Allen Pizzey reports from Baghdad on what it's like there on the 4th anniversary of the Iraq war.
If you want to know what it's like to be in Iraq four years after the war started, take a ride with the 410th Military Police. Based out of Fort Hood, Texas, the 410th now makes its home on the edge of the Baghdad International Airport in a sprawling base known as Camp Victory.
Several days a week, its members make the treacherous trip to an Iraqi police post that is being turned into one of the Joint Security Stations. It's where American and Iraqi forces will live side by side, 24/7, to make the new security plan a reality.
It's in Ghazaliyah, arguably the most dangerous of Baghdad's many suburbs. The road leading to it is "interesting," as one of the MPs cheerfully says.
"There was a catastrophic hit on it yesterday," he says. The 410th's MPs are attacked "on a regular basis" with small arms fire or improvised explosive devices, known as IEDs.
The "hit" under discussion was an IED that wrecked a Humvee, killing four soldiers. Their deaths would not be officially announced until later in the day. The military waits 24 hours after a fatality so next of kin can be informed before they read about it in the paper or hear about an attack on TV and have to wonder if it is a loved one.
Getting off Camp Victory and onto that road takes half an hour. There is a briefing, and the pause at the gate to "lock and load." The driver of the Humvee I'm in hefts a belt-fed machine gun out to slap ammunition in place. It weighs about the same as she does.
Private First Class Shalimar Fischetti, who cheerfully answers to the nickname "Fish Sticks," is half-Puerto Rican, half-Italian. Her helmet hides a haircut that would make Sinead O'Connor look hirsute, and she handles the heavily-armored Humvee with deft confidence.
It's not just driving, she explains. "I have to keep my eyes in the houses for snipers, watch for IEDs, and potholes."
It's Fischetti's first deployment in Iraq, but many of the soldiers on this outing are on their second and even third tours. It's different each time.
"The first time I was over here," says Staff Sergeant Robert Engelemeir," then you knew who the enemy was. Now, you don't really know. Now everything evolves everyday."
He even concedes what might be taken as a grudging bit of respect for his enemy's abilities.
"His tactics have got a lot better," says Sgt Engelemeir. "They're getting a lot better at improvised explosive devices, things like that. Not so much small arms fire, but roadside bombs are getting a lot better."
The road to Ghazaliyah is an insurgent's idea of the ideal battlefield. Garbage and other refuse ideal for hiding IEDs line the road. Potholes abound. Most of the houses are abandoned, the result of mutual ethnic cleansing by Shiites and Sunnis who used to co-habit there.
The convoy is barely into the suburb when it stops. A group of Humvees from another patrol has come across a suspected IED.
Ten minutes wait and the convoys move on. The object turns out to have been a bit of wreckage from the previous hit.
"Looked lie the seat of the Hummer," someone says over the static-riddled radio.
Ten minutes later we pull into the police station, all safe and accounted for … just another commute to work.
By Allen Pizzey