Crossing a wide empty lot toward the school, an amplified and fiercely impassioned sermon belts out from the tower of a nearby mosque. If this were a movie the scene would reek of cliché. In Falluja there is almost always some lilting Arabic verse floating in the air, like eerie mood music. And now, during this high-noon-style walk across dusty open ground, some unseen imam is yelling wildly in a language few of the paratroopers understand.
"What the fuck is he saying?" someone asks nervously.
"Oh, you know, 'Kill the infidel Americans, they're over here by the school,'" deadpans Corcione. The school is cleared room by room, doors kicked in, locks sawed off, two stories and the roof searched. No RPGs and no brass shell casings from AK-47 rounds, and no one hiding out. It's back to phase line dagger to search more houses.
During these searches, the paratroopers are not unduly aggressive, but as in the school, they often damage property, and it is clear that the people, particularly the women and children, are humiliated and scared. As one soldier--who not unlike the people of Falluja is deeply religious--admits: "There's no nice way to search someone's house. I think about how if we did this in eastern Tennessee, where I am from, they'd just as soon shoot you as look at you."
Then it happens again, the rapid bomb-bomb-bomb of several RPGs and more small-arms fire. This time an armor-piercing RPG has hit one of the few tanklike Bradleys on the mission and destroyed its engine, but no one is hurt.
Again Bacik, along with his company commander, Capt. Terence Caliguire, and two squads, moves forward. Someone is seen dashing across rooftops. He's trapped. The paratroopers storm in and arrest the shooter, a kid of about 18. For good measure they also round up three men in the house from which the kid fired. Bound and hooded, these guys will likely end up in the vast and terrifying Abu Ghraib prison camp, home to almost 13,000 detainees.
Now it's really late. Several IDEs have been found and destroyed in huge controlled blasts. The longer we stay in town, the more time the resistance has to set up attacks. The paratroopers pull out of Falluja in slow, orderly stages and then, once on the road, make a high-speed dash back to the safety of FOB Volturno, where the only risks are occasional mortar rounds.