Monday, July 21, 2003

Geneva Convention Discussion, Getting Lost in Baghdad, Bremer and His Damned Combat Boots, Fedayeen Generals Captured (and their Family)

21 July, 2003

Another day in the ‘Rack, Iraq. I’ve been sick for a week, virtually shut-down. Pretty much everyone got sick – diarrhea. I was pretty bad, and in this climate, you can’t lose too many fluids. Well, all is well now, and I am back to full energy, thanks to you Spatzi. Talking to you and writing you really keeps me going. I love you! I can’t wait until we’re married, seriously! It’s time for that.
Well, I’m listening to The Manic Street Preachers
[1] and about to tell of the great week of adventure in Baghdad! Well, this was the week of Operation Ice Baboon. Yes, Operation Ice Baboon. Let me explain, as it was explained to me, what this name means. There is a military term called Guerilla Freeze, meaning to shut down guerillas or terrorists. Well, we found the old HQs of the Saddam Fedayeen. Actually, the Assyrian Democratic Movement (a Christian political party – well funded) moved into this building after the war. They have been very nice to us, letting soldiers use their satellite phones, internet, and cooking them food. They even hosted well-organized lunches for our brass. Well, last week, they say, “Well, we have a huge vault in our building, and it has files on every single member of the Fedayeen. Addresses, pictures, histories, phone numbers – all of it. The CIA told us to leave it there for later, but never came back. Are you interested in it?”
The answer was a resounding “YES,” with Captain Jasper seeing his golden opportunity. I don’t blame him for being so assertive in working to collect files, after all, he trained years for something like this, and the Fedayeen are no different than the SS. I was happy for him. So we got to do a job the CIA wouldn’t do. S2 ended up spending a week at the ADM complex scanning documents and creating a database of the top leadership. Well, come to find out, a few generals and top brass lived right around the corner. And thus, Operation ICE BABOON was created to pick these guys up. Our first big operation to do something other than raid the wrong houses based on bad information! This info was good, BUT, Ice Baboon? I thought that was a joke (as did the general when he was talking to us last week, a bit embarrassed for us). LTC Jagger just huffed and Capt. Jasper beamed with pride, oblivious to its absurdity. Well, I warned 1LT Orr that Ice Baboon is very imaginative, since a baboon is most known for its large, inflamed-looking buttocks. Actually, I said, ‘flaming-red ass.’ So an icy, flaming-red (maybe blue) monkey ass. OK! I couldn’t get over this. ‘Captain, maybe we should try Chilly Chimpanzee, that would work,’ I said. Everyone just laughed.
In seriousness here, the operation was well planned – and it even seemed dangerous. All the commanders were a bit anxious during the brief. We were going to raid 5 or so houses to capture the leaders and their records. At some point during the brief, it was suggested .50 cal be mounted on our medical personnel carriers. “Sir, that would be in violation of the Geneva Convention. You start messing with Geneva rules, and you are asking for trouble. We don’t bend rules!” The medical leader, a former enlisted drill sergeant-turned-officer said. I was surprised to hear that! He was unrelenting! Our colonel agreed with him.
“What are you going to need such big guns for?” he said
Well, it was planned that when they came to the houses, they would say on a loudspeaker, “So and so, you are surrounded! Come out!” Everyone was wary of this tactic, saying it may give them time to escape or prepare a defense. “OK men, see you tonight!” Knight 6 said. The raid would start 0300. I went to my room, and on the way there, I passed the scouts in their rooms, cleaning their weapons and looking preoccupied with their thoughts. Frankly, they radiated nervousness – and I thought that was understandable and sobering. The machismo disappeared. I thought, ‘Some of these guys could get killed tonight. God, keep them safe, please.’
Next morning, our jail was full of top brass from Saddam Fedayeen, and some people associated with them. Sons, kids, and guests staying over at the time of the raid. Well, it tuned out we asked these people to come out of their homes, and they came right out! No problems. They ended up charming everyone with their manners and English, even the guards. They were even allowed to walk around with no restraints. One 12 year old boy was even sharing his candy with us. Crazy. These are terrorists, the real deal, killed their own people. You had to remind yourself of that. I didn’t forget this. I looked through their confiscated things and found missile posters (nothing big), maps of Mosul (tourism maps from 1979), pictures of Saddam, but nothing damning. The men all seemed so docile, just happy go lucky, a bit passive. Just a bunch of old men, or older. Was the Fedayeen exaggerated? Bad, but not SS material? It began to seem that way during interrogation, the more we found out, and with their warm personalities, like friendly shopkeepers. So Ice Baboon was a success. But is this why the CIA didn’t care about the Fedayeen? Because they weren’t a real menace? I still don’t know. I am still skeptical though. We had these people powerless, at our will. Maybe they are docile now, kissing our asses. But maybe when they were kissing Saddam’s ass and had POWER, they acted very differently. Very likely, I think. You can’t trust all military people, because they depend on the power head for their living, and would change loyalties if it best suited them. I dunno.
Well, I had to take them to Baghdad International Airport to the detention camp so they could be questioned by the FBI or CIA. That is a dangerous drive. I had to go. Before leaving, I called you, just in case something was to happen. I also talked to Poe about an incident at a warehouse. He told me about some things that took place on a case I worked with a week before, but never found out about the beatings of some suspects. I’ll get to that later.
Well, we loaded up our blindfolded cargo into my truck for all of Iraq to see. We left our gate, and I put a bullet in my rifle. Time to protect my life. My escort was ahead of me with a machine gunner on top (SPC Buck). We were flying down the highway, going extremely fast. I didn’t I didn’t want to wave to anyone, didn’t care about them, I just wanted to get to the airport. Flying past was a nasty, dirty, hot trash pile called south Baghdad. Trash everywhere and kids all over, playing in it. We were constantly scanning the road for bombs, called IEDs (improvised explosive devices). So many G.I.s had already been killed on this route. You could still see the black marked areas of burnt metal and scorched asphalt. Someone killed there. I remember this place from seeing it on the news. Well, as we were driving, two men appeared from a truck on the other side of the highway. The truck stopped, and two men bolted from behind it (yes, on the highway) carrying a big, wooden ammo crate box. I saw them and thought, ‘OK, get your rifle aimed, too late to slow down! Buck you going to shoot?’ The men jumped the guard rail and set the box down. It happened so fast, but I was ready and only pushed the gas harder. Nothing happened as I swerved to the right shoulder and saw the escort clear the men. Buck almost shot them, and it wouldn’t have surprised me, I expected him to. It was that out of place. During the war, had they done that, they would have been shot. The thing is, we don’t know if it was a bomb. Everyone who saw it thought it could have been, that they were caught off guard or too late to set it up. OR, they were trying to carry a box across a busy 6 lane highway. Hey, this is Iraq.
It seemed like all was OK. We kept driving closer to the airport, me weaving through traffic in my 5-ton truck with “Lil’ Nora” still on it. As we got on the main approach for the airport, the civilian traffic grew sparse. It looked like an approach to an airport in the States. There were also lots of modern signs advertising Duty-Free, and Trade Commission this and that – all in Arabic and English. One sign depicted Iraq as very large and dominating a large chunk of the globe. Perhaps this was the idea they wanted to project, petty propaganda or nationalism. This stretch of freeway was once a battle ground, as 3rd ID pushed from the airport to the city. You could see the ruts created by tanks traveling in the wide wooded median parallel of the road in order to avoid land mines and contact. Now the roads are safe. We passed a checkpoint. All of a sudden, two M1A1 tanks come rolling across the median (to our front about 50 meters and to the left) and rolled over and crushed a large section of perfectly good guard rail. I couldn’t believe my eyes – two tanks just crushing stuff to make a u-turn. I thought, ‘That was a good guard rail, now it’s going to have to be rebuilt!’ Oh well, you see that a lot, things destroyed senselessly. It’s just more mess to clean up. I looked over to my passenger guard and he was saying,
“Did you just see that? Did they just...?”
‘Yup, I think so,’ I responded, not surprised. We continued on, and the huge bag of confiscated Iraqi and U.S. cash we had fell off the seat and spilled on the floor of the cab. We were driving while picking up the huge wads of cash,
“God, it’s like we’ve robbed a bank!” Sergeant Albert said. So much cash. After seeing so much cash constantly, it’s no big deal to carry 20 grand here and there. We also had an AK-47 in the cab. As we entered the airport, you could see a billboard for Iraqi Airlines. It was a nice ad, looked very professional. It depicted a 747-400 jumbo jet with Iraqi Airlines markings. Well, the building the ad was on is now occupied by 1st Armored Division.
We continued on to the detention center. As we pulled up, we saw civilians and civilian SUVs parked around. There were some guard towers and razor wire everywhere. It looked like something out of Vietnam. Raggy men were sitting in the shade, some women sat in huts, all Iraqi people. It was dirty, it was dusty. Some Iraqis congregated along one fence as some G.I. did a little skit for their entertainment. Something involving a water bottle. I didn’t figure out the story line, but the Iraqi prisoners seemed to enjoy it. One peculiar thing was the loudspeakers. They were playing “Crimson and Clover” over and over. It was loud, with tin-can quality, and echoing eerily through the dust. Iraqis sat there. GIs sat there in brown t-shirts. Crimson and Clover, over and over.
We downloaded the prisoners and brought them into a hangar. We brought their belongings and cash along with us. We got to the intel “experts” and they started looking through their stuff. They were reservists. One man had white hair, old, looked like a mountain man. Another man was a civilian in military uniform. The others were all middle aged with a civilian look to them. We thought these guys were experts, but soon, like everything in the in the Army, things fell apart.
“James, look at this,” he held up a box with a picture of Saddam on it. “What is it?”
“I dunno, be careful!” said James seriously.
He messed with this box for 5 minutes at least. I saw a button and a window like a viewfinder on a camera. ‘I think it’s a picto-finder,’ I said. He held it up to the light and looked thorough the viewfinder. Sure enough, 12 full-color images of Saddam went by. These guys are experts?
“James, check this out!” he said holding up a circuit board. He was concerned about this. The Iraqi said it was to a TV.
“I build TV. Hobby – Sir, yes,” said the Iraqi man. He was the most docile and cooperative. The Army guy asked us,
“Where did you find this?”
“In a box,” said Sergeant Albert simply.
“James, I need you to translate!” said one of the men interested in the board. “Ask what kind of box this came from,” he said to James. James looked like Don Johnson from Miami Vice, went up to the Iraqi and began to look at the floor, as if building up courage to speak, brought his hands up and began to babble something. He had tremendous trouble saying whatever he said. The Iraqi man spoke back rapidly. The American stood there bobbing his head and squinting his eyes. He raised his fist to his chin. James looked up,
“He said, well, a box, and well, he said. I dunno, because I didn’t understand the context.” So, this went on for 20 more minutes about this broken circuit board. The confusion just grew. The four men sat squatting against the wall, talking quietly to each other, not looking too upset. Buck picked up an AK-47 and started taking it apart, explaining to me the ins and outs of how it works. The prisoners just looked on. Buck became angry a few times, as he thought the prisoners were treated too well. He exploded when the guards told him that the prisoners get free cigarettes.
“WHAT! FREE CIGARETTES! And Joe has to pay for ‘em? This is what’s wrong with our Army. You treat prisoners so good, they go tell all their friends not to worry about us!”
All of a sudden, as we got ready to leave, the mountain man came up – southern accent and all. Then he looked to the brigadier general Iraqi and began to speak to him in perfect Arabic – fluently. The general and he talked so naturally. I respected that mountain man, he could speak a foreign language – and that says a lot about him.
“Check her out, she can get a ride anytime! Man!” the guys were telling me as they undressed some woman soldier with their eyes.
‘I don’t care, I just want to get outta here – it’s starting to get dark,’ I said while resting my legs and my face on my forearms. I really didn’t give a damn about seeing any women. I just don’t care, it’s so stupid.
“Oh yeah, Corporal T, you’re married, aren’t you?” said Sergeant Albert, I guessed he saw I really didn’t care to look.
‘Not married yet, might as well be. I just want to go home, I don’t care about all that crap,’ I told him.
“I thought you’re married – well you act like it. Sorry about saying all that,” Sergeant Albert said. He seemed nice – but too nice, almost artificial. Perhaps he is genuine, I don’t know, but empathy towards Joe runs thin from me here.
“Let’s roll!” 1LT Orr said. Finally it was time to leave. The sun was setting. By now – during prayer time – Islamic music was now playing on the loudspeakers in the camp. ‘That’s nice of them,’ I thought.
‘Damn, the truck won’t start! Get the slave cables to jump it,” I said. My truck was dead. The generator was out. So we would have to jump start it. Oh, before I forget:
“Be sure to get an inventory on this cash,” one of the sergeants said. “You would be surprised. Last week, $7,000 dollars went missing from a prisoner. So I told my guys, ‘I’m going to call CID (Criminal Investigative Division) to investigate right now!’ Before CID showed up, the cash reappeared in a connex. Nah Sarge, we don’t know how it got there. Bastards.” He said. It’s true, soldiers are taking money. I’ll get more into this later.
Then 2 CIA people walked up. They didn’t care about our Fedayeen folks. As it later seemed, no one did. Not even the intel guys. So it felt like a waste of time. There was a man and a woman CIA. They are typical in their Dockers and Polo shirts, hiking sneakers, and fanny packs. Not Hollywood material. America’s elite looked like America’s nerd patrol. The woman walked past, not hiding very well her discomfort at having every soldier stare at her. I was rather amused at seeing the faces of the soldiers elongate and mouths open pitifully. That was more enjoyable to watch than any woman (except you, Nora!)
Well, we jumpstarted the truck, and got ready to roll out. I put the radio on to the Manic Street Preachers CD and had a splitting headache. I drank some boiling hot water. We realized my headlights were dim, because the generator was out. We would have to get back to base fast. Journeying out into the Baghdad night is like going into a jungle at night – it’s better not done. The city is safer than the highways at night. Still though, someone could fire an AK-47 or pistol in an instant. That is why I watch my mirrors.
Well, we started driving along, leaving the airport, passing checkpoints guarded by black teenage soldiers. We continued towards the Saddam parade ground. By now, it was dark. I noticed we passed our turn. ‘SGT, that was our turn – we’re going the wrong way!’ I yelled getting angy.
“I dunno, keep following,” he said (Albert).
‘We need to turn around before we get even more lost – they don’t know where they’re going!’ I shouted. We kept rolling down dark roads and neighborhoods. We were then turning and the lead vehicle stopped. You never stop in traffic. We would come to a fork in the road and you could tell the lead vehicle was clueless because they would swerve one direction, and hesitate, then go into the other direction. Not good. We were lost, and I was pissed as never before. ‘We’ve got a god dammed Sergeant, a 1st lieutenant in the lead vehicle to go down a simple route, and they get lost! Then, they keep going and going – not even back tracking! Too proud to find some Americans to ask! This is how people get killed – because of stupidity! I know exactly how to get back and I’ve only been there once! It’s not good to be rolling around lost here. Just have faith Dan, God is taking care of you – trust that,’ I thought as we drove 55 MPH down the city streets, past yelling people. Are they yelling or cheering?
I looked over to the left, and saw people walking along and sitting on a river wall. It was the Tigris River. They were all looking at us and yelling, again didn’t know if it was good or bad.
We continued winding through the city, and I grew furious, because I knew we were lost and Sergeant Rush, a complete idiot, was leading the way. We ended up going past some G.I.s guarding a gate. I winded through the concrete barriers with the truck and pulled over. Sergeant Rush pulled over too. I looked around and saw what looked to be a country club. Of course, this was at night, but you could still see the tennis courts and well trimmed hedges. We looked on the map and figured out where we were. We were right in the middle of the OCPA
[2] HQ at the main presidential palace. I looked to the right and saw a tiny bit of shrubbery and a cheap chain-link fence and the orange glow of lights from middle class homes just meters away from Saddam’s palace. The massive gates to the compound were impressive, but I couldn’t see them too well in the darkness. My headlights were growing dimmer. I went to the lead vehicle and 1LT Orr and Sergeant Rush where trying to figure out where we were. I had to swallow my anger and see if they had found a route. It appeared they had figured a way to base, but it would take us through the city. At the compound, where Paul Bremer stays, there was a fleet of expensive Cadillac SUVs or GMC Suburbans or other vehicles. There were also workmen, all American civilians, with Tennessee moustaches and Harley-Davidson hats. You know the type. Some of these people were at BIAP too. Well, we got in our trucks and started off again, and out of a gate, through its massive exit. A skinny black soldier stood there in the open – all his gear hanging on his fragile-looking frame, his helmet tilted to one side. He didn’t look glad to be alive, or standing out in the open, as I have seen soldiers doing before. Just as I thought we were on the right path, we came to a complete stop, in the middle of a traffic circle with a statue (I think) of Saddam with two revolutionaries. We sat there for minutes, before taking a turn left. There was a bridge (a closed bridge I last saw in a picture in Time magazine with Paul Bremer standing on it to “prove a point.” What point would that be?) we used to cross the Tigris River. I began to recognize where we were. We were one bridge south of the bridge I first crossed and saw the Palestine Hotel, with the left corner of the building blown out by a tank round on the 16th floor, I estimate. I watched that live on Fox as two tanks on that very bridge sat, and then one fired. Anyways, we got into the city and made a mad dash through the roundabouts. We were barreling down the roads, my 5-ton growling and coasting with a momentum that would crash clear through any car that got in the way with devastating force. We then linked up to the highway that leads to our base at Al-Rasheed. “Canal Road” is full of IEDs too, many having gone off on this road. At first you are looking all around, at every bit of debris. Then, you realize you can’t look at everything. You still try, but realize if someone decides to explode a 155 mm artillery shell or shoot us with an RPG, there is little we can do about it other than react. So, you think, “If they are going to blow something, I can’t do anything about it, so drive fast and don’t think about it. Trust God.”
We arrived back to base without incident. I parked my truck. “Good driving T,” Sergeant Albert said. I stepped down, got all my gear, and went straight to the phone with a splitting headache to call you. It was so good to hear your voice, and tell you I was safe. I looked to the night sky and kissed you. I love you endlessly. Ich liebe Dich!

Sergeant Edward described the Fedayeen complex after spending a week there compiling data that would lead to the arrest of many Fedayeen members. There was no doubt that they were a terrorist organization, a sadistic, even Satanic group of rabid thugs. He described a room within the complex with red tile all around. It was called the “red room.” In the center of the room was a simple hole for collecting fluids, one may safely presume. There were also several Japanese katana swords with serial numbers inscribed into the blades. For every sword, there was a log. Within that log was a tally of mutilations, be it the beheading of someone, or cutting off a hand. Everything was documented. When the Fedayeen fled during the invasion, they forgot to take their records with them.
It was also during this time that one of the engineer companies were out on Canal Road to secure a possible IED site. Someone alongside the side of the road shined a laser pointer at them while they were parked. They opened fire with grenade launchers on orders from a lieutenant towards the direction of the laser pointer.

[1] British rock group
[2] U.S. office of Coalition Provisional Authority (the Green Zone)
[3] I love you!


Post a Comment

<< Home