Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Mind of Mansel: JR & I in Iraq, Part 6

(Note: Parts 1-5 below)

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..."

- Chris Mansel

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