4/23/2003

The retaking of the bridge

I stood with the 3 young men, and we looked at the tank sitting on the Saddam bridge in Baghdad, and pointing its snout towards us contemptuosly. It sat like a big ugly fly, flicking its head to the left or the right every now and then, and spitting fire.

On the wall across the street from us, there was a large uneven splash of red brown blood, and a crumpled shirt below the wall. A man had been running away from the fire, but had not been able to run faster than the beast could shoot. As we had watched him run along the wall, the bullet holes had marked the walls behind him, following him, and racing faster than he could run. In the last moment, when the bullets were a meter behind him, he had jumped into the air, almost as if he wished he would be taken by God into safety. Born by the wings of angels away from the desperate panic. But that didn’t happen. The large caliber tank bullets hit him, and flung him against the wall, splashing blood all over the wall. He jerked as he fell, and twiched for several minutes.

That was 30 minutes ago, and at the moment, the 3 men beside me all had rocket propelled grenade launchers in their hands, and were about to go swat the large and ugly fly off the bridge. They wanted to attack that huge piece of death metal with its massive gun with their little weapons.

The young man beside me was called Sam. An all american name, but it was the short form of some arabic name. I had stayed with him the night before, and we had talked deep into the night. He was gripped by the rage of the 22 year old against the injustices of the world, and he believed that he would save the Baghdad, Iraq and the World in the morning. We will fight, and will die in Baghdad, he proclaimed loudly every now and then. Nobody will ever capture Baghdad without killing the 5 million residents.

His non-violent ambitions were modest – he was working at the zoo, and hoped to become the animal keeper when the old man retired. He spoke with tenderness and humour of the funny camels, the loud lions, the donkeys, the monkeys. He was a story teller, and that night, when we were not talking of the battle outside, and when the bombs did not drown out our voices, it was like one night of the thousand and one Arabian nights.

But today, the time had come for him to fight the fight, and to save the world. I did not bother telling him that I had once wanted to save the world, but I had now decided it was more practical to simply save myself. He was young, and he would find out soon enough that the fight was not a glorious task.

“God will lead us to victory,” the men yelled as they burst out and ran in the direction of the tanks. A camera man ran with them. They ran under the bridge, and shortly afterwards, after heavy fire from the tank, I saw them run out. The first man to come out was limping, and collapsed soon. Blood spread from him into the floor. 3 other men came out from under the bridge. They were running, and a hail of bullets was hitting around them. Their weapons were gone.

They reached us. “Where is Sam!” I asked, because he had not come back out. Wounded, and lying under the bridge, they indicated. “Go get him!” I exclaimed. The men turned away, and they glanced at the walls cracked by the hail of bullets. I saw they wouldn’t go, and my lip curled in contempt of these freedom fighters.

I ran across to the police car we had used to reach the area and drove up under the bridge. Immediately I entered their view, the tanks started firing heavy caliber bullets at my car. I felt the heavy thuds in the body of the car, and panic gripped me, flooding my mind with senseless fear.

I reached the body, grabbed Sam, pulled him into the car, and reversed out of the area under the bridge. The car was peppered with bullet holes, and it was a miracle that I hadn’t been hit.

Sam lay in the passenger seat, and he was crying. It was not because of his wounds that he cried, he cried because the bullets that had shattered his leg has also shattered his belief and faith in God. He cried because he had fought a battle, a David against Goliath battle, a fight for freedom against an invading enemy, and Goliath had won. Sam had not even been able to shoot the single grenade from his gun before he was shot.

The hospitals were full, so Sam was taken care of at his home by his sisters. They were 10 and 13 years old, and they cried as the bathed the open wounds of their brother.

But a lot more was wounded that day. And some of those wounds may never heal.