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NEWS | Sept. 15, 2010

Girl’s alertness, quick wits thwart terrorist attack

By Leslie Sabbagh, U.S. Forces–Iraq, Deputy Commanding General (Advising and Training)

BAGHDAD - On a sultry summer night at a popular Baghdad kebab restaurant, a young girl’s keen intelligence helped save her family from certain tragedy.

Fatimah, an 8-year-old Iraqi girl, her 3-year-old sister and 4-year-old brother were waiting for their father outside a local restaurant when another car drove up next to theirs. The passenger’s door opened, hitting the car. A teenage boy leaned out, and Fatimah heard something hit the underside of the car. The teenager, about 16 years old, pulled back into the car, shut his door and drove away.

Inside the restaurant, Daoud, a colonel in the Iraqi police force, collected the family’s take-out dinners and walked the 20 feet back to his car. As he got in, Fatimah told her father what happened, describing the teenager’s actions and the sound she heard. Daoud instantly recalled the training he’d received from Iraq Training and Advising Mission Ministry of Interior Police and Iraqi Police Transition Team.

 “I took what my daughter said seriously,” Daoud said. He opened his door and lay down to check the undercarriage. “I saw it right away – directly under the driver’s seat.”

“It” was a magnetically adhesive improvised explosive device identical to the one “my friend had shown me a few days earlier.”

Daoud quietly closed the driver’s door, then opened the passenger’s door and took Fatimah out. He reached through the rear window and gently pulled his younger daughter and son out of the car. He placed the children in the car of the restaurant owner, and called the operation center to report the sticky bomb.

Less than three minutes later, the bomb exploded, ripping through the driver’s seat and tearing jagged holes in the roof. The blast severely damaged the back seat, where the two youngest children had been sitting.

The images he shows visitors of the damaged car are chilling – it is clear that the colonel would have been killed, and his children severely wounded or killed. More than six weeks have passed, and Daoud’s worry and exhaustion are obvious – he’s lost more than 30 pounds in the weeks since. The attack is always on his mind, and he constantly analyzes the events leading up to the attack.

“I was test driving a new work vehicle … this was the first time the children had seen it and they were eager for a ride,” he said.

Also known as sticky bombs, MAIEDs have become increasingly popular assassination techniques in Iraq because they are cheaper and easier to use then emplaced improvised explosive devices.

Following the murder of a senior Iraqi police general’s driver, IPTT advisors Peter Griffin, Jim Morill and U.S. Army Capt. Daniel Rousseau, based at Joint Security Station Shield, briefed senior Iraqi Police leadership on MAIEDs.

For roughly two weeks, there were attempts on some half-dozen ministry officials and their personal security details, which resulted in the deaths, or injuries, of several individuals..

The training included instruction on types, how the bombs are commonly used, and how they are attached to vehicles and other objects. The ITAM Iraqi Police Transition Team members distributed these training materials to Iraq Police Service affairs directors and showed them captured MAIEDs, Rousseau said.

“During the string of attacks on MoI personnel in August, we discussed the sticky bomb threat with MoI personnel every day,” said Rousseau. Counter-surveillance, and counter-terrorist lesson plans were developed with IPS operations for distribution to the IPS anti-crime and PSD teams.

“This training is vital to force protection and the protection of key MoI leaders. Rousseau said. “If a leader gets taken out with a PSD team, then what type of message does that send to subordinates and terrorists?”

The training was given to the majority of the Senior IPS Directorate members and their PSD teams – about 100 people.

The ITAM Iraqi Police Transition Team stressed Iraqis practice the counter IED techniques, not only while on duty, but off duty as well.

“Half the people we speak with don’t live at home due to terrorist threats. I have met Senior police officers that have suffered multiple attacks on their lives, and many more had friends who have been targeted over the years,” said Rousseau, who is a member of the Florida Army National Guard.

Future plans have the IPTT working with the ITAM Police General Counter Explosive Directorate to encourage Iraqi-led training. With GCED advisors the Iraqis have developed an in-service briefing for senior officers on force protection and Counter-IED procedures. The first in-service briefing is scheduled for mid-October.

The Iraqis have taken the training provided by ITAM GCED and applied it to counter MAIED protocol.

Another part of the counter-surveillance program actively looks for criminal surveillance, uses decoys and uses community policing techniques and hidden cameras.

Knowing your neighborhood and knowing your neighbors is a vital part of counter-surveillance.

“We keep telling the Iraqis they have to take back their neighborhoods, but I have those same discussions with neighborhoods in Chicago, Boston and Orlando,” Rousseau said. “The reality is, these people know we’re not going to be here 24 hours a day, and they can become victims to the very people they’re reporting – they’re scared.”

Adding to the difficulty is the Iraqi mindset – reactive rather than proactive – so teaching intelligence-led policing is a challenge.

“We’re trying to show them how to take the next step – the proactive step. It goes far beyond force protection to how we’re going to protect our people,” Rousseau said. “It’s showing them how to avert rather than react to crises.”

The team is working with their Iraqi counter ITAM Police GCED advisors to facilitate an Iraq GCED MoI IPS in-service training class.

“We would like the Iraqi GCED to take the initiative, and have the MoI direct that this type of training be given to all IPS officers,” Rousseau said.

As for Daoud, he couldn’t be prouder of Fatimah adding, “she saved our lives. She’s my hero.”