security force.This force was a highly trained and motivated unit. They manned towers, sniper positions, the gate and a roving patrol outside our perimeter. It was this roving patrol that was unusual. An American patrol would have at least three Humvees with a couple of mounted machine guns. Their patrol consisted of a Chevrolet pickup with about six soldiers in back completely exposed, looking for trouble.
Trouble is what they found on Sunday April 4 2004. 040404 is how we remember the date. At about noon I had taken the duty of watching the system while some of soldiers went for lunch at the dining facility located on Camp Golf. Our system was operating properly so all I had to do was sit there and watch lights blink on the panels. When I heard what sounded like a string of fire crackers going off, I stepped out the hatch and knew then what I heard. It was a fire fight outside the compound and growing more intense. We had heard small arms fire on occasion before but nothing like this. Then I heard the guns in the towers inside the compound join in. Later we learned an El Salvadoran patrol rolled up on a bus unloading armed Mahdi Militia. No one is sure who fired the first shot but when it started people came out of everywhere and started shooting. -SFC Herman Kritner
The events of that day weren’t documented well by the media, and some of the more left leaning members of the media even mocked El Salvador, thinking that a third world country could not contribute anything to the war. The truth of the events says otherwise. From what I have been able to gather, a patrol of a little over a dozen or so Salvadoran soldiers was ambushed when they tried to link up with an Iraqi Army Unit that had either deserted their post or joined with Jaysh al Mahdi (JAM). They were surrounded, outnumbered, and outgunned. One man was killed and a dozen others were wounded. As JAM began to overrun their position, several of the Iraqis tried to drag away an injured soldier. CPL Samuel Toloza, who was out of ammunition, charged them with a knife and stabbed several, driving them off and saving his injured comrade.
While the trapped patrol was trying to hold out for reinforcements, who did eventually arrive, JAM overran a large hospital next to the multinational FOB of Golf-Baker, inside the city of Najaf. From their elevated position they began to pour fire down on the FOB.
I directed the rest of my team to armor up and take up defensive positions around our trucks. Looking towards the wrought iron fence I could see masses of people running into the streets. Some were firing small arms in our direction…
By now it seemed like a full-fledged battle going on. I placed one soldier in the rig to keep the signal mission up, one soldier on the roof of trucks for a better firing position and the last in the position between the trucks. While I tried to keep up with the situation around us, I looked out to my front left and could see a platoon of El Salvadorans at the gate in a major fire fight. They were taking heavy direct fire from the enemy trying to enter the gate but they kept up a strong rate of return fire they kept them out. This caused the enemy to try to climb over the fence, which was a poor choice. They took a massive amount of direct fire from our position…
By this time the battle had turned into the enemy taking up firing positions in the buildings around our compound. One of those buildings was the ten story building on our right flank. Snipers were able to enter the building and take up firing positions. From this position they had the high ground flanking our gunners on the roof where my SAW gunner was located. The snipers wounded several soldiers and kept the gunners pinned down.
A MEDEVAC helicopter arrived for the wounded with an Apache gunship. The gunship fired up the building overlooking our right flank, taking out the snipers. The presence of the gunship discouraged the remainder of the enemy and most broke contact. We continued to take small arms fire into the evening. -SFC Herman Kritner
A Salvadoran assault took the hospital finally and held it for the remainder of the battle. The Spanish commander reportedly refused to deploy any of his soldiers except for a few APCs which seldom used anything larger than their coax guns. Air support was limited to that Apache strike due to the proximity of the enemy. One of the Alabama National Guard SAW gunners, SPC Michael Acquaviva, reportedly saved at least one wounded soldier on the rooftops that day.
FOB Golf-Baker was now under a state of siege and as SFC Kritner remembered it, “no one went in or out without shooting their way through…” This was the situation that Ghost Troop rolled into that April.
In Part II of this story we will continue the Easter Uprising.