IRAQI NATIONAL GUARD COMPOUND MAHMUDIYAH, Iraq -- The quick reaction of two Iraqi National Guard soldiers cost them their own lives, but saved those of 250 recently.
"The people who did this are against the advancement of Iraq. They are only trying to start violence and cause a nuisance," said Sgt. Ali Al-Hamdani, a spokesman for the Mahmudiyah ING. "These soldiers were very good at their duties. Their sacrifice is necessary for the security of Iraq."
More than 250 Iraqi men had gathered outside the front gates of the compound here during the morning of July 17. Many were interested in joining the newly formed Iraqi National Guard and working to rebuild their country. One terrorist saw this as the best time to strike.
A taxi approached the front gates at 7:45 a.m., according to witnesses. One of the Iraqi soldiers on duty at the gate that morning was Adil Abed, a young man who was planning to be married next week. He would never see his ceremony or his bride-to-be again.
Abed attempted to stop the suspicious taxi. When the driver failed to respond, Abed fired his AK-47 and the driver returned fire with a pistol, hitting Abed.
The soldier's comrade Sadaam Obeeid rushed forward to help his friend when the taxi, packed with explosives, detonated. The blast sent shrapnel and debris a hundred meters in every direction killing the two soldiers, the driver and injuring many of the civilians standing near the gate. The engine block of the taxi landed 80 meters away from the blast. It landed on top of a parked car.
When the confusion caused by the attack died down, the soldiers took time to reflect on what they'd lost a few days later.
"We are very sad. They were our friends and now we've lost them. They were good men," said Deputy Sgt. Thaid Hadiph, an ING soldier from Mahmudiyah. "The sacrifice they made for Iraq will not be forgotten."
The Iraqi solders' actions weren't surprising for the Marines dedicated to training them to take a greater role in security and rooting out terrorism. Lt. Col. Rick Jackson is a 46-year-old from Allendale, N.J. Marine serving as the deputy director of Iraqi Security Forces for 1st Marine Division. He said the actions, while tragic, are telling of the dedication of Iraqis sworn to protect their nation.
"These guys are out training with us every day," Jackson explained. "We do joint patrols together. To hear they stood their ground and acted the way they did isn't that surprising at all."
Jackson refuted rumors that ING soldiers were unwilling or unable to perform their missions. He compared their training to that of Marines.
"If you enlisted a Marine in February, when these guys stood up, he wouldn't be to his first unit by now," he said. "Now, they're not Marines, but if you look at the amount of formalized training and the threat, they're doing a pretty good job."
The soldiers of the ING here showed some sadness when they talked about their friends killed in the explosion. However, through the loss, they also found new resolve to continue protecting the people of Iraq.
"They are holy victims of the war on terrorism," said Iraqi Sgt. Haair Ahamy, an ING soldier. "They stood up and were brave, protecting their people. They were cowards, the terrorists who attacked us."
Ahamy said the attacks were a blatant attempt by anti-Iraqi forces to derail progress being made to stabilize Iraqi under the new sovereign government. The terrorist's target, he explained, was a group willing to serve their nation's interests. That flow of eager men hasn't slowed.
Every hour, men approach the gate to join the ING. One recruit said he did not like the deaths of the soldiers but he was not afraid of it.
"The terrorists were trying to discourage people from joining the ING with their attack," Ahamy said. "In the days following it we have had many, many men come to us wanting to join. They see the attack as proof they are needed. Terrorists will not win here."
The soldiers gathered the remains of their fallen and draped them with an Iraqi flag. A ceremony was held on the compound before turning the fallen over to their families. Iraqi officers visited the families of the two men during the funeral ceremonies to offer their condolences.
"Their death makes a vibration that is felt in the town. The people want the violence to stop," Haair said. "We all know we must work hard and be responsible for that to happen. We support the soldiers' sacrifice by continuing their holy duty to make that happen."
For the Marines' part, the sacrifice of the two Iraqi soldiers is indicative of the resolve of their comrades.
"I had confidence before this incident," Jackson said. "I've seen what these guys are trying to do. We need to invest time in them and work with them and get them their gear."