US service members, Iraqi police quell riot

27 Jul 2003 | Army Spc. Benjamin R. Kibbey

When a peaceful demonstration turned into a violent attack on U.S. servicemembers and Iraqi police, a swift and decisive response ended the hostilities quickly and without casualties.

Responding to a clash between Army military police and city residents the previous night, a group of demonstrators congregated in front of Karbala City Hall the morning of July 27.

The incident the previous night had led to the death of at least one Iraqi when he opened fire on the MPs, who were searching for weapons near one of the city's holy Muslim shrines, leading to anger from several locals.

"We were expecting a demonstration," said Army Spc. James Maher, 19, from Stevens Point, Wis., a reservist with 432nd Civil Affairs Battalion of Green Bay, Wis.  "It started getting late, so we were thinking they weren't going to come."

However, the demonstrators did come as a tremendous number filled the street in front of city hall, blocking several lanes of traffic.

"It wasn't too bad," Maher said.  "They sat down, they were talking, they got up and chanted, but when they started leaving, they started throwing rocks."

Tensions grew, but the American MPs and Iraqi police eventually brought the situation under control through techniques that police officials have learned from the soldiers through joint patrols and first-hand training.

Army MPs from the 870th MP Company out of Pittsburgh, Calif., were already on line with Iraqi police when the crowd turned violent. Along with members of 3rd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, the Army MPs and Iraqi police reacted quickly and decisively to quell the rioters.

"The boiling point was when the crowd assembled in a line and started to approach us," said Marine Sgt. Jeff Rand, a Youngstown, Ohio native and the public safety team noncommissioned officer with the 3rd Marine Civil Affairs Group of Camp Pendleton, Calif.

"They kind of charged us," said Army Sgt. Nick Cione, 30, a Philadelphia police officer, who serves as liaison between Iraqi police and his unit, 304th Civil Affairs Brigade.

"There were people in the crowd taking swings at us," Rand said.

The U.S. servicemembers and Iraqi police began to subdue their attackers. Just as the crowd was coming under control and dispersing, a man with a megaphone who had been incited the crowd further.

"The guy with the megaphone gave the command to open fire on the Americans," said Rand.  "We were engaged to the right, then to the front."

As rounds impacted, Rand and Cione took cover behind a vehicle and tried to figure out what to do next.

After coordinating with the MPs, Rand and Cione directed the Iraqi police in an attempt to take the house across the street from city hall where the shots had come from.

"Whenever there's a protest, my job and Jeff's job is to organize the Iraqi Police," said Cione.  "We help get the MPs online, but we mainly deal with the Iraqi police and tell them what we expect, brief them real quick."

"We took the Iraqi police as the entry team, and we provided security," said Rand.

After hustling 20 people out of the house--all men who had run into the house after the riot was dispersed--someone began shooting again from inside the house.  Employing police techniques they have learned from those American reservists who are employed in law enforcement in the US, the Iraqi police launched back into the building and captured the gunman alive, Rand said.

Only 15 minutes elapsed from the time the first rock was thrown to the Iraqi police bringing the gunman from the house unharmed, Maher said.

In the end, there were no deaths and only a few minor injuries on either side, and all of that can be attributed to the training and professionalism displayed by both the coalition forces and the Iraqi police officers they have benefited from their time with the MP unit.