Saturday, August 27, 2005


Sometime in August of 2004 -

The bastards wanted to fight again. After a month-long "truce," the Mahdi Army had apparently decided that they hadn't had enough the first time around. Unlike the ambushes of April 4th, we had plenty of warning this time. You could smell it in the city, from the increasing amount of anti-US rallies, to the vacated houses in the friendly areas. All of Sadr City knew the war would be back on soon, and now, after getting to know how things worked around here, we knew it to.

Near the end of August, after a good deal of death and destruction was meted out to the Mahdis, it was decided that the battalion would take and hold buildings in the city, rather than do drive through "movements to contact." Fine by me. I'd always said that the only time the Mahdis could hurt us was when we were moving. Setting up in a building, especially down the street from one of their mosques, really pissed those guys off. Sooner or later, they'd come and try to fight. Of course, when they did, they walked into prepared kill zones. The next morning after one of these fights, if the families of the Mahdis were lucky, there was a body to recover that hadn't dragged off and eaten by wild dogs.

One of these periods sticks in my mind. We were on route Bravo, near the Gold gas station. We'd taken some light contact during the day, and renovated the sides of a few buildings in response. After dismounting, our LT decided to take over a two-story building. It had storefronts on the ground level, and apartments up top. Pappy and I were trying to pry open the door leading to the upper story. The occupant evidently had fled for safer digs, and had put on a thick padlock. As we were working on it, and RPG flew down the street at us. I looked at Pappy, and he looked at me. I dropped the prybar and tried to find some cover. The whole platoon was scrambling around, some firing back. I could hear our Bradleys shooting, but I had no idea where the rocket had come from. I and a few others dove into an abandoned lunch counter through the broken-out front window.

Once inside, I peered out to see if i could spot any enemy. All I saw was our Bradleys destroying the side of a building. A palm tree that was growing from a second-story terrace on the building was cut in half, the leafy top tumbling to the street. After the dust settled it was clear that either the RPG guy was dead or wasn't coming back. I collected my team, and we went back to the door. By this time Pappy had gotten the thing open, and the platoon pushed its way upstairs.

Paydirt! It turned out that of all the places we could've taken over, this suite of apartments was occupied by a rabid supporter of Muqtada. His fat face was postered throughout all of the rooms. This immediately put us in an even worse mood. Either the cocksucker who lived here was off fighting in another part of the city, or he had taken his family and fled. We ripped most of the posters down. Ziggy, our translator, a mid-fiftyish man from western Baghdad, was raised Shia, but hated the political posturings of "all those fucking Shia imams," as he put it. Ziggy wrote some Arabic messages on the few remaining posters, the content of which, I was assured, dealt with Muqtada's predilection for interspecies coitus.

My team's assigned sector of fire was overlooking the street to the west and south. Our little area consisted of the master bedroom. The woman of the house was a packrat; there was an entire china cabinet filled with plates, cups, and knick-knacks. We thoroughly searched the room, looking for weapons, ammo, or counterfeit money (we did find a huge stack of Iranian cash). While searching, I saw something that made me chuckle. Stapled to the wall was a toy package, a Chinese Barbie knock-off. She was called Jenny. Jenny was still sealed in her package, and she was stapled about six feet from the floor. I thought of the little girl to whom this belonged. Why did her father staple it to the wall, clearly out of her reach? The whole situation reminded me of those guys who buy Star Wars figures but leave them in their packages "to preserve resell value." Ugh.

Now here was a man, a supporter of, if not a fighter for, the Mahdi Army. He had at least one small daughter, evidenced by the clothes in the wardrobe. To me, the "Jenny" situation spoke of the cruelty that the devout Shia in Sadr City exhibited toward their females. Keeping a doll out of reach of a little girl isn't very high on the cruelty scale, of course, but turning your city into a war zone at the behest of a Iranian-funded religious maniac is. The Mahdi Army shut down schools, firebombed music stores that sold nonreligious music, sacked beauty parlors for promoting "loose" behavior, and planted bombs all over the streets that killed hundreds of their co-religionists. I truly felt sorry for the little girl who owned Jenny. She had almost no chance in life to be anything but a baby factory for an illiterate, unskilled goon. If she did go to school, what were the chances that she'd be allowed to continue her education after getting married at age twelve or thirteen? Her life was going to suck, and her asshole father wouldn't even let her enjoy what little childhood she had left. He wouldn't let her play with Jenny.