Sgt. Jesse E. Leach of the Marines assisted Lance Cpl. Juan Valdez-Castillo, who was shot by a sniper in the town of Karma. He survived. Joao Silva for The New York Times
Today's New York Times graphically illustrates another reason for rising U.S. casualties in Iraq -- the increasing sophistication of Iraqi snipers.
But as the insurgent sniper teams have become more active, the marines here say, they have displayed greater skill, selecting their targets and their firing positions with care. They have also developed cunning methods of mobility and concealment, including firing from shooting platforms and hidden ports within cars.Just one more thing making Iraq a hell on earth for the brave men and women we send there -- for nothing. Except to be targets.
They often use variants of the long-barreled Dragunov rifle, which shoots higher-powered ammunition than the much more common Kalashnikov assault rifles. Their marksmanship has improved to the point of being good enough.
“In the beginning of the war, sniping wasn’t something that the Iraqis did,” said Capt. Glen Taylor, the executive officer of the battalion’s Company G, who is on his third combat tour. “It was like, ‘If Allah wants that bullet to hit its target, it will.’ But they are starting to realize how effective it is.”
The insurgents are recruiting snipers and centralizing their instruction, the captain said, meaning that the phenomenon is likely to grow.
“They have training camps — they go around and advertise,” he said. “We heard from some of our sources that the insurgents were going around with loudspeakers, saying that if you want to be a sniper we will pay you three times whatever your salary is now.”
In conditions where killing the snipers has proved difficult, the marines have tried to find ways to limit their effectiveness. Signs inside Marine positions display an often-spoken rule: “Make yourself hard to kill.”This is happening while the people who sent them there are prattling on about
Many marines, on operations, do an understated dance they call “cutting squares.” It is not really a square at all.
They zig and zag as they walk, and when they stop they shift weight from foot to foot, bobbing their heads. They change the rhythm often, so that when a sniper who might be watching them thinks they are about to zig, they have zagged.
Now and then they squat, shift weight to one leg and stand up beside the place where they had just been. Maj. Sean Riordan, the battalion executive officer, described his own unpredictable jigs as “my little salsa dance.”
As they move, the marines often peer down their own scopes, looking at windows, rooftops, lines of brush. Then they might step backward, or forward, or duck, as if saying: try to shoot that.
But as operations drag on, some marines begin to stop cutting squares. And sometimes even those that are moving are still shot. And there are special dangers.
Lance Cpl. Colin Smith, who was shot on Monday, was behind a machine gun in a vehicle turret, a position that placed him higher in the air than a walking marine. Turret gunners are protected by armor shields, but their heads are often exposed. He was struck in the skull. He survived but fell into a coma and was placed on life support.
That's what the election is all about -- holding this corrupt and mindless government accountable. In just three days we can begin.