3/21/2003

Entering Iraq
We arrived in Bagdad late afternoon on the day after the first bombings. We met with our contact, an elderly and very calm soldier called Bakar. My troops is a high skill troop, with about 10 heavy artillery pros, a few reconn/planners/strategist like myself, some chemical guys, and some other misc.

We were separated from one another as we arrived in the city, and I and three of my men were taken to a house in the outskirts of Bagdahd, towards the north, where we received plain green uniforms, and rank stickers. I was placed at major, but it was explained that I was major only to the troops under our control, and was not allowed to order Iraqi troops that were not assigned to us.

To make it clear, my team and I are a specially trained team, what Americans would call Special Ops. Our job is to do the dangerous stuff that the Iraqi army will not or cannot do. We are being paid well, and the money has been deposited in an account in Jordan, and will be released upon our return by the Iraqi officials. If the Americans would pay us more, we would work for them, but it is pretty clear that they won't hire us. So the Iraqis trust us. We have a reputation, mostly being mercenaries from the defunct EO/Combat Solutions.

Late in the afternoon, we received a soviet style tracer (anti-aircraft gun), which the artillery guys were to look over. The other two chaps I arrived with showed me how to handle the gun.

Basically, it is a big metal, mounted on springs and swerveable to about 180° in all directions pointing upwards. I placed the catridge bag in the gun, and tested the trigger. The gun is very powerful. Before you shoot, you have to lock it into position, and in spite of that there is a great heat and clattering as it bounces on its shock absorbers. And it was so old, it felt like it would explode any minute.

Later in the day, we lifted the gun to the back of a dusty open back range rover with a rusty skin. I cut my hand on the back of the truck, and it seemed absurd to draw first blood in such an undramatic manner. We drove the Rover into the town, and joined an array of anti-aircraft guns, and dropped into the fox holes and trenches beside. Later in the evening, American planes came up in the sky. I was in control of the gun, just for fun.

How do the Iraqis do it? A plotter shouts out the coordinates of the plane when he gets it on his radar, and eveyone winches their gun into that general coordinate. Then he starts shouting out the coordinate movements of the plane, and every tracer is to shoot around the plane, based on his position. For example, I always had to shoot 0.05 behind the plane.

Then the bombs started dropping.

The Americans have missiles, and you can clearly see the fire burning in the sky, racing towards you. When they are high in the sky, it looks like they are coming right at you, and my heart jumped into my mouth whenever I heard the hiss and boom, and saw that death star racing towards the ground.

But as they drop, they race towards other targets, and we all smile nervously. Survived .. for now.

Later in the night, however, it got serious for us. We were moved to the bottom of a high rise ministry building, so that our backs would be covered as we shot towards the skies. This is a dangerous task, because big buildings get hit. But our open traces at the other location were being machined gunned from the sky with large caliber, so that area were getting a bit too dangerous.

At about 8pm, when it was already dark, I was sitting, and drinking tea while my companions, Jorg from South Africa and Rajid from Madagascar were handling the trace guns. And then, a huge explosive slammed into the side of the building, and the air displacement lifted us up into the air, and slammed us around. If you’ve ever been in a wave, you will know what I mean.

Debris was falling all around, and men were shouting. The hair on my skin felt singed, and I grabbed my rifle and ran out of the area. Most men cleared the area, but even as I moved away, I saw Iraqis driving army jeeps into the area. They lifted the anti-aircraft guns, and heaved them into the jeeps, even as chucks of cement fell on their heads.

I entered my jeep with Rajid – I did not see what happened to Jorg, and drove away from the scene. The building was empty I think, and there was a single ambulance driving into that area as we left. What surprised me was that the street lights were still on as we drove away.

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