Mosul, Iraq (AFP) Nov 17, 2008
The bomb had been hidden under rubbish, and it exploded as the third armoured Humvee rolled past. The only damage was a punctured tyre, but the US military vehicles kept on going, fearing an ambush.
"I was looking down the street, turning in that direction, and Bang! Next thing I know is a white cloud of dirt and rocks coming at me. Oh God! I went down, but up again, looking at the area."
Several minutes later Jeffrey Hill, who mans the machine gun turret on top of the Humvee, is still breathing too fast and talking too quickly, kidding about and all fired up, shifting his weight from one foot to the other.
His fellow soldiers slap him on the back, swear and joke about. One playfully wipes the sweat from Hill's reddened face.
"It was more surprising than scary. It went so fast! Glad I had my earplugs... That's it, I'm IED proven!" gushes the gunner about what the US military calls an Improvised Explosive Device, or roadside bomb.
Carter, the top gunner on the Humvee ahead of Hill's, shakes his head.
"When we drove by, downtown Mosul, the entire avenue was empty in the heart of the afternoon: it was a sign we didn't pick up."
The US military considers the large city 370 kilometres (230 miles) north of Baghdad to be one of the last bastions of Al-Qaeda in Iraq.
A few minutes after the small bomb detonated the first Iraqi policemen arrive and cordon off nearby roads as the hunt for witnesses begins. Windows are quickly closed and steel shutters on workshops rattle shut.
The American patrol moves off again slowly, heading for an Iraqi army base where they can safely change the tyre.
On this day in Mosul the city seemed to have been strewn with devices targeting US convoys.
In the morning there was a black sports bag left by a lamp-post on Wadi Hajjar Avenue. When that one went off the only thing it took out was a headlamp on a passing patrol.
"We see more and more of these small home-made explosives, most of the time made with fertiliser," said Captain Charles Muller who commands the unit that was targeted.
"It's a sign -- we're putting a dent in their ability to make more powerful ones. There are still some, but less.
Twenty or so Iraqi men, all in civilian clothes, sit cross-legged on the pavement, their heads lowered. A large pickup truck comes to a halt and a policeman uses the loud-hailer in his 4x4 to tell them what to do.
"One by one, into the truck. Keep those heads down!"
Police Captain Hassan Hamid is in charge.
"Whoever pressed the button isn't far," he says. "All these guys are suspects -- we'll interrogate every one of them.
"Last week we arrested some local cops who were a bit too close to the scene of an attack, who may have been involved. But nothing came of it."
Hamid describes how the insurgents operate.
"On the big avenues they place only small bombs. That's because there's too much traffic and no time to dig or lay their detonation wires. Each day at dawn I send out patrols to look for suspect packages. This one we missed."
Because of the risk of a secondary device going off -- after security forces were lured to the scene by the first explosion -- Hamid orders his men to spread out and search the area but keep on the move to foil any snipers.
Inside the US Humvees the radios crackle.
"Attention all! We have a report of a possible suicide bomber targeting American convoys."
It turns out to have been a booby-trapped car, parked by the side of a major thoroughfare, that blew up as a patrol drove past. The toll: two soldiers wounded.
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