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‘Untouchable’ strike force

Soldiers of the 5th Battalion, 20th Infantry Regiment run through smoke meant to shield them from sniper fire as they patrol in Baqubah, the capital of Diyala province, in June. For months, the battalion was the strike force of the troop buildup in Iraq, going in where the violence was at its worst, clearing up, moving on. Every place the troops went, they were told it was the worst, but it never seemed to be that bad when their armored Stryker vehicles lumbered in with their canons, antitank missiles and heavy machine guns. Until they reached Baqubah, the city that Sunni Arab insurgents had named the capital of their Islamic caliphate. (Lucian Read / Atlas Press)
Staff Sgt. Mark Grover, foreground, a squad leader with the 5th Battalion, 20th Infantry Regiment, patrols with members of his unit in Baqubah in May. On the battalion’s first run through the city, it was pounded at every turn with automatic-weapons fire, rocket-propelled grenades and roadside bombs. “That kind of overwhelming show, we had never seen before,” one soldier said. By the time the force left Iraq in September, 21 of its roughly 300 soldiers had been killed. About 50 were so badly injured that they never returned to the fight. (Lucian Read / Atlas Press)
An Iraqi boy watches Spc. Ralph Willsey, a radio operator, during a June raid in a home in Baqubah. (Lucian Read / Atlas Press)
Members of the battalion relax in a house in Baqubah during a June hunt for insurgents. They are, from back left, Spc. Ralph Willsey, Capt. Eric Williams and Sgt. 1st Class Corey Oliver. In the foreground is Spc. Zackery Frew. (Lucian Read / Atlas Press)
Staff Sgt. William Rose takes a break during a mission in Baqubah in June. (Lucian Read / Atlas Press)
Spc. Bryant Holloway, left, stands watch with a fellow soldier in a home in Baqubah in May. (Lucian Read / Atlas Press)
Members of the 5th Battalion, 20th Infantry Regiment in the Green Zone in Baghdad early this year. Behind them is a parade ground used by former leader Saddam Hussein. From left: Staff Sgt. David Plush, Staff Sgt. William Rose, Sgt. 1st Class Corey Oliver, Staff Sgt. Jose Tejada and Staff Sgt. Vincenzo Romeo. Romeo, the son of Italian immigrants and a charismatic squad leader from Lodi, N.J., was killed in May. ()