MICHELE NORRIS, host:
This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Michele Norris.
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
And I'm Robert Siegel.
In Iraq, the principal cause of death and injury for U.S. soldiers is the IED, or improvised explosive device. And today, NPR's Jamie Tarabay learned firsthand about the IED threat while she was traveling with American troops in Diyala Province, northeast of Baghdad.
(Soundbite of engine sound)
JAMIE TARABAY: First Lieutenant Douglas McGregor is a bright, blue-eyed, 24-year-old from Wilsonville, Oregon. He's head of this convoy of supply vehicles. His team had just finished delivering supplies to the newly-built outpost in the village of Shakarat, and was on its way back to base.
Just 10 minutes into the journey, the first IEDs were spotted. McGregor got out to check, and an ordnance team was called in. A boom. An hour later, another loud boom, and McGregor returned.
Lieutenant DOUGLAS MCGREGOR: That would have killed us. It was a land mine right in the middle of the road. It was (unintelligible) wired and pressure plate, so whether he set it off or we set it off, it would have been a bad day.
TARABAY: Sunni insurgents have long controlled this part of Iraq. They elude capture by slipping into the nearby palm groves and vineyards. Recently, U.S. and Iraqi forces began operations here to clear the area of al-Qaida-linked insurgents. The IEDs are often placed in the same spot daily, as McGregor pointed out.
Lt. MCGREGOR: The first one that exploded was on the bridge. The second one was controlled det, and that was the way that (unintelligible). They're pretty hasty. They're just setting them in the exact same holes. (Unintelligible). Same spot.
TARABAY: We reached the spot where the first IED exploded. A massive gap in the middle of the rocky road was all that was left.
Lt. MCGREGOR: OK, hey, stop. That's where it was. Hey, stop! What the? Go! Get out of here, you're right over the hole! We had to check over that hole to make sure they didn't put something else in it. All right, just be cautious.
TARABAY: But the soldiers say it's hard to know what to look for. Anything could be a weapon or a trigger - the crinkled up mess of metal discarded by the side of the road, the plastic bag fluttering on a trash heap. Everything and everyone looks suspicious. Even children. McGregor got news on his radio and turned to the gunner to warn him.
Lt. MCGREGOR: Ok, so we got rock throwers in an alleyway on the left.
Unidentified Man #1: Say what?
Lt. MCGREGOR: Just stay down. Just stay down and watch your head.
Unidentified Man #1: Say what, sir?
Lt. MCGREGOR: Stay down and watch your head. There's rock throwers on the left. These little kids they're waving, but they probably hate you. Oh, yeah. Hey. Actually, grab some candy for the rock throwers. Here, throw some peanuts at them. This weighs more.
TARABAY: The convoy then rolled into a deserted part of the village. The shops looked like mechanic garages, but were all shuttered. It was eerily vacant, so close to the place where moments earlier, children had played. McGregor pointed out a curious yellow trash can.
Lt. MCGREGOR: We've got a plastic yellow trash can. It's on the right side of the road.
(Soundbite of explosion)
Lt. MCGREGOR: Oh, (censored)!
TARABAY: The explosion showered metal and sand into the Humvee, leaving those inside coughing. But the vehicle kept going. McGregor's tone didn't change. He ordered the convoy to continue. Contact with an IED, he called it. The soldiers try to inject some humor into the moment by counting how many IEDs they'd each encountered.
Unidentified Man #2: That's the trifecta. We've got three in a row. Three hits in a row. Hey, throw some peanuts at these kids. Maybe they'll stop setting up IEDs.
Unidentified Man #3: (Unintelligible).
TARABAY: By the end of the journey, all vehicles in the convoy were still intact. The gunner wondered aloud in jest if he'd been hit in the head. Reminding him that things could have been much worse, McGregor told him to quit whining.
Jamie Tarabay, NPR News in Diyala Province, Iraq.
SIEGEL: Despite the dangers in Diyala Province, both U.S. and Iraqi troops intend to stay there. Tomorrow on MORNING EDITION, Jamie Tarabay explains how and why.