questions one asks *always* determine the answers one gets. Values and theories form the basis of all inquiry. This blog asks questions about Bush's "pre-emptive war on Iraq", the political influence of corporations, US foreign policy, the ''politically right'' media bias, developing countries, wealth distribution, and political philosophy.
Tuesday, April 01, 2003
CNN reports: >>>Former CIA director James Woolsey said Wednesday that the United States *is* engaged in World War IV, and that it could continue for years. [...] Woolsey described the Cold War as the third world war and said "This fourth world war, I think, will last considerably longer than either World Wars I or II did for us. Hopefully not the full four-plus decades of the Cold War."
He said the new war is actually against three enemies: the religious rulers of Iran, the "fascists" of Iraq and Syria, and Islamic extremists like al Qaeda. ... all three enemies have waged war against the United States for several years but the United States has just "finally noticed."
"As we move toward a new Middle East," Woolsey said, "over the years and, I think, over the decades to come ... we will make a lot of
people very nervous." It will be America's backing of democratic movements throughout the Middle East that will bring about this sense of unease, he said. "Our response should be, 'good!'" Woolsey said.
Singling out Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and the leaders of Saudi Arabia, he said, "We want you nervous. We want you to realize now, for the fourth time in a hundred years, this country and its allies are on the march and that we are on the side of those whom you -- the Mubaraks, the Saudi Royal family -- most fear: We're on the side of your own people."
Woolsey has been named in news reports as possible candidate for a key position in the reconstruction of a post-war Iraq.
The Bruin Republicans, UCLA's campus Republicans organization, co-sponsored Wednesday night's event.<<<
Oh, by the way: Woolsey is not only a member of the Defense Policy Board; he also runs the Global Strategic Security practice of Booz Allen Hamilton, which got $680 million in military contracts in 2002. He is also a principal in the Paladin Capital Group, a venture-capital firm that solicits nvestments for homeland security firms.
We've been writing this for months. Where was the media, on this? Where were the Democrat 'leaders'? They all knew about the Podhoretz et al. plan for "World War IV.", long ago. Senior Democratic advisers were asked about this, e.g., on 7 October 2002, and dodged the question.
See also Josh Marshall's long article in the Washington Monthly: "Chaos in the Middle East is not the Bush hawks' nightmare scenario--it's their plan." He writes: "the administration sees the invasion as only the first move in a wider effort to reorder the power structure of the entire Middle East. ... So events that may seem negative--Hezbollah for the first time targeting American civilians; U.S. soldiers preparing for war with Syria--while unfortunate in themselves, are actually part of the hawks' broader agenda. Each crisis will draw U.S. forces further into the region and each countermove in turn will create problems that can only be fixed by still further American involvement, until democratic governments--or, failing that, U.S. troops--rule the entire Middle East."
Also Robert Dreyfus, in The American Prospect, http://www.prospect.org/print/V14/4/dreyfuss-r.html
"Just the Beginning: Is Iraq the opening salvo in a war to remake the world? ...the Bush administration's hawks, especially the neoconservatives who provide the driving force for war, see the conflict with Iraq as much more than that [to disarm Saddam Hussein, remove him from power, eliminate Iraq's alleged stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction, and prevent Baghdad from blackmailing its neighbors or aiding terrorist groups.] It is a signal event, designed to create cataclysmic shock waves throughout the region and around the world, ushering in a new era of American imperial power. It is also likely to bring the United States into conflict with several states in the Middle East. Those who think that U.S. armed forces can complete a tidy war in Iraq, without the battle spreading beyond Iraq's borders, are likely to be mistaken. 'As soon as we land in Iraq, we're going to face the whole terrorist network,' [Michael Ledeen] says, including the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), ... a collection of militant splinter groups backed by nations -- Iran, Syria and Saudi Arabia."
One year ago (Feb 2002) and Australian paper paraphrased Powell as saying: "Nothing Saddam does can save him," and "the US will pursue a regime change policy, with or without the support of its allies." Then why all the smoke-and-mirrors this fall and winter, about the UN? Why did the Australian press get it right, and not the US?
Also: that "anti-war Human Shield" who allegedly had an apostasy after talking with Iraqis in March, and became pro-war? It turns out Ken Joseph was *never* anti-war (beyond expressing concern that his fellow Assyrian-Christians get a bigger voice in the opposition and be protected from the Kurds--who had expelled his grandparents). He had been active in the Assyrian-Christian community for months, attended a "post-Saddam" opposition planning meeting in London in November, and called for an independent Assyrian-Christian *country*. (I am not making this up). He 'happened' to meet up with Arnaud de Borchgrave in Amman after his jaunt inside Iraq, as one does, and his story was plastered all over Faux-TV, Murdoch papers, etc. starting March 21. Quelle coincidence. More on this later, too much going on. (The wave of deterioration in American democracy, the avoidance of these issues by both Democrats and Republicans, and the complicity of mainstream media which does not ask the right questions is striking.)
Quote of the week. When Kissinger was asked about conflicts of interest, for Pentagon advisors who also consult to defense contractors, he replied: "How the hell are we supposed to make a living?"
An explosion Friday in a crowded Baghdad marketplace killed 60 civilians. The Pentagon suggested it could have been caused by an Iraqi anti-aircroft rocket (as they claimed with an earlier one). There's a problem with this explanation: a metal fragment at the scene found by a British journalist has the marking: "MFR 96214 09". A reader of the Guardian pointed out this is a manufacturer's identification number known as a "cage code". Cage codes can be looked up on the internet (www.gidm.dlis.dla.mil), and keying in the number 96214 traces the fragment back to a plant in McKinney, Texas, owned by the Raytheon Company. Raytheon makes a vast array of military equipment, including the AGM-129 cruise missile. If a reporter and a reader can find this out, surely the Pentagon could, too? (As if it doesn't carefully track cruise missiles?!)
Yesterday, US troops killed ten innocent women and children when they fired on a van at a checkpoint. "Were they justified?" 84% of 250,000 Americans answered "Yes", in a CNN online poll. This is not surprising, given how CNN covered the story. Did it cross CNN's mind to interview the civilians involved, before they published the story? Here is what the civilians told the Australian Sydney Morning Herald: >>>Bakhat Hassan said he thought a leaflet dropped by US helicopters told them to "be safe", and they believed that meant getting away from the helicopters firing rockets and missiles and out of their village to Karbala. He had on his best pinstripe suit to "look American." He said US soldiers at an earlier checkpoint had waved them through. They stopped at an Army checkpoint on the northbound road near Sahara, about 40km south of Karbala, and were told to go on, Hassan said. A few kilometres later, a Bradley Fighting Vehicle came into view. The family waved again as it came closer. The soldiers opened fire. 11 members of his family were killed. His wife Lamea, 36, nine months pregnant, survived. She said numbly: "I saw the heads of my two little girls come off." "It would be better not to have the baby," she said. "Our lives are over."<<<
CNN's story was quite different [italics added]:
>>>U.S. soldiers fired on a van carrying 13 women and children when it failed to stop [did the driver hear any shots? if so, did he know where the shots came from? if so, did he know that the shots were in his direction? if so, did he know the shots were directed at him, vs. e.g. someone behind him? if so, did he know the shots meant he was supposed to stop? how does CNN know all this?]
at a military checkpoint in southern Iraq, killing seven [sic--no, it is 10 or 11] people and wounding two others, U.S. Central Command said Monday in a written statement.
[Did CNN bother to check if the statement is true? Or is CNN just a Pentagon press outlet? As venerable newsman Edward Murrow wrote, for "free enterprise" to work, it must be both free and enterprising.]
... The incident occurred around 4:30 p.m. when soldiers from the U.S. Army 3rd Infantry Division -- manning a checkpoint on Route 9 near Najaf --motioned for an approaching van to stop, but were ignored by the driver, the statement said.
[How do we know this is true? In fact, the Washington Post describes a very different story.]
The soldiers fired warning shots into the air which also were ignored [how do we know?] and then shot at the vehicle's engine, "but it continued moving toward the checkpoint," the statement said.
[Ditto. The Washington Post reports the Captain in charge, Ronny Johnson, yelled at his troops: "You just [fexpletive] killed a family because you didn't fire a warning shot soon enough!"]
Soldiers were unable to see into the van [how does CNN know this? Why could soldiers not see in? It was 4:30pm.],
a spokesman for Central Command said. "As a last resort, the soldiers fired into the passenger compartment of the vehicle," the statement said.
[Why was it a last resort? They had *no* other options? There was no gate, or rope, or chain, or flag across the road? No sign?]
The spokesman said the soldiers responded in accordance with rules of engagement, based on initial reports.
[This is an editorial opinion, yet CNN is repeating it as if it were news. Why?]
Considering recent surprise attacks against U.S. servicemen by attackers dressed as civilians, the soldiers exercised considerable caution, the spokesman said.
[What?! Again, CNN repeats this opinion. Yet their Captain, who should know more than anyone, reacted in horror at his troops egregious failure. Why cover up for that? It is a tragedy, but national security is hardly at stake. A cover-up will do more harm than the truth, however sad. The US and whole world benefits from a free press; which will reveal the repulsive Iraqi propaganda machine for what it is. E.g., Iraq claimed to occupy Baghdad airport, even when Ted Koppel was broadcasting live from it. Likewise with Al Jazeera, who does it harm to block US access to its website? The Arab world is watching it. The US public may as well learn how biased and bad that coverage is, to better meet the challenges facing us. Unless Bush wants only blind partisan loyalty, irrespective of the truth?]
An Iraqi suicide bomber exploded a taxi at a U.S. checkpoint in Najaf Saturday, killing four U.S. soldiers serving with the 3rd Infantry Division. Commander of the division's 1st Brigade, Col. Will Grimsely, said an Iraqi drove to the checkpoint, beckoned soldiers closer, and detonated a bomb, killing himself in addition to his victims. Iraq's Vice President Taha Yasin Ramadan confirmed that attack was a suicide bombing and promised there would be more to come.<<<
[So is CNN inferring that it is perhaps OK to shoot innocent women and children, because a suicide bombing has happened? Did no-one in the White House realize these problems would occur?]
Contrast CNN's version with that of the Washington Post (and bear in mind that the Post, contrary to it's "liberal" reputation, editorialized more strongly than any other major US paper in favor of the war):
>>>A Gruesome Scene on Highway 9 ; 10 Dead After Vehicle Shelled at Checkpoint. As an unidentified four-wheel-drive vehicle came barreling toward an intersection held by troops of the Army's 3rd Infantry Division, Capt. Ronny Johnson grew increasingly alarmed. From his position at the intersection, he was heard radioing to one of his forward platoons of M2 Bradley Fighting Vehicles to alert it to what he described as a potential threat. "Fire a warning shot," he ordered as the vehicle kept coming. Then, with increasing urgency, he told the platoon to shoot a 7.62mm machine-gun round into its radiator. "Stop [messing] around!" Johnson yelled into the company radio network when he still saw no action being taken. Finally, he shouted at the top of his voice, "Stop him, Red 1, stop him!" That order was immediately followed by the loud reports of 25mm cannon fire from one or more of the platoon's Bradleys. About half a dozen shots were heard in all. "Cease fire!" Johnson yelled over the radio. Then, as he peered into his binoculars from the intersection on Highway 9, he roared at the platoon leader, "You just [expletive] killed a family because you didn't fire a warning shot soon enough!" So it was that on a warm, hazy day in central Iraq, the fog of war descended on Bravo Company.
Fifteen Iraqi civilians were packed inside the Toyota, officers said, along with as many of their possessions as the jammed vehicle could hold. Ten of them, including five children who appeared to be under 5 years old, were killed on the spot when the high-explosive rounds slammed into their target, Johnson's company reported. Of the five others, one man was so severely injured that medics said he was not expected to live. "It was the most horrible thing I've ever seen, and I hope I never see it again," Sgt. Mario Manzano, 26, an Army medic with Bravo Company of the division's 3rd Battalion, 15th Infantry Regiment, said later in an interview. He said one of the wounded women sat in the vehicle holding the mangled bodies of two of her children. "She didn't want to get out of the car," he said.
The tragedy cast a pall over the company as it sat in positions it had occupied Sunday on this key stretch of Highway 9 at the intersection of a road leading to the town of Hilla, about 14 miles to the east, near the Euphrates River. The Toyota was coming from that direction when it was fired on. Dealing with the gruesome scene was a new experience for many of the U.S. soldiers deployed here, and they debated how the tragedy could have been avoided. Several said they accepted the platoon leader's explanation to Johnson on the military radio that he had, in fact, fired two warning shots, but that the driver failed to stop. [Do you believe this? Might the platoon leader have an incentive to lie, here?] And everybody was edgy, they realized, since four U.S. soldiers were blown up by a suicide bomber Saturday at a checkpoint much like theirs, only 20 miles to the south. ...
Lt. Col. Stephen Twitty, the 3rd Battalion commander, gave permission for three of the survivors to return to the vehicle and recover the bodies of their loved ones. Medics gave the group 10 body bags. U.S. officials offered an unspecified amount of money to compensate them. "They wanted to bury them before the dogs got to them," said Cpl. Brian Truenow, 28, of Townsend, Mass.
To try to prevent a recurrence, Johnson ordered that signs be posted in Arabic to warn people [WAIT, DID YOU CATCH THIS? **THERE WERE NO SIGNS, IN ARABIC!!**] to stop well short of the Bradleys guarding the eastern approach to the intersection. Before they could be erected, 10 people carrying white flags walked down the same road. They were seven children, an old man, a woman and a boy in his teens. "Tell them to go away," Johnson ordered. But he reconsidered when told that the family said their house had been blown up and that they were trying to reach the home of relatives in a safer area.<<<
Katie Couric on the Today show noted that counselors have been provided... for the US troops. No mention about the Iraqi civilians. Might fewer Americans have thought this was justified, if they heard the Wash Post version? One can understand how the tragedy might occur, with the troops' nerves on edge following suicide attack and the fog of war. But this is not the same as "justifying" it.
As so many people predicted (including the CIA), the war on Iraq will hinder our war on terrorism. With the collapse of the USSR and the rise of stateless terrorism, the US needs the cooperation of as many countries as we can get. We don't need to make more enemies at this time.Ha'aretz reports: "In the past, America has taken a lenient view of the Syrian aid to Iraq. ... Washington kept its criticism down because the CIA estimated it was better to receive intelligence from Syria on Al-Qaida activities. Apparently this information helped the Americans in the past to crack Al-Qaida cells in Germany and Spain. After the war started, the Pentagon became more critical toward Damascus..."
Monday, March 31, 2003 Thousands of Iraqi citizens flee... back to Baghdad!What's wrong with this picture? 7,500 have already returned from Jordan (and others from Syria and Iran), and there is a waiting list at the Iraqi embassy for the permits. Most were of fighting age. 5,000 "Arabs" have also come to Baghdad to fight, from Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Algeria. In the 1991 Gulf War, a million refugees fled to Jordan. That refugee camp is now empty.
The Guardianreports that Paul Wolfowitz is now in charge of single-handedly picking the "new Iraqi" government, which will be announced city-by-city.
Dick Cheney, Vice President, 16 March 2003: "there is no question but that [the people of Iraq] want to get rid of Saddam Hussein and they will welcome as liberators--the United States--when we come to do that."
Donald Rumsfeld, US Defence Secretary, 8 February 2003: "It could last six days, six weeks. I doubt six months."
Richard Perle, 11 July 2002: ""Saddam is much weaker than we think he is. ... it's a house of cards. Support for Saddam, including within his military organisation, will collapse at the first whiff of gunpowder."
Richard Perle, May 2002: Iraq can be taken with a light force of 40,000 American troops. "We don't need anyone else."
Paul Wolfowitz, Deputy US Defence Secretary, 11 March, 2002: "Like the people of France in the 1940s, they view us as their hoped for liberators."
Top Pentagon planner (anonyous, to Sy Hersh): "Rumsfeld had two goals: to demonstrate the efficacy of precision bombing and to 'do the war on the cheap.' Rumsfeld and his two main deputies for war planning, Paul Wolfowitz and Douglas Feith, were so enamored of ‘shock and awe’ that victory seemed assured."
Ken Adelman, former UN Ambassador, 13 February 2002: "I believe demolishing Hussein's military power and liberating Iraq would be a cakewalk. Let me give simple, responsible reasons: (1) It was a cakewalk last time; (2) they've become much weaker; (3) we've become much stronger; and (4) now we're playing for keeps."
Christopher Hitchens, Vanity Fair writer, in a debate, 28 January 2003: "This will be no war - there will be a fairly brief and ruthless military intervention. The President will give an order. [The attack] will be rapid, accurate and dazzling... It will be greeted by the majority of the Iraqi people as an emancipation."
Quotes are from here and here.
A London Times column argues that Tony Blair is clinically insane. (The London Times is owned by arch-conservative Rupert Murdoch). Can you imagine the "liberal" New York Times allowing such a column to be published about Bush Jr.? Why not? (NBC fired Peter Arnett as did National Geographic, for his interview on Iraq TV. The British Daily Mirror immediately hired him.) The London Times column by Matthew Parris, former Tory MP, says:
>>>Most of us have experienced the discomfort of watching a friend go off the rails. ... We do not want to face the truth that our friend has cracked up. Finally we can deny it no longer -- and then it seems so obvious: the explanation, in retrospect, of so much we struggled to reconcile. ... I will accept the charge of discourtesy, but not of flippancy, when I ask whether Tony Blair may now have become, in a serious sense of that word, unhinged.<<< The column goes on to worry that Blair may be mad, mentally ill, crazy, fringe, berserk, "lost the plot," incipiently insane, quietly bonkers, madcap, deluded, slightly cracked, wild-eyed, logic-chopping, lost his sense, demented capacity, palpably absurd, stark raving bonkers, risible, not sane, lunacy, delusional, and pathological. All that, in one column.
In general this blog will avoid pornographic portrayals of violence, but they are part of the story, and are woefully under-reported on mainstream US TV and radio. (Why?) Yet they impact the rest of the world, as well as us. Lest anyone forget just how hideously ugly war is, or get numbed by flip talk of "smart bombs,"read this interview with two US sharpshooters, Sgt. Eric Schrumpf, 28, and Cpl. Mikael McIntosh, 20, published in the NYT:
>>>For five days this week, the two men rode atop armored personnel carriers, barreling up Highway 1. They said Iraqi fighters had often mixed in with civilians from nearby villages, jumping out of houses and cars to shoot at them, and then often running away.
"We had a great day," Sergeant Schrumpf said. "We killed a lot of people." ... Both marines said they were most frustrated by the practice of some Iraqi soldiers to use unarmed women and children as shields against American bullets. They called the tactic cowardly but agreed that it had been effective. ... "It's a judgment call," Corporal McIntosh said. "If the risks outweigh the losses, then you don't take the shot." But in the heat of a firefight, both men conceded, when the calculus often warps, a shot not taken in one set of circumstances may suddenly present itself as a life-or-death necessity. "We dropped a few civilians," Sergeant Schrumpf said, "but what do you do?" To illustrate, the sergeant offered a pair of examples from earlier in the week. ... But more than once, Sergeant Schrumpf said, he faced a different choice: one Iraqi soldier standing among two or three civilians. He recalled one such incident, in which he and other men in his unit opened fire. He recalled watching one of the women standing near the Iraqi soldier go down. "I'm sorry," the sergeant said. "But the chick was in the way."
Or read this story. Did the US just create two more terrorist recruits, by the name of Khalid Jabouri and Adnan Najim?
>>>The JabouriI family had fled their Baghdad city centre home to stay with relatives on the southern outskirts of the city where they thought they might be safer from the bombs. It was a mistake. A few kilometres away the Iraqi army set up the last line of defence for Baghdad. The Republican Guard began digging in shortly after the first airstrikes. Army camps sprung up on the highway and military equipment was parked beneath overpasses. The dirt road leading to the farmhouse runs along a dyke between the irrigated fields where militiamen sitting on wooden benches stop all traffic.
The US missile hit the farmhouse a short while after noon prayers. The 12 members of the extended family had gathered downstairs in the living room waiting for an announcement by the President on television. Khalid Jabouri, a 22-year-old office clerk who had just returned from work, was having a late lunch and drinking tea. His 16-year-old wife, Nahida, had just gone upstairs to brush her teeth.
The family found Nahida on the stairs, her decapitated body mangled and cut in half. Her hand with her wedding ring was intact. The couple were married just last week, they had killed a cow and invited 50 neighbours to the celebrations. They had not yet had a chance to have their wedding pictures developed. Khalid's sister Hana, 22, was also killed, her body buried beneath rubble, and his eight-year-old cousin.
'First, I carried out my little cousin, Rana - she was dead. Then I saw my sister Hana - she was dead. And I looked everywhere for my wife. And then they found her on the stairs,' said Khalid, squatting on the floor at the al-Kindy hospital in a pair of striped pyjamas, crying.
Fateha Gazi, the mother of Rana, sits on a bed in the same hospital across from her children. Her daughter Nada, 14, lies in one bed with a swollen eye and cuts all over her face. In the adjacent bed, Fateha's nine-year-old eldest son has a long wound down his left shoulder and his collar bone is broken. Fateha takes a photo of Rana from an envelope. She's a tiny girl with large eyes smiling in a pink dress. 'She was born in 1995 but she was sick and never grew very big,' she said, looking at the picture. 'Rana had a growth hormone problem.'
Fateha begins to cry and grips her lap. 'I took you to the village because I was afraid of Bush killing you,' she tells the photo. 'And then Bush came to the village and killed you.' Her husband Adnan Najim, who has just arrived at the hospital in his army uniform, tries to take the picture but she waves him away. 'Don't cry,' he says. 'God wanted her, thanks be to God. She is with God.'
Or read this London Times dispatch from the Nasiriya frontlines, March 30th:
>>>... My footsteps felt heavy on the hot, dusty asphalt as I walked slowly towards the bridge at Nasiriya. A horrific scene lay ahead. Some 15 vehicles, including a minivan and a couple of trucks, blocked the road. They were riddled with bullet holes. Some had caught fire and turned into piles of black twisted metal. Others were still burning.
Amid the wreckage I counted 12 dead civilians, lying in the road or in nearby ditches. All had been trying to leave this southern town overnight, probably for fear of being killed by US helicopter attacks and heavy artillery.
Their mistake had been to flee over a bridge that is crucial to the coalition's supply lines and to run into a group of shell-shocked young American marines with orders to shoot anything that moved.
One man's body was still in flames. It gave out a hissing sound. Tucked away in his breast pocket, thick wads of banknotes were turning to ashes. His savings, perhaps.
Down the road, a little girl, no older than five and dressed in a pretty orange and gold dress, lay dead in a ditch next to the body of a man who may have been her father. Half his head was missing.
Nearby, in a battered old Volga, peppered with ammunition holes, an Iraqi woman - perhaps the girl's mother - was dead, slumped in the back seat. A US Abrams tank nicknamed Ghetto Fabulous drove past the bodies.
This was not the only family who had taken what they thought was a last chance for safety. A father, baby girl and boy lay in a shallow grave. On the bridge itself a dead Iraqi civilian lay next to the carcass of a donkey.
As I walked away, Lieutenant Matt Martin, whose third child, Isabella, was born while he was on board ship en route to the Gulf, appeared beside me. "Did you see all that?" he asked, his eyes filled with tears. "Did you see that little baby girl? I carried her body and buried it as best I could but I had no time. It really gets to me to see children being killed like this, but we had no choice."
Martin's distress was in contrast to the bitter satisfaction of some of his fellow marines as they surveyed the scene. "The Iraqis are sick people and we are the chemotherapy," said Corporal Ryan Dupre. "I am starting to hate this country. Wait till I get hold of a friggin' Iraqi. No, I won't get hold of one. I'll just kill him." Only a few days earlier these had still been the bright-eyed small-town boys with whom I crossed the border at the start of the operation. They had rolled towards Nasiriya, a strategic city beside the Euphrates, on a mission to secure a safe supply route for troops on the way to Baghdad.
They had expected a welcome, or at least a swift surrender. Instead they had found themselves lured into a bloody battle, culminating in the worst coalition losses of the war - 16 dead, 12 wounded and two missing marines as well as five dead and 12 missing servicemen from an army convoy - and the humiliation of having prisoners paraded on Iraqi television.
There are three key bridges at Nasiriya. The feat of Martin, Dupre and their fellow marines in securing them under heavy fire was compared by armchair strategists last week to the seizure of the Remagen bridge over the Rhine, which significantly advanced victory over Germany in the second world war.
But it was also the turning point when the jovial band of brothers from America lost all their assumptions about the war and became jittery aggressors who talked of wanting to "nuke" the place. ...
As we set off towards the eastern city gate there was no sense of the mayhem awaiting us down the road. A few locals dressed in rags watched the awesome spectacle of America's war machine on the move. Nobody waved. ...
An Iraqi defence post lay abandoned. Cobras flew over an oasis of palm trees and deserted brick and mud-caked houses. We charged onto the bridge, and as we crossed the Euphrates, a large mural of Saddam came into view. Some marines reached for their disposable cameras.
Suddenly, as we approached ambush alley on the far side of the bridge, the crackle of AK-47s broke out. Our AAVs began to zigzag to avoid being hit by a rocket-propelled grenade (RPG).
The road widened out to a square, with a mosque and the portrait of Saddam on the left-hand side. The vehicles wheeled round, took up a defensive position, back to back, and began taking fire. Pinned down, the marines fired back with 40mm automatic grenade launchers, a weapon so powerful it can go through thick brick walls and kill anyone within a 5-yard range of where the shell lands.
I was in AAV number A304, affectionately nicknamed the Desert Caddy. It shook as Keith Bernize, the gunner, fired off round after deafening round at sandbag positions shielding suspected Fedayeen fighters. ... The exchange of fire was relentless. We were pinned down for more than three hours as Iraqis hiding inside houses and a hospital and behind street corners fired a barrage of ammunition.
Despite the marines' overwhelming firepower, hitting the Iraqis was not easy. The gunmen were not wearing uniforms and had planned their ambush well - stockpiling weapons in dozens of houses, between which they moved freely pretending to be civilians.
"It's a bad situation," said First Sergeant James Thompson, who was running around with a 9mm pistol in his hand. "We don't know who is shooting at us. They are even using women as scouts. The women come out waving at us, or with their hands raised. We freeze, but the next minute we can see how she is looking at our positions and giving them away to the fighters hiding behind a street corner. It's very difficult to distinguish between the fighters and civilians." Across the square, genuine civilians were running for their lives. Many, including some children, were gunned down in the crossfire. In a surreal scene, a father and mother stood out on a balcony with their children in their arms to give them a better view of the battle raging below. A few minutes later several US mortar shells landed in front of their house. In all probability, the family is dead.
The fighting intensified. An Iraqi fighter emerged from behind a wall of sandbags 500 yards away from our vehicle. Several times he managed to fire off an RPG at our positions. Bernize and other gunners fired dozens of rounds at his dugout, punching large holes into a house and lifting thick clouds of dust. ...
Then the Iraqis fired again. This time the rocket plunged into the vehicle through the open rooftop. The explosion was deadly, made 10 times more powerful by the ammunition stored in the back. The wreckage smouldered in the middle of the road. I jumped out from the rear hatch of our vehicle, briefly taking cover behind a wall. When I reached the stricken AAV, the scene was mayhem.
The heavy, thick rear ramp had been blown open. There were pools of blood and bits of flesh everywhere. A severed leg, still wearing a desert boot, lay on what was left of the ramp among playing cards, a magazine, cans of Coke and a small bloodstained teddy bear.
"They are f****** dead, they are dead. Oh my God. Get in there. Get in there now and pull them out," shouted a gunner in a state verging on hysterical.
There was panic and confusion as a group of young marines, shouting and cursing orders at one another, pulled out a maimed body.
Two men struggled to lift the body on a stretcher and into the back of a Hummer, but it would not fit inside, so the stretcher remained almost upright, the dead man's leg, partly blown away, dangling in the air.
"We shouldn't be here," said Lieutenant Campbell Kane, 25, who was born in Northern Ireland. "We can't hold this. They are trying to suck us into the city and we haven't got enough ass up here to sustain this. We need more tanks, more helicopters."
Closer to the destroyed AAV, another young marine was transfixed with fear and kept repeating: "Oh my God, I can't believe this. Did you see his leg? It was blown off. It was blown off."...
If at first the marines felt constrained by orders to protect civilians, by now the battle had become so intense that there was little time for niceties. Cobra helicopters were ordered to fire at a row of houses closest to our positions. There were massive explosions but the return fire barely died down. Behind us, as many as four AAVs that had driven down along the banks of the Euphrates were stuck in deep mud and coming under fire. About 1pm, after three hours of intense fighting, the order was given to regroup and try to head out of the city in convoy. Several marines who had lost their vehicles piled into the back of ours.
We raced along ambush alley at full speed, close to a line of houses. "My driver got hit," said one of the marines who joined us, his face and uniform caked in mud. "I went to try to help him when he got hit by another RPG or a mortar. I don't even know how many friends I have lost. I don't care if they nuke that bloody city now. From one house they were waving while shooting at us with AKs from the next. It was insane."
There was relief when we finally crossed the second bridge to the northeast of the city in mid-afternoon. But there was more horror to come. Beside the smouldering wreckage of another AAV were the bodies of another four marines, laid out in the mud and covered with camouflage ponchos. There were body parts everywhere.
One of the dead was Second Lieutenant Fred Pokorney, 31, a marine artillery officer from Washington state. He was a big guy, whose ill-fitting uniform was the butt of many jokes. It was supposed to have been a special day for Pokorney. After 13 years of service, he was to be promoted to first lieutenant. ... Pokorney was hit in the chest by an RPG. Another man who died was Fitzgerald Jordan, a staff sergeant from Texas. I felt numb when I heard this. I had met Jordan 10 days before we moved into Nasiriya. He was a character, always chewing tobacco and coming up to pat you on the back. He got me to fetch newspapers for him from Kuwait City. Later, we shared a bumpy ride across the desert in the back of a Humvee. ... Now Pokorney, Jordan and their comrades lay among unspeakable carnage.
An older marine walked by carrying a huge chunk of flesh, so maimed it was impossible to tell which body part it was. With tears in his eyes and blood splattered over his flak jacket, he held the remains of his friend in his arms until someone gave him a poncho to wrap them with. ...
One young marine was assigned the job of keeping the flies at bay. Some of his comrades, exhausted, covered in blood, dirt and sweat walked around dazed. There were loud cheers as the sound of the heaviest artillery yet to pound Nasiriya shook the ground.
Before last week the overwhelming majority of these young men had never been in combat. Few had even seen a dead body. Now, their faces had changed. Anger and fear were fuelled by rumours that the bodies of American soldiers had been dragged through Nasiriya's streets. Some marines cried in the arms of friends, others sought comfort in the Bible.
Next morning, the men of Alpha company talked about the fighting over MREs (meals ready to eat). They were jittery now and reacted nervously to any movement around their dugouts. They suspected that civilian cars, including taxis, had helped resupply the enemy inside the city. When cars were spotted speeding along two roads, frantic calls were made over the radio to get permission to "kill the vehicles". Twenty-four hours earlier it would almost certainly have been denied: now it was granted.Immediately, the level of force levelled at civilian vehicles was overwhelming. Tanks were placed on the road and AAVs lined along one
side. Several taxis were destroyed by helicopter gunships as they drove down the road. A lorry filled with sacks of wheat made the fatal mistake of driving through US lines. The order was given to fire. Several AAVs pounded it with a barrage of machinegun fire, riddling the windscreen with at least 20 holes. The driver was killed instantly. The lorry swerved off the road and into a ditch. Rumour spread that the driver had been armed and had fired at the marines. I walked up to the lorry, but could find no trace of a weapon. This was the start of day that claimed many civilian casualties. After the lorry a truck came down the road. Again the marines fired. Inside, four men were killed. They had been travelling with some 10 other civilians, mainly women and children who were evacuated, crying, their clothes splattered in blood. Hours later a dog belonging to the dead driver was still by his side. The marines moved west to take a military barracks and secure their third objective, the third bridge, which carried a road out of the city. ... One room had a map of Nasiriya, showing its defences and two large cardboard arrows indicating the US plan of attack to take the two main bridges. Above the map were several murals praising Saddam. One, which sickened the Americans, showed two large civilian planes crashing into tall buildings.
As night fell again there was great tension, the marines fearing an ambush. Two tanks and three AAVs were placed at the north end of the third bridge, their guns pointing down towards Nasiriya, and given orders to shoot at any vehicle that drove towards American positions.
Though civilians on foot passed by safely, the policy was to shoot anything that moved on wheels. Inevitably, terrified civilians drove at speed to escape: marines took that speed to be a threat and hit out. During the night, our teeth on edge, we listened a dozen times as the AVVs' machineguns opened fire, cutting through cars and trucks like paper. Next morning I saw the result of this order - the dead civilians, the little girl in the orange and gold dress. Suddenly, some of the young men who had crossed into Iraq with me reminded me now of their fathers' generation, the trigger-happy grunts of Vietnam. Covered in the mud from the violent storms, they were drained and dangerously aggressive. In the days afterwards, the marines consolidated their position and put a barrier of trucks across the bridge to stop anyone from driving across, so there were no more civilian deaths. They also ruminated on what they had done. Some rationalised it. "I was shooting down a street when suddenly a woman came out and casually began to cross the street with a child no older than 10," said Gunnery Sergeant John Merriman, another Gulf war veteran. "At first I froze on seeing the civilian woman. She then crossed back again with the child and went behind a wall. Within less than a minute a guy with an RPG came out and fired at us from behind the same wall. This happened a second time so I thought, 'Okay, I get it. Let her come out again'. She did and this time I took her out with my M-16." Others were less sanguine.
Mike Brooks was one of the commanders who had given the order to shoot at civilian vehicles. It weighed on his mind, even though he felt he had no choice but to do everything to protect his marines from another ambush. On Friday, making coffee in the dust, he told me he had been writing a diary, partly for his wife Kelly, a nurse at home in Jacksonville, North Carolina, with their sons Colin, 6, and four-year-old twins Brian and Evan. When he came to jotting down the incident about the two babies getting killed by his men he couldn't do it. But he said he would tell her when he got home. I offered to let him call his wife on my satellite phone to tell her he was okay. He turned down the offer and had me write and send her an e-mail instead. He was too emotional. If she heard his voice, he said, she would know that something was wrong.
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