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The midnight fire fight on May 19, which killed one member of Task Force 1/9 and wounded three, was a foreshadowing of even more bold insurgent attacks. On the morning of July 7, a 100-person company of Iraqi National Guardsmen ventured onto Haifa Street to set up checkpoints. Almost immediately, they came under fire from the concrete forest of towering Soviet-style apartment blocks that line the wide, four-lane boulevard. After 50 minutes, Task Force 1/9 headed toward Haifa Street to evacuate the Iraqi troops. As a platoon moved toward a former palace of Saddam Hussein's at one end of Haifa Street, another entered the narrow winding laneways of Old Baghdad, dubbed the Maze, and took up positions atop the guardhouses at Sheik Marouf Cemetery. Within a minute, rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs) burst around them, and 7.62-mm bullets buzzed past in swarms. At the other end of Haifa Street, insurgents stepped out from buildings and let loose their RPGs. Women hurled potatoes onto the street like grenades, duping the Iraqi soldiers into diving to the ground, while male insurgents unloaded machine-gun fire or threw real grenades. During three hours of fighting, U.S. forces finally unleashed high-explosive rounds from a 25-mm cannon, obliterating the two-man RPG teams, to quiet the boulevard. Two Iraqi guardsmen were killed, and U.S. commanders say their troops killed dozens of insurgents in the fire fight. But the attacks haven't subsided. "[The insurgents are] not intimidated," says Staff Sergeant Wilbert Tynes. "You've actually got to wipe them out to get rid of them."
Senior officers in Task Force 1/9 concede they do not know whom they're up against. They see boys, some as young as 10, hurling grenades. But they also encounter deftly executed ambushes bearing the mark of professional soldiers and sophisticated terrorist groups. "I really don't know who it is. I really don't know what they want. That's the problem," says Foley. Local militants say operations around Haifa Street have been led by Abu Musa'ab, a former senior Iraqi military officer who's now a commander for Battalions of Islamic Holy War, a group tied to Abu Mousab al-Zarqawi--the most wanted terrorist in Iraq--and funded by wealthy Wahhabi donors in gulf states. The insurgents say they are fighting for an Islamic state in Iraq. A veteran of the Iran-Iraq war, Abu Musa'ab exploits the military's reluctance to inflict damage on residential areas. His men barrage Task Force 1/9's base with rockets and mortars every two or three days, knowing that the Americans will rarely fire back. "I can fire from anywhere I like. Go on, pick a spot. I'll show you," Abu Musa'ab told TIME. "They can't chase us in here."