BESMAYA: Explosions throw up clouds of smoke near Iraqi soldiers with armoured vehicles, who check for casualties, spot enemy forces in the desert ahead of them and then open fire.
But the blasts are only simulated artillery fire and the "enemy forces" are pop-up silhouette targets, not gunmen and vehicles.
That is just as well for these soldiers on a training exercise, as the puffs of dust kicked up by bullets downrange indicate that their aim is often off the mark.
An Iraqi company commander led his soldiers in the exercise at the massive Besmaya military base southeast of Baghdad, but it was a foreign contractor who controlled the scenario.
It was the contractor who ordered the targets raised and lowered amid the sounds made by .50 calibre machine guns on the armoured vehicles and the chatter of M-16 rifles.
Contractors, who also assist soldiers in preparing for drills and with after-action reviews, are at the forefront of US efforts to train Iraqi forces.
Negotiations on a post-2011 US military training mission broke down last year over Iraqi reluctance to offer the trainers immunity from prosecution, and almost all American soldiers left the country last December.
But they left behind the Office of Security Cooperation-Iraq (OSC-I), a group of about 157 military personnel under US embassy authority, and some 600 civilian contractors, mostly retired soldiers.
They are working with the Iraqis on everything from training on new equipment, such as US M113 armoured personnel carriers and M1 Abrams tanks, to military education.
"This is the model that Iraq is very comfortable with - low US presence in uniform, a lot of contractors, and they're getting the quality instruction, the quality training that they really need," Lieutenant General Robert Caslen, the chief of OSC-I, told at Besmaya. (AFP)