From inside a vacant building, Sgt. 1st Class Domingo Ruiz watched through a rifle scope as three cars stopped on the other side of the road. A man carrying a machine gun got out and began to transfer weapons into the trunk of one of the cars.
“Take him down,” Ruiz told a sniper.
Sgt. 1st Class Domingo Ruiz, on patrol in Mosul with the unit he leads, was once a gang member in Brooklyn. He says the rules of the street also apply in Mosul. “What I see here, I saw a long time ago,” he said. “It’s the same patterns.”
The sniper fired his powerful M-14 rifle and the man’s head exploded, several American soldiers recalled. As he fell, more soldiers opened fire, killing at least one other insurgent. After the ambush, the Americans scooped up a piece of skull and took it back to their base as evidence of the successful mission.
The March 12 attack — swift and brutally violent — bore the hallmarks of operations that have made Ruiz, 39, a former Brooklyn gang member, renowned among U.S. troops in Mosul and, in many ways, a symbol of the optimism that has pervaded the military since Iraq’s Jan. 30 elections.
Insurgent attacks in this northern Iraqi city, which numbered more than 100 a week in mid-November, have declined by almost half, according to the military. Indirect attacks — generally involving mortars or rockets — on U.S. bases fell from more than 200 a month in December to fewer than 10 in March. Although figures vary from region to region, attacks also have declined precipitously in other parts of Iraq, creating a growing belief among U.S. commanders that the insurgency is losing potency.
The military attributes the decline to several factors, including Iraqis’ increased willingness to provide information about insurgents and the growing presence of the new Iraqi security forces throughout the country.
But the main reason, military officials said, is a grinding counterinsurgency operation — now in its 20th month — executed by soldiers like Ruiz, a platoon sergeant in the 3rd Battalion’s C Company. It is a campaign of endless repetition: platoons of American troops patrolling Iraqi streets on foot or in armored vehicles. Its inherent monotony is punctuated by moments of extreme violence.
“Our battles have been beyond ruthless,” said Ruiz, adding that he believes most Americans have little understanding of how the conflict is being fought.
“An urban counterinsurgency is probably the ugliest form of warfare there is,” said Capt. Rob Born, 30, the C Company commander.
Infantrymen with C Company said no soldier is more ruthlessly proficient at fighting the insurgents than Ruiz, a son of Puerto Rican parents who grew up in the Bay Ridge section of Brooklyn. Ruiz’s unit, the 4th Platoon, has killed at least 15 suspected insurgents in the past two months, according to soldiers. Commanders said the unit encounters more enemy contact than any other platoon in the battalion.
The platoon calls itself the “Violators.” Its patch depicts a leering skull clad in a green beret, blood dripping from its mouth. Its motto is “Carpe Noctum,” or “Seize the Night,” a reference in Latin to the platoon’s propensity to operate after dark.
A self-described “greaser,” Ruiz wears a pencil-thin mustache and slicks back the dark hair on the top of his head with Rebound Activator Gel. The lower half of his scalp is shaved.
Among soldiers in Mosul, Ruiz’s aggressiveness is legendary — both in attacking the insurgents and gathering intelligence. Keating said Ruiz “plays by the rules of Iraq, not by the rules that are written by some staff guy who’s never been on the ground. He’s never crossed the line, but he’ll go right up to it time and time again.”
After recently hearing that a security guard was allowing insurgents to meet at night at a school, Ruiz said, he confronted the principal by “taking over his personal space” and threatening to shut down the school down if the meetings continued. At a store whose owner he believed was aiding insurgents, Ruiz threatened to park a Stryker out front and post a sign saying that the man was abetting terrorism.
Ruiz said he “never crosses the line.” But he said one reason for the platoon’s success was his willingness to act decisively and ruthlessly. “It’s important for my soldiers to know that we’re not going to hesitate to annihilate the enemy,” he said. “A bullet coming toward you means that they want to kill you. What are you supposed to do, come back with flowers? But believe it or not, you have people here that want to give them, you know, a little bag of candy.”
Acting swiftly, he said, “sends a message to the enemy that we’re not playing games. If you engage us, you are going to die.”
As March continued, the 4th Platoon’s reputation only grew. Four days after the ambush, on March 16, Ruiz ordered a “flash” checkpoint to search vehicles on a road in southeastern Mosul.
Soldiers who described the incident afterward said the platoon blocked traffic with three Strykers and approached the vehicles on foot. As they did, three men in an Opel sedan opened fire with automatic weapons. One soldier, Spec. Jarrod Romine, 25, of Branson, Mo., was struck several times and absorbed a bullet fragment in one of his eyes.
Romine was still advancing when the car accelerated and ran over him. His armored vest caught on the Opel’s bumper, preventing his head from going under a tire, but the car began to drag him.
Just then, two soldiers from the 4th Platoon closed in from both sides and shot the three men with automatic weapons at point-blank range.
Romine, who is recovering in the United States, lost parts of two fingers, but so far his eye has been saved, said Staff Sgt. Jose Cortez, 32, of El Monte, Calif., one of the two men who killed the vehicle’s occupants. Two other soldiers were also wounded but are recovering.
Reading stuff like this makes me happy that most in the military are just like Ruiz, doing a tough job the right way and making sure his boys come home. Unlike the traitor Peredes, the ultimate coward.