Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Mind of Mansel: J.R. and I in Iraq - part 10

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 Jerusaluem 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. Everytime 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 alot 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

* Editor's note: Estimates of the Iraqi death toll vary widely. The UN gave an estimate of 35,000 civilians in 2006. The best estimate, without regard to civilian status, is that of the Johns Hopkins study at more than 600,000.

No comments:

Post a Comment