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Marines convoys on the lookout for snipers and ambush teams

ACROSS CENTRAL IRAQ—They roll down superhighways, across small stretches of blacktop and up dirt roads, past small towns and cities.

They pass Navy Seabees working on roads, small prisoner-holding areas and fields of tanks, artillery and armored assault vehicles. At night, U.S. helicopters thump overhead, bombers rumble high above and spy drones pass with a whining buzz.

It's a military convoy, the movement of Marines and materiel through a land under siege, and for 48 hours, Lance Cpl. Jacob McGreevey kept his finger near the trigger, because passage can be tricky.

Snipers and ambush teams are afoot, sometimes opening fire on supply convoys after combat units have passed.

McGreevey crouched, poised and ready, a round in the chamber as his convoy passed within a few miles of An Nasiriyah, one of the more contentious sites yet in the war.

He rode in the back of a Humvee with eight other Marines, sometimes slowly, sometimes halting every few minutes. At times, convoys stretched to the horizon in both directions.

"I knew where we were traveling, I knew it was supposed to be dangerous, but we didn't need to fire a shot," McGreevey said after the two-day trip to the country's midsection.

The convoy geared up and left an old airfield in southwest Iraq before dawn Wednesday. It became the equivalent of a rolling block party, with other convoys dropping in and staying awhile before nipping off in other directions at intersections.

The threat was of ambush, not all-out attack, and several times the convoy rolled into areas where ambushes were expected. For two hours Wednesday night, it rolled with lights out through a sniper zone, but drew no fire.

About noon Thursday, while fighting was fierce in An Nasiriyah nearby, the convoy turned west and crossed the Euphrates River. The Marines halted Thursday night and set up camp, prepared for a third day of travel, only to learn Friday morning that they already had reached their objective.

"This is not Gulf War Two," said Staff Sgt. Michael Close of the 7th Engineering Support Battalion. "They are fighting back pretty fiercely in places. But they're fighting us and their own people, and I don't think they can do that for very long.

"And what we just did, travel across an enemy country in the open, only one week in, we're moving pretty quick."


(c) 2003, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.