BAGHDAD, Iraq – The matchup Tuesday beneath a highway cloverleaf in Baghdad wouldn't qualify as a battle. But after hours of potshots from Iraqis and fire from U.S. snipers, well over a dozen Iraqis were dead and many more were wounded, without a single Marine injury.
The Iraqis, some in streets to one side of the U.S. troops, others in a field on another side, mainly waved Kalashnikov rifles or took random shots that whizzed past the Marines.
"There's just no coordination," said Staff Sgt. John Kelley, 29, of Toronto, Ohio.
In one of many small-scale engagements in and around Baghdad on Tuesday, two Marine snipers on a rooftop and others in tanks and Humvees topped with machine guns killed approaching Iraqis one by one throughout the morning, often from hundreds of yards away.
When members of the 3rd battalion, 7th Marine Regiment reached the elevated cloverleaf in the southeastern part of the city before midnight Monday, all was quiet but for bombs exploding in the distance. Then, about 4:30 a.m., two Marines snipers on a rooftop noticed a truck pull up a few hundred yards away.
Using his night vision scope, Sgt. Joshua Hamblin, 26, of Wichita, Kan., saw the silhouette of a man with a rifle, took aim and shot him. He fired again at another man, and a Marine machine gunner also opened fire. The remaining men from the truck grabbed the two bodies and sped off.
About two hours later, another man wandered into the street carrying a rifle.
"He had no idea we were here," Hamblin said. After he was hit, Hamblin said, another man grabbed the rifle and ran off as the dying man begged for help.
For the rest of the morning, armed Iraqis, often alone or in pairs, wandered toward the Marines only to be shot by the snipers. Many died instantly, others were wounded and dragged by comrades into alleys or driven away.
At one point, a man in a black ski mask with a rifle in the bed of a truck pulled up behind a group of civilians. The snipers said they aimed high to scatter the civilians, then shot him.
As Hamblin and Cpl. Owen Mulder, 21, of Wilmont, Minn., continued to scan under the elevated highway, Marines in Humvees kept watch for suicide bombers.
About 7 a.m., a truck with a machine gun mount -- but no machine gun attached to it -- raced down the highway, and the Marines started firing, using machine guns, grenade launchers and their rifles.
The truck flew into reverse, racing back about 100 yards before stopping. One man opened the a door and fell out. Then another, apparently missing an arm, ran down the highway. Some Marines prepared to shoot, but their commanders stopped them.
"He's wounded, he's no threat to us. Why do you want to kill someone who's wounded?" Kelley asked.
A few minutes later, ambulances arrived to tend to the injured.
Behind a sand berm facing the highway, Kelley and Cpl. William D. Palmer, 22, of Kansas City, Mo., suddenly felt bullets flying past and turned to see a minibus racing less then 200 yards away.
As heavy gunners raked the bus with gunfire, a man in an Iraqi uniform jumped out and was chased through the street by rounds from a machine gun, kicking up dust at his feet and then killing him.
Medic Brent Cook, 23, of Houston, raced out to help the other two Iraqis in the bus and discovered military identification in one man's pocket.
"You are a soldier?" he asked.
"Please don't kill me," the man responded.
Palmer said he thought the soldiers were probably heading home, discovered too late the Marines were there and fired in fear.
By afternoon, the shooting had died down, though sniper shots snapped out several times an hour. One tank drove into the residential area, blew up a car people had been taking ammunition from, then backed out.
Snipers targeted another car; it burst into flames, then seconds later a rocket propelled grenade shot straight up from the back.
Near the underpass, a Marine vehicle with speakers blasted a message in Arabic: "People of Baghdad, do not attempt to pick up the weapons. Any attempt to pick up the weapons will be a threat against us and have serious consequences."