Tuesday, October 02, 2007

J.R. and I in Iraq (parts 1 thru 10)

This piece was originally published on Jack Random's blog jazzmanchronicles.blogspot.com

Part one

Jack Random and I burst into Iraq like a widow at a train station all out of quarters for the condom machine for that last ride to New Jersey for the High school reunion. The White House press office kept offering us our own poppy fields in the hills of Afghanistan if we just wouldn't go to Iraq. After breaking the story of Karl Rove and the Washington sex trade they would do anything to keep us away from the story. We were determined and even thought to go thru the wilds of Pakistan but why muddle in with the retreat of the Taliban, we end up in their clutches soon enough we were wagering.

Anyway, we hit the Iraq oil fields to the sight of an American truck broke down. Roadside bombs it was said weren't going off near the oil fields anymore since it was common knowledge the Americans would be out of the country in force by the end of 2007. The George Baker plan had just hit amazon.com and all of Beirut we had read over the wires had ordered a copy and soon all of Iraq would be reading it through the black market. Once again Ed Meese would be popular among those who killed for pleasure.

The drivers of the two trucks both U.S. military soldiers were cursing at the four Iraqi members of the police who had driven by earlier and had took off quickly and laughed at the two of them stranded. One of the soldiers wanted to go off and shoot the Iraqi police and the other had for weeks left on the most recent one year tour in country. When we asked them about the term "boots on the ground" they responded with as much hate and vigor as they had when we asked about the Iraqi police.

"Boots on the ground, goddamn! I tell you what the boots on the ground think about this f-cking war, there's too much blood, too much Iraqi blood and too much American blood, and not enough old blue blood from any red states!" The soldier kicked the front of the truck violently and looked back at us quickly, "Just why are you here anyway? I don't see no boots on the ground here between you two."

We reassured the two soldiers that we wanted to report an honest portrayal of what was going on in Iraq. The other soldier who had remained quiet for most of the time spoke up, "Let me tell you something. We were on a patrol about a month ago maybe two. A roadside bomb goes off and these Iraqi troops start firing at one another, ripping each other apart and we have to mop it up. How long have we been here and we are getting killed every day. Sometimes I just want to start shooting and I don't honestly give a shit what I hit."

Part two

How many screams did you hear until you knew they were coming from someone you could identify as someone other than yourself? That's a question you need to ask yourself when you have spent any time in a war zone.

Here we were in a war zone and as soon as we arrived we noticed that the poppy had followed here from the shores of America, from the rocky cliffs of Afghanistan. We investigated the cities amidst the sound of automatic gunfire and saw parents in the desert grip of drug addiction dealing with the unthinkable loss of three children in one day. We saw one child get his legs torn apart as visiting dignitaries bid farewell to the high security fences of Halliburton's white table cloths on CNN and its high rise bleachers. The grimace of Donald Rumsfeld quoting the words real or imagined from a wounded soldier at Walter Reed hospital.

In the days of slavery the crowd were treated to question and answer sessions between the seller and the slave. The slave was usually being judged by the crowd as to their build or visual strength so the Q&A were usually for the delight of the crowd and so in Iraq are the questions to Iraqi civilians as weapons are put in their faces by privately hired security, militia anywhere else in the world, or if you like insurgents in Iraq if it were not for the tax form they can produce given six months notice. We ran into these thugs several times and had our lives threatened until we lied and said we were with some government agency we made up on the spot. This never ceased to amazed us as it always pumped them up more in their blood lust and obscene patriotism for the red in the flag.

On American television the obsession is with crime scene investigation and forensics. There are no investigations to speak of in a war zone, especially not in Iraq. For instance, if you wanted to dig a mass grave and hide it with any education it wouldn't be too difficult, after all it is a desert region. This can work to the benefit of both sides in any war. Body counts make for headlines a soldier said once, just draw a line straight to the head, and you'll usually find more than one.

Part three

Dodge City, that's what the Marine's called the area we were in. One marine, so young he shaved once or at least twice a week whether he needed it or not had already killed three people. When I asked whether or not they were insurgents or civilians he just answered, "Well, one was shooting back and the others weren't, but screw'em man. I say arm yourself, shit we're MWA bitch, Marines with attitude!" Raised on MTV this white marine was born in Tennessee and had served a tour in the KKK while still in high school he told me before I even asked where he was from. When I asked him how he liked serving alongside other Marines he laughed and spit at the burning sand.

"You want to know what I think about all these highly esteemed people of color? They're all marines ain't they?" Then he laughed and patted his weapon and slapped it down to his side and saluted me and added, "You think nobody fragged anybody since Vietnam?"

How bad an epidemic racial strife between soldiers serving in Iraq was we might never know. Jack had secured an interview with a Major and was coming back across the camp and looked worried. As he walked he looked around, his head looking this way and that the way someone does before they tell you a secret or avoid someone they do not want to see. In the soundtrack in my head I instantly heard "Peace Frog" by the Doors. I don't know why these things always occur to me but they do. I remember a time in Chicago when I was covering a story on the heated talks betwen labor and management and War's "Spill That Wine" hit me all of a sudden and within minutes violence broke out and I spent the night in a jail cell fighting for my life.

Jack got over to me and his voice was quiet which was unlike him in so many ways. "This Major I went to talk to just got a call about an ambush of civilians. They were targeted by security forces." I looked around now because I wanted to be the first to get there and because the security forces always have friends serving in just about every platoon in Iraq and many after their tour is up will join private security to cash in.

I asked Jack, "How do we get there?"

Jack replied, "That's just it, the guy that called him while I was sitting there is his brother, and his nephew was in charge of the group that opened fire. I just got out of the office before the crazy bastard could call a corporal to detain me."

I looked around and as far as I could see were Marines with weapons at the ready, well trained and loyal to their commanding officer, the chain of command. I stood to scout a method of transportation, a friendly ride to anywhere other than where we were and saw the Marine from Tennessee. I turned to Jack and looked back at the racist marine and I thought I might have a plan. Shit it worked in Hollywood.


Author's Note: (Before beginning to write this next installment I see this excerpt from the New York Times, and I am constantly reminded that the ugliest of man often occurs to me and as I see through their eyes it makes me want to close mine. I had no idea of this report before I wrote about the racist Marine but I am not surprised as human nature often tends to lean toward that line from Apocalypse Now that quotes Abraham Lincoln, you know the one, "Sometimes the dark side overcomes what Lincoln called the better angels of our nature and good does not always triumph." I don't see any good in this, after all where can there be good in starting out to shoot someone because of thier skin color?)

"Lance Corporal Woods is black. He smoked in the darkness and said it has been a topic of conversation in his unit, Mobile Assault Platoon Five. "Valdez and me talked about that," he said. "He's Hispanic. He said, 'Man, I'm going to paint my skin darker, man.' That's what he said. And the next day he got shot."

"I hate this place," he said..."Out here, it really makes you love your country. I love my country, man. I love my country. I didn't hate my country before, man. But I had some problems with it."

"The United States of America," he said. "That sounds like heaven right now."

C.J. Chivers, "Marine Unit and Iraqis Fend Off Attacks and Boredom," NY Times, 7 December 2006.

Part Four

Jack and I came up with a plan. Racists are notoriously patriotic, reference most of America's history, governmental and citizenry for evidence of this, and certianly ignorant, so Jack approached the marine from Tennessee playing the role of a C.I.A. agent.

Jack approached the racist marine who was kicking at the sand and aiming his weapon at the horizon.

"Hey, you hear about that American got shot in Fallujah yesterday?"

The marine looked around and then looked Jack up and down. He didn't take but a second or two to size up Jack. "Yeah, terrible shot that guy, took'em two."

Jack laughed, "Yeah well, what are you gonna do, poor training."

They both laughed and Jack shot me a worried and disgusted look.

Jack went on, "Say, John Russell, C.I.A., in country to take care of some loose ends. Not saying we need some help but always looking for some willing participants, those who can be covert and keep their goddamn mouth shut. It's below the radar of course." Then Jack snatched the weapon from the racist marine's hands so fast he told me later it scared even him, "So, you got the balls to pull the trigger without caring where the rounds land or are you just another weekend faggot here till your wife fucks the whole town back home?"

The racist Marine stood up and drew a knife and said, "I'm an American, ever since 9/11 I wanted to do what was necessary for my country to fight terrorism!"

Jack didn't break a sweat and went back after him, throwing the weapon to the ground, "Since 9/11? What were you doing before that? Working in a conveinence store and cheating on your mother? Real American? Shit!"

The racist Marine was livid now and was ready to open fire on anyone. Jack knew he was ready and in less than five minutes.

Jack said, "Ok,you're what we need. What we need right now is a humvee. Think you can get one here and I mean now Marine?"

The Marine flashed a shit-eating grin, "Before you know it!."

Part five

Driving through the wasteland that has become Iraq you pray you'll run into an arms dealer and you'll also pray he'll have some legs and a few hands, some teeth and eyes. You hope he'll start the bidding with a request for just a drop of water to pour atop the loaves and fishes he has brought to feed the warring tribes as they sit down and start to calmly discuss the atrocity that is unfolding on american television that has been unbelieved so far on Al Jezerra. Maybe you'll cringe when he says offhandly that he was kept out of Rwanda because the prosthetics he had brought along couldn't make it through customs years before the tightened security of 9/11. But then again in Iraq as in many other war zones in modern times the dust will get in your eyes and you'll be able to blame the blurred lines of aggression, of morality, on the weather and the politics of plurality, the obscenity of greater good, on something in your eye. but to the racist marine Jack was dealing with it was something eaten away at his soul a long time ago. Not a speck of dust introduced at the factory but a giant ball of hatred either beaten or lovingly enthralled upon a young boy who before he knew hot to hate was taught that one man was better simply by the color of his skin and it was unfortunate for his fellow Marines and the citizens of Iraq that this individual was not weeded out and was armed and set loose in a war zone. A casualty is a number in any year whether it contains an election or not, and in Iraq as well in America the news was not good.

Then almost as if on cue came the Marine from Tennessee behind the wheel of a Humvee. In the distance came a mortar attack, it's the sound you'll never forget if you ever hear it once. The entire camp reacted at once. The Major that Jack had interviewed came out of his command post and was scanning the desert for the action. Marines were running for their companies and there was hollering all around us. The Marine from Tennessee seemed unfazed. In Jack he saw a direct line to the killing and he was not about to be tied down to waiting for orders and seeing whether or not he would see action that day.

The Humvee came to a sudden stop in front of Jack as he tried not to jump out of his skin. The Marine jumped out and started counting the clips for his M16. "Gotta go get some, just a mortar, maybe just a few of'em!"

Jack was still keeping an eye out for the Major who hadn't discovered us just yet. But we had a problem. Jack was on one side of the camp and I was on the other and in the middle was the Major and a camp in a frenzy stocked full of Marines with posters of Osama Bin Laden with supermodels taking a dump on his face and handdrawn pictures of Bin Laden on diaylsis being tied down to an electric chair repeatedly.

Just as Jack and I were about to lock eyes across the camp and exchange a voiceless means of communication we had managed to develop in some of the world's worst hot spots, an incendiary device went off inside of the camp and the mess tent went up in flames. The explosion was minimal but sent a surge further into the camp as another mortar landed about a hundred yards away from the camp.

Jack grabbed the Marine from Tennessee and screamed, "What are you boy a Dixie Chick or Daniel Boone? Get in there and get some!" Pointing at the spot whers the mortars landed he got the Marine's attention and he raced off to where Jack had pointed. Jack seized the moment and jumped behind the wheel of the Humvee. Dodging troops who were running for the mess hall more from curiousity than anything, Jack skirted the perimeter and made his way to me and I jumped in the open driver's side and we were off. Speeding down the only road out of the camp that wasn't being hit by mortars we were on our way to the site of an ambush knowing all along that a marine Colonel knew who we were and that we knew that he was related in more than one way to the incident.

The words of the racist marine rung in my ears, "You think no one has fragged anybody since Vietnam?"

Part six

Moving around in Iraq you can be reminded of the image of James Cagney's famous line, "Top of the world ma!" But only if you look at it from the ant's point of view. Imagine the ant as an insurgent. Yeah, top of the world but the top has a hole in it and it goes all the way to the bottom. The bottom branches out and comes up to a point and resembles a volcano. But rather than resemble the fiery furnance of the first Gulf War, (the image of the Iraqi oil fields graced all manner of media around the world) but now the volcano is purging blood, oozing limbs and the mangled childhoods of burnt and homeless Iraqi children.

How do you approach a crime scene in a war zone? How do you make your way through a maze of distraught family members who are rushing around helpless to the carnage of their family members having been shot by officially licensed gunmen by the government who has invaded their country. If you are a reporter you make it clear to all those who are around that you are a reporter, a correspondent, and are not armed. If the privately armed security force is still present you make it damn clear that you are american, but you also make it clear that you are someone more important than you are. You impress upon them that it wouldn't be so good to open up on you and you pray like a virgin on her wedding night that their cell phone batteries have gone dead and haven't gotten a call from a particular Marine major.

As we sped away we could see in the distance black smoke billowing out of a building in the distance. Ahead of us in a pickup two Iraqis were shifting around nervously in the seat and as we came alongside them they shot a nervous glance at us until they realized we were not U.S. soldiers but they could not know if we were not private sercurity forces, who in some circles have been called cowboys. There was even a rumor in command circles of a Taliban website that referred to the "cowboys" being displaced in Iran, not unlike the way american forces were moving across the Cambodian border in Vietnam. As we rode alongside the truck for what seemed like two minutes the Iraqi in the passenger seat raised a pistol up to eye level and aimed at my head. I yelled for Jack to speed up and Jack hit the gas and we sped along as four shots bounced off of our Humvee.

I yelled over to Jack, "I hate to ask a stupid question but how much gas do we have?"

Jack answered, "As far as I know we've got enough to get to the site of the ambush but what do you think about ditching this Humvee?"

I thought for a minute and asked, "I don't know, something bothers me about that shit back at the camp. How the hell do you lob mortars at a camp and miss by a hundred yards and manage to hit with a fragmentation grenade? How the fuck do you explain the physics of that one?"

Now Jack looked worried, "You think the frag was a cover to get at me?"

"Well Jack, you did hear the phone call..."

Part seven

As we approached the scene of the ambush the humvee took fire. Families were gathered over the wreckage of what were once bodies. If you have ever seen footage on television of men and women in some third world backwater holding one another and crying uncontrollably and waving their arms at the cameras and pointing at the bodies then you didn't smell the bodies burning. You didn't see the casual way the network cameraman replaced the film in his camera and began taking photos again like the carnage was just another stop on the way to the Pulitzer. He knows that he will be back in another watering hole soon enough.

In Iraq it's not like in Vietnam. You didn't just hop aboard a C-140 and then grab a Huey out to a shithole to scrap about to the shit. In Iraq the shit was the day of Tet, every single day. Thanks to a foreign policy of "Bring 'em on." One thing Jack and I could never figure out was why they called the area where the american troops where located the Green Zone. The only thing we came up with was when we interviewed the civilians in Iraq and they all responded with the same word, "Halliburton."

Halliburton had funded this attack. Private security forces had opened fire on innocent men, women, and children.

We turned around and around, Jack turning the humvee against the shooting and slammed the front across the curb of the highway. Both sliding out of the driver's side, we were still taking fire.

Jack screamed out, "You see where it's coming from?"

I was caught, frozen in the moment. I was watching a woman as she caressed the head of a boy. As she lifted his head up to her lips I could see that half of his head had been shot away. Blood had caked around his nostrils and from there, there was nothing. Somewhere on the bloody street his bloody mouth had been torn violently from him. As rounds exploded all around her she wept uncontrollably. While others ran for cover and Jack and I tried to save our lives she was shot through the heart while mourning the loss of this child.

Jack gripped my shoulder, "You see where it's coming from?"

I was shocked back into consciousness when a shot knicked my wrist and sent blood shooting across my hand. Before I had a chance to cuss or holler I looked up and noticed an Iraqi man wearing a black handkerchief aiming at my head from across the street. I jumped up instantly and grabbed Jack and jumped into the pool of blood in the grass by the front wheel.

The Iraqi man fired just as I jumped and just missed me. Jack cussed as I crushed all of my body weight on top of him, sending him face first into the bloody grass. We rolled and came up for air just as a car bomb exploded up the street.

The news cameraman crawled over to us, "Either one of you journalists?"

Jack and I looked at each other, I responded, "Now just what in the hell does that matter now?"

The cameraman didn't bat an eye, "I thought you might get my film to the network office, my cell is fubar."

I stared at the cameraman a moment and said, "Oh sure, yeah, we'll get it there, no problem."

He answered, "Great, tell'em about ten or twelve dead maybe more, I'm going after the car bomb."

The cameraman made his way crawling on his belly through the bloody grass in the direction of the explosion.

Jack smiled as he watched me open the film canister and expose the yellow film to the flames not three feet away from us. I handed the film to Jack and he tossed it in. We weren't going after the car bomb, we were going after the truth and fame and glory didn't have any role in this tragedy.

Part eight

The only human right you have in Iraq these days outside the idling engine of a military transport plane is just that, you are a human at that moment. But step out of the plane into the dusty air and you are the margin for victory, a landslide on the abacus. Translate that into political capitol and you are the means to an end, the straw on the camel's back that like a dowser's wand leads the way to the oil, damn the body count, this is war. Damn men, stiff upper lip and all, this is economics.

It's hard to keep a global ledger in mind when you are bleeding on an Iraqi street. It's even more difficult when you are in the grass which is much cooler but is covered not only in your blood but the blood of children and the twisted metal of automobiles and weapons. Any weapons in a firefight can be a weapon of mass destruction when paint is tearing and flicking away into your eyes, remember that if you ever find yourself hunted by the military of your own country in a foreign land.

The car bomb exploded again as best we could figure as there was another explosion almost right away. One thing you will never understand if you are ever in Iraq is the term, Improvised Explosive Device. That description alone brings to mind Timothy McVeigh going into a Wal-Mart and buying a few items and coming out with two shopping bags and some d cell batteries. There is nothing improvised about any of these devices, nothing thrown together on a whim. It's not like the Vietcong rushed down from the jungles of North Vietnam with just some nails and fertilizer and had to first find a rental truck or take flying lessons. Read back through the reports from Iraq when Saddam was in power and there weren't any I.E.D.'s being exploded. Create the demand and journalists will recoil only slightly before rushing in and that was where we were, rushing in on our bellies.
I looked up and noticed the Iraqi man with the black handkerchief had taken off his disguise and had exposed his american features. I grabbed my camera and shot a few stills of him reloading. Using the second explosion as cover the famalies who had been caught out in the open ran to cover as shots sprayed the streets like vipers snipping at their heels. I grabbed Jack and pulled his face over to mine, his look of confusion moved to anger as he noticed the american.

Jack whispered to me, "Dirty son of a bitch!"

Looking around us we noticed the famalies had made it to cover and one man was waving us over to the door of a storefront.

I grabbed Jack by the shoulder and notioned to him, "We got to make it, the bastard knows we're here."

As soon as I seriously allowed myself to consider running across a street being riddled with gunfire I instantly thought to myself, "You're a journalist and this asshole is trying to make you a soldier!"

I choked back fear and crippling anxiety and slinging blood from my hand onto the street I darted across the street with Jack alongside me. We made it just as the entire front of the building erupted in flames and smoke as a grenade was shot into the street in front of the wall. Once inside the man and his family motioned for us to follow them. As we made our way through the store the man stooped for a moment and stopped to pick up the body of a woman who had been shot. The bullet had gone clear through her skull and glass had sprayed her face, scarring it horribly. Jack and I each grabbed a leg and with the man we made our way to a vehicle outside.

We searched the roofs for private security forces but saw none, evidently they hadn't planned ahead and this gave us pause. We were at least 45 minutes late to the scene and this was as far as they had gotten. What had stopped them? What had we missed? Somehow we had to find out if they had suffered any casualities and we had to ask our saviors here what had happened but first we had to reach a safe distance.

Part nine

If you took the weight of the ocean that erupts in pain at the slightest breeze from across the world and threw it at a child and then took notes on the impact you'd see before your very eyes what war can do. Those notes would be the propaganda you could use to turn the tide on the floor of the U.S. congress and that propaganda could sustain any rationale of turmoil or loss or life. Sound irrational? In the young year of 2007 the political landscape of the world has become the wall that mankind has been backing up towards since the beginning of time. The spear flies through the eye of the storm, through its splendour and blue skies, through the calm and bereft moment of wreckage only to land as the clouds begin to darken and the rains re-approach from the east.

There is no soundtrack on the ground, "boots on the ground" as they say. No combat photographer in khaki has a camera crew following him or her around making sure they are captured in the right light as they help the wounded child to safety or as they seduce the Catholic missionary in the dimming light of the battlefield. War is ugly, it is obscene and the sounds you hear are the screams and the sounds of gunfire, the recoil. If you listen close enough you can hear the gunman next to you change his field of vision, not because you have spent so much time together in a war zone or in that distinct battle but for the fact that your senses are so heightened that your fears are leaping so far from your skin they erupt like the ocean with the slightest breeze from the gunman's movement from across the room.

Jack and I had been in many situations before where our lives were in danger and we had been in situations where we were so compelled into an idea that as we moved along with the story we ached for adventure or excitement.

On the campaign trail, following presidential candidates we would often sneak away from the subject and do what the industry calls a "human interest" story. You've read that line before and wondered what that means. It's not slice of life or inspirational as you might think. A hardened newspaper or wire service editor will call it a story about a nobody, a worthless sidebar or whatever he can come up with at the moment until it gets picked up or noticed. Then you are gold.

For instance we did a story once on a midnight shooting about a woman who was shot two blocks away from a hotel where a candidate was staying. It was a parallel piece. We mirrored their movements. As the candidate was taking the stage and fluffing out his speech she was being struck by the first shot. As the candidate told the first of many jokes in his speech the cartilage in her leg exploded and severed the nerve in her leg and she began to bleed uncontrollably.

When the story was presented the next day we were attacked from one end of the country to the next for sensationilizing the candidates visit to that dear city. We were told directly not to come back. This was the way we felt as we raced ahead of a grenade in Iraq in the back of a car with a family who's only thought earlier that day was survival.

As we each grabbed a leg and the man cradled her head we hurried as best we could out the back of the house. The noise was unbelievable. We could hear the private security forces shouting in english behind us. I was bleeding and all I could think about was their safety and Jack's and going back out the front of the house and somehow returning fire with whatever I could find. I had been shot at before by americans in my own country but not in Iraq. These were criminals, government sponsored thugs who were sure to get away with murder if we didn't do our job.

As we got outside the man's family was cowering in the front of the car mindful that we had to get the now deceased matron of the family into the backseat. I've never helped to put a dead body into a small car, especially one that I had to ride in also. I looked up and Jack's expression was of hurt and anger. He was quiet which was unlike him in a situation of stress but I was aware that he was focused.

As we got her into the car the man noticed that my hand was bleeding. In poor english he took me by the bicep and said, "Wait, here."

He reached into the backseat and tore a piece from the old woman's dress and wrapped it around my hand and tied it there. I couldn't move I was so struck by what he had done. Tears sudenly and immediately streamed down my face. The man padded me on the arm and shook Jack's hand and motioned us into the backseat of the car.

I looked at Jack and he looked at me. I couldn't do it and neither could he. There was no way we could crawl inside on top of the woman even if it meant that we would be shot at any minute. That was the difference between people like this man and his family, people like Jack and myself and the people who were terrorizing this country from both sides. We were good at heart and could not and would not break the simple and fundamental means of life that make us who we are.

We motioned for him to get in the car and go. He tried and tried to get us to get in but we said no.

Jack stammered, "No, take your family and go! Go! Go!"

As we watched the man drive away his son turned around in the front seat and watched us with no expression. I don't think he had any idea what was taking place but it saddened me to know that this boy would remember it all some day. War is no place for a child.

Part ten

In the final stage of the Gulf War, American troops engaged in a ground assault on Iraq, which like the air war, encountered virtually no resistance. With victory certain and the Iraqi army in full flight, U.S. planes kept bombing the retreating soldiers who clogged the highway out of Kuwait City. A reporter called the scene "a blazing hell...a gruesome testament....To the east and west across the sand lay the bodies of those fleeing."

- Howard Zinn, Introduction to the book, "Target Iraq: What The News Media Didn't Tell You" by Norman Solomon and Reese Erlich.

To date almost 35,000 civilians have been killed in Iraq.* You can't stand them end to end as the old saying goes because a good number of them are not all there anymore. Have you seen what these so-called improvised explosive devices do to the legs of a child? You wouldn't see it on American television because it just isn't shown. If you have a sateilite you might catch a glimpse of it on Al Jazeera but that has been dismissed as propaganda so you would just flip away to something else.

As Jack and I watched the man and his family drive away from his home, the dead woman's body in the backseat, we had a pretty good idea what a roadside bomb could do to a body. We had a damn good idea what an american grenade could do to an Iraqi woman of about 70 to 75 years of age. In the front of the house we could hear the radio traffic, it was american military signal. The nearby camp, the one we had just left, was mopping up a recent attack.

It was just a year before that I had seen a reporter from The Sunday Times get decapitated in Jerusalem in an attack that didn't officially happen during an official visit by the British government while he was riding in a car that I was almost riding in. Every time I watched a car drive away without me in it I had horrible feelings, like a waking nightmare where the monster crawls up from under the bed and begins assembling the ropes strand by strand and explaining why he is here to kill me.

My worst fears were soon upon me as Jack and I searched intensely for an escape route out of the situation we had volunteered for. It was a small stretch of houses and there was not a lot of room to hide if the security forces came looking for us which they were sure to do. They had "skin in the game" to quote a terribly inept phrase of the last century. As the car made its dusty way along the cratered field it came under fire. Jack saw a hole under the house two doors down we could escape through and was pulling me in that direction but just like when I watched the lady gripping the body of the boy in the street before I was frozen in horror. Jack slapped me twice and kicked me in the leg, shouting, "They're coming through the house, damn it come on!"

As we shriveled our way under the house and into a pathway that led up and into the next house over (a pathway which must have been created to escape what I don't know but it was convenient to us), the security forces came through to where we had been standing and on their radios directed the fire on the car the man and his family were trying to escape in.

Up and into the next house which had been abandoned due to the shelling and bombing, Jack and I ran to the front window and saw American military racing to the front of the house. It would be a few moments before they would organize and attempt to secure the area. It was now or never.

We bolted out of the door and ran into the street and turning the corner we ran into a pack of Iraqi civilians who were just as shocked to see us as we were to see them. A man who must have owned the house we came out of screamed at us in English for leaving the door open, "They will tear the place apart, asshole!"

We had to reach a vantage point to keep in view of what was going on but not so close as to remain in the line of fire or identification. In the streets of Iraq this is almost as impossible as in the jungles of Thailand or Laos when you are two American journalists sprayed with blood and shaking in fear.

- Chris Mansel

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