IRAQ: Marines, babies and dolls from Kmart


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In the category of Now It Can Be Told.

When the Marines were preparing to return to Iraq in 2004 to begin their counterinsurgency strategy, a mock Iraqi village was built in an abandoned apartment complex in Riverside.

Role-players were hired to portray insurgents and innocents alike. Scenarios were developed to test the Marines’ patience and resourcefulness.


One particular scenario seemed to flummox the Marines: anything involving children, particularly babies.

So said Maj. Daniel Schmitt, who developed and ran the mock-village training, during testimony Thursday in a criminal trial of a former Marine in Riverside federal court. (The baby comment does not bear directly on the case but was used by Schmitt to show how Marines tried to anticipate all potential inter-actions with Iraqi civilians.)

To get the troops used to dealing with women holding babies, Marines deployed to Kmart and bought a bunch of life-sized dolls. The dolls were then handed out to female role-players for use during the scenarios so Marines could begin to distinguish between a baby and a bomb.

‘The toy babies increased the complexity,’ Schmitt testified.

— Tony Perry, in Riverside

P.S. The Los Angeles Times issues a free daily newsletter with the latest headlines from all over the Middle East, as well as the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. You can subscribe by logging in at the website here, clicking on the box for ‘LA Times updates,’ and then clicking on the ‘World: Mideast’ box.