Friday, December 22, 2006

Mind of Mansel: J.R. and I in Iraq - part 7

(Note: Parts 1-6 below.)

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.

- Chris Mansel

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

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Mind of Mansel: JR & I in Iraq, Part 5

(Parts 1-4 below)

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?"

- Chris Mansel