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‘Thank God the Iraqis can’t aim’

/ Source: NBC News

Iraqi troops may have courage and tenacity, attacking heavily armed U.S. columns with small arms and rocket-propelled grenades, but U.S. Marines say there is one thing the Iraqis do not have — the ability to shoot straight. And once again, that helped the Marines to escape an ambush near Kut early Thursday.

We were rolling north up a road near the Tigris River on Thursday morning, headed for a town about 40 miles south of Baghdad that we’d been told was infested with Iraqi army forces, or perhaps Republican Guard troops, when we were ambushed.

The driver of our Humvee quickly pulled to the side of the road while another Marine on top began firing his machine gun. We ended up ducking behind a nearby dirt bank for cover.

But the Marines charged the building from which the Iraqis were firing. We don’t know how many Iraqis were killed inside, but we did hear a lot of firing. The Marines rounded up dozens of prisoners and started questioning many of them, reportedly getting good information on what lies ahead of us.

But suddenly the Marines, who were all facing one direction, realized they were being fired on from behind. A sniper was hidden in a building 700 to 800 yards away. The U.S. troops concentrated their fire on the sniper, however, and silenced him.

One young Marine, who said he had never before fired his weapon in combat, caught the Marines’ tense mood, calling the firefight “the adrenaline rush from hell.”

Such attacks have become the norm for the Marines, who initially thought they’d be facing off against regular Iraqi army or Republican Guard divisions. Instead, they’ve been attacked by irregular units using small arms or rocket-propelled grenades.

So far, the Marines have turned around every ambush. With the exception of one Navy corpsman, who was killed a week ago by a rocket-propelled grenade, they’ve suffered only minor injuries.

The Marines credit this to their alertness and to their training, but they also say the Iraqis have been seriously lacking in marksmanship — they fire but the rounds never seem to hit their targets.

“Thank God,” the Marines are fond of saying, “the Iraqis can’t aim.”

(NBC News correspondent Chip Reid is traveling with the U.S. 1st Marine Division.)