RAMADI, Iraq—The Marines guarding a U.S. combat post here shouted clearly and loudly for the motorcycle puttering toward them to stop. It didn't.
So the Marines opened fire with M-16 rifles, blasting the driver and his passenger off their bike, dead, onto the dusty ground in this front-line town.
One day after devastating ambushes here killed at least 12 Americans, Marines were on hair-trigger alert Wednesday, some hunkering down at their combat posts and others making aggressive forays, street by street, in angry pursuit of insurgents.
"We came in with a `nice guy' attitude," said Sgt. Glenn Ford, 29, of San Diego, Calif., who lost a friend in one ambush. "Now we're engaging them. We're trying to bring the fight to them."
Marines gave no immediate details about the dead motorcyclist and his passenger, whose shootings were witnessed by a Knight Ridder photographer. They had ridden past a U.S. cordon hastily set up on a road near a Marine camp.
"They've used motorcycles," Ford said of previous attackers. "They sit in the passenger seat of taxis and shoot. There's lots of drive-by stuff, shoot-and-runs."
The Marines, based at the outpost they call Camp Hurricane, had no rest after the ambushes and ensuing street battles on Tuesday.
The total number of Iraqis killed so far in Ramadi wasn't known, although many bodies were scattered in the streets in the aftermath. Residents or other fighters appeared to be hurriedly collecting and burying them Wednesday, as required by Muslim law.
The Marines recalled Wednesday that they'd had a last-minute sense of foreboding Tuesday in the city of 420,000 on the banks of the Euphrates River, and the Marines now believe residents had been warned about the ambushes. Many shops were closed, and the streets were all but empty.
During the week before, pinprick-type shootings or bombings had given some Marines the sense that the Iraqis were poking at them, trying to gauge their responses and fortitude, as if gearing up for something bigger.
"I lost my best friend yesterday," said Ford, who was serving on his first-ever combat mission since arriving in early March. "I definitely want to leave with the peace of mind that we did something for these people. But when we're out there, it's to keep each other alive. ... It's all about bringing everybody back home."
Both sides seemed to have learned from Tuesday's battles, with the Marines being more calculated and aggressive in their forays and Iraqis staking out new vantage points on rooftops and making one failed assault directly on the U.S. compound.
Marines made street-by-street, house-by-house searches for weapons and insurgents. They confiscated firearms from as many as half the homes they searched, including many AK-47s, rocket-propelled grenades and even the spent shell of a 105mm artillery round.
"It's been close-quarters contact, into houses," Ford said. "A lot of the houses have people who are pretty terrified of us going in and searching."
(Swanson is a photographer for The Philadelphia Inquirer. Thomas Ginsberg in Philadelphia contributed to this story.)
(c) 2004, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.
PHOTOS (from KRT Photo Service, 202-383-6099): USIRAQ-RAMADI