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Homemade bombs among dangers as U.S. casualties mount

BAGHDAD, Iraq—Spc. Brian Browder of Conyers, Ga., struggled with his emotions, searching for the right words as he called his mother on a cell phone from the second-floor ward at Ibn Sinan Hospital.

"Mom," he said, "I've been hit by an IED (Improvised Explosive Device) that's a homemade bomb."

Browder, 20, is one more casualty in a war that's being waged with homemade bombs in addition to bullets, rocket-propelled grenades and other weapons.

Almost daily, U.S. troops are coming under fire not only from gunmen, but also from explosive devices detonated by remote control. Browder's arm and leg are heavily bandaged, still carrying shrapnel from a bomb that went off the day before as he drove a Humvee in a convoy from Tikrit to Kirkuk in northern Iraq. Thin red scratches mark his face. A large, black bruise rings his left eye.

His Kevlar body armor saved his life.

Ibn Sinan is the main military hospital in Baghdad. Nearly all wounded U.S. soldiers come through its doors—on a typical day up to a dozen or more casualties.

"Sometimes we don't have any. It's a bad day when we have 14," said Capt. Jolene Lea, a spokeswoman at Ibn Sinan, now known as the 28th Combat Support Hospital.

More and more of those wounded have been hit by crude bombs, Lea said. "We see a lot of injuries to the extremities," added Lt. Col. James Jezior, the hospital's deputy commander for clinical services. "That shows the body armor is working."

In all, 332 American soldiers have died in Iraq—212 killed in action and 120 non-combat deaths. Of those, 194 have died since May 1, when President Bush declared an end to major combat operations—97 combat deaths and 97 non-combat deaths.

"We have an attack every week," Browder said of the 173rd Airborne Brigade, which operates around Kirkuk.

Combat injuries represent only about 10 percent of the patients treated at Ibn Sinan. Fifty percent are non-battle injuries and 40 percent are common maladies such as diarrhea, infection and disease, Lea said.

The hospital treats coalition soldiers, Iraqi civilians and even Iraqi Enemy Prisoners of War, or EPWs. The EPWs, both guerrilla fighters and criminals, are restrained to various degrees with leather straps to prevent them from harming their caregivers. The 79-bed hospital houses civilian patients only when "life, limb or eyesight" is threatened.

The Wednesday explosion was Browder's second encounter with a homemade bomb. The first disabled the truck he was driving.

This time, Browder was driving one of two Humvees protecting a truck loaded with food from a supply dump in Tikrit, bound for the 173rd's base in Kirkuk. Just outside Tikrit, after the Humvee crossed a highway bridge, a bomb went off in the median.

"I didn't hear it explode. I didn't hear anything," he said. "Everything just went white—I thought I was dead—then it went black."

When Browder regained consciousness, he learned that the bomb had knocked off his helmet, shredded his sleeve and pants leg and thrown shrapnel into his arm and leg.

"I still can't hardly hear," he said. "But I was the only one injured."

His mother, Donna Browder, had a sleepless night after being told by defense officials late Wednesday that her son had been "seriously injured."

"We didn't know if he had lost legs, hands, fingers, arms. They wouldn't tell us," she said in a telephone interview from her home in Conyers. "When I found out he hadn't, I was speechless. I was just so elated."

Browder's unit has been deployed in Iraq since March. Despite the increasing attacks, he said, morale among the troops remains "pretty high."

"But we're all kind of stressed out," he said. "Everybody just wants to go home."


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

PHOTOS (from KRT Photo Service, 202-383-6099): usiraq+wounds