View Full Version : Good gear, strong faith keeps Marine in the fight
06-18-04, 08:49 AM
Good gear, strong faith keeps Marine in the fight
Submitted by: 1st Marine Division
Story Identification #: 20046182737
Story by Cpl. Paula M. Fitzgerald
CAMP COMBAT OUTPOST, Iraq(June 15, 2004) -- There's no question Lance Cpl. Richard C. Guillenavila earned the nickname "Bulletproof."
While he was standing guard duty at the Government Center of Ramadi June 13, the 19-year-old from Company G, 2nd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, was shot right above his bellybutton by an enemy sniper.
But not even a bullet could stop the Jacksonville, Fla., Marine. The Small Arms Protective Insert inside his protective vest stopped the 7.62 mm round before it caused any harm to Guillenavila.
The ceramic plate is capable of stopping small-arms fire and fragmentation from weapons such as improvised explosive devices and mortar rounds.
Guillenavila said the extra weight from his front and back plates never bothered him.
Little did he know they would one day save his life.
The day had started out like any other. Every three days, Guillenavila's squad assumes duty on the roof of the government center, which is an attractive location for terrorist attacks.
"I was providing overwatch looking for improvised explosive devices and things like that when the next thing I knew, I was suddenly knocked to the ground," Guillenavila explained.
It took him less than a second to realize what happened.
"It felt like someone punched me in my stomach really hard," said Guillenavila, describing the sensation of being shot.
As soon as he caught his breath, the Marine called out for help. His close friend, Lance
Cpl. Eric S. Hamilton, remembered the scene.
"I was standing watch on the northeast side of the building and Guillenavila was on the southeast side," Hamilton, of Brockport, N.Y., said. "I was talking with the corpsman and
our platoon commander when we heard the shot."
Only a few seconds elapsed between the time the shot rang out and Guillenavila, also known as Cuban B, called for medical attention.
"At first, all I could think was, 'Damn, Cuban B's been shot,'" added 18-year-old Hamilton. "But I knew somehow that he was going to be alright."
Hamilton isn't quite sure why or how he knew Guillenavila would be fine; he "just knew it would be OK."
Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class Erik O. Cordaway, a hospital corpsman with Company G, wasn't as optimistic as he checked over Guillenavila.
"I was expecting the worst," 21-year-old Cordaway said. "I thought the bullet went right through his SAPI plate, but it hit two inches from the bottom."
When the corpsman gave Guillenavila the good news, the Marine didn't hesitate to get back behind his weapon. He ignored the intense pain in his stomach to return to his post.
"I got back up and was trying to aim in on whoever shot me," explained Guillenavila, who has already seen his fair share of firefights.
Marines from the squad rushed to the area to find the shooter, but the sniper had already fled away from the scene.
"We were very disappointed not to find the guy who shot Guillenavila," Hamilton said. "There isn't anything we'd like more than to find guys who shoot at Marines."
Still, Guillenavila doesn't dwell on the events of June 13, but he is glad to be alive. He suffered no injuries from the impact, and the pain ceased shortly after he was shot.
He credits the SAPI plate for saving his life, but believes also that he was not supposed to die that day.
"God was definitely looking out for me," said Guillenavila, who hopes to one day become the sergeant major of the Marine Corps. "It wasn't my time to go. I need to be here continuing the fight."
When he returned to the camp here, Guillenavila and some of the Marines from his squad dug the bullet out of the plate. They found it in three pieces inside the plate's layers.
All three pieces are now in a plastic bag inside Guillenavila's pocket.
"It's my newest lucky charm," he said.
Lance Cpls. Richard C. Guillenavila (left), Eric S. Hamilton (center), and Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class Erik O. Cordaway talk about the Small Arms Protective Insert plate that saved Guillenavila's life June 13. The three are with Company G, 2nd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment and were on guard at the Government Center of Ramadi when Guillenavila was shot by an enemy sniper. The plate stopped the bullet from injuring the Jacksonville, Fla., Marine.
(USMC photo by Cpl. Paula M. Fitzgerald) Photo by: Cpl. Paula M. Fitzgerald
06-18-04, 08:51 AM
Camp Pendleton-based force in Iraq could get new leader
June 16, 2004
WASHINGTON – President Bush has nominated Maj. Gen. John F. Sattler, who has considerable experience in the battle against terrorism, for promotion to lieutenant general and command of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force, the Pentagon announced yesterday.
The Camp Pendleton-based force has about 25,000 troops in Iraq and 5,000 more on the way. The command has suffered nearly 80 combat deaths and hundreds of wounded since returning to Iraq early this year.
Sattler is based in Qatar as chief of staff for the U.S. Central Command, which is responsible for the Persian Gulf region and northeastern Africa. In 2002 and 2003, he commanded a multiservice force combating terrorism in the Horn of Africa, and previously he served for two years as counterterrorism director for the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Sattler also has commanded the 2nd Marine Regiment and the 2nd Marine Division and served for a year as director of public affairs at Marine Corps headquarters.
After graduation from the Naval Academy in 1971 and completion of basic school, Sattler was a platoon leader in the 2nd Battalion, 4th Marines, and later served with the same battalion as operations officer and executive officer. The battalion is in Iraq as part of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force.
If confirmed by the Senate, Sattler will relieve Lt. Gen. James T. Conway, who commanded more than 60,000 troops during Operation Iraqi Freedom last year and is back in Iraq for the expeditionary force's second tour. In 1991, he commanded a battalion in the liberation of Kuwait during Operation Desert Storm.
Before taking over the force in November 2002, Conway commanded the 1st Marine Division at Camp Pendleton.
No new assignment for Conway has been announced, and he may retire after 34 years of service.
06-18-04, 08:51 AM
Exercise Desert Talon trains units for Iraq deployments
Submitted by: MCAS Yuma
Story Identification #: 20046171680
Story by Sgt. David Bryant
MARINE CORPS AIR STATION YUMA, Ariz.(June 17, 2004) -- Academic classes for Exercise Desert Talon 2-04 began on station Tuesday and practical application exercises will begin Saturday prompting an increase in use of tactical aviation and ground equipment throughout Yuma County.
The exercise is conducted by Marine Aviation Weapons and Tactics Squadron-1 and is designed to prepare aviation and ground unit personnel for situations they may run into in Iraq, said Capt. Stephen Acosta, F/A-18D Hornet pilot and forward air controller instructor, MAWTS-1.
"The public will see some convoys of military vehicles maneuvering throughout the county and there will be some helicopters flying around and landing in designated areas as well," Acosta said. "There will be fixed-wing aircraft participating as well, but they will be flying at a medium altitude. The public may hear them, but won't be seeing them flying at low altitudes."
Approximately 2,500 Marines and sailors from the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing and 1st Force Service Support Group will attend the training, which is scheduled for completion June 28, said Maj. Thomas A. Welborn, ground combat department head, MAWTS-1. The training is done with cooperation between the station and Yuma County and city officials.
"We will be blocking some of the roads at designated times during convoy training due to the fact there will be pyrotechnics involved," Welborn said. "People should keep an eye out for signs letting them know that a military convoy is in process so they can take another route."
Area residents should not notice any other intrusions, although a casualty evacuation exercise is scheduled to be held at Somerton Middle School, Welborn said. The reason for holding some of the training in town is to create scenarios based on information from units already in Iraq concerning situations they are commonly coming across.
Bringing in a variety of units meakes the exercise comparable to putting together a basketball team for the summer Olympic games, Welborn said. "You have a lot of players who aren't used to working together, so this gets them used to doing just that."
While primarily a 3rd MAW exercise, Desert Talon offers an excellent opportunity for convoy training for 1st FSSG personnel as well, said Maj. Robert D. Dasch, commanding officer, Combat Service Support Detachment-16.
"It's a 3rd MAW exercise, but they need us to make it realistic, which gives our convoy commanders the chance to train with real air assets as well," Dasch said. "We have people from all over the FSSG, whether convoy commanders or potential convoy commanders, coming out to get as much exposure as possible."
Convoy operations training is the main priority for the I Marine Expeditionary Force, the parent command of both 3rd MAW and 1st FSSG, Dasch said. Convoys offer enemy personnel the greatest window of opportunity for attacks, an ongoing problem since the start of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
"We'll have enough vehicles out here to keep the convoys big enough to be realistic, but not so large they become uncontrollable," Dasch said. "The point is to be able to fully integrate with the air assets, and we will use as much of the Yuma area as possible to do this because it is so much like the areas you find in Iraq."
The training conducted during Desert Talon is highly effective, as the first exercise conducted in January proved to be approximately 85 percent "on the mark" with what units are currently encountering in Iraq, Welborn said. Between feedback from the first exercise and real-time information, the current exercise should prove invaluable to units getting ready to deploy.
06-18-04, 08:53 AM
VMU-2 patrols Iraqi skies
Submitted by: 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing
Story Identification #: 200461755734
Story by Lance Cpl. Matthew T. Rainey
AL Taqqadum, Iraq (June 17, 2004) -- Just as an owl uses its keen sight to search a landscape for prey, the "Night Owls" have used advanced technology in the air to aid allies on the ground to complete mission after mission during Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Likewise as the owl has been traditionally known as a wise bird, it is a fitting name for the Marines of Marine Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Squadron 2, Marine Air Control Group 38, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, who have used their unique RQ-2B Pioneer unmanned aerial vehicle to provide aerial intelligence.
The squadron can provide many different kinds of intelligence, said Staff Sgt. R. Brian Ward, internal and external UAV pilot, VMU-2.
"Our main focus right now is aerial reconnaissance. We also do battle damage reports, artillery adjustments and search and rescue," said the 33-year-old Anderson, S.C., native. "We try to be the eyes for the guys on the ground. Even if we find out that there's nothing on the ground, that's good (intelligence)."
The UAVs have daytime lenses and forward-looking infrared lenses so they can obtain detailed footage in any lighting condition, said Staff Sgt. Thomas B. Kush, imagery chief, VMU-2.
"With a lot of the things we do, we can tell exactly what is going on. We can watch all four sides of a house so we can track anybody going in or out of the house," said the 35-year-old Weirton, W.Va., native. "We can tell guys on the ground to go in the blue door or the red door if we need to."
The squadron has also been tasked with monitoring the Iraqi roadways for various threats to coalition forces.
"We've found (improvised explosive devices) on the sides of roads. We've found checkpoints for ambushes on our convoys," said Kush.
After flying 1,200 hours in eight months during their last deployment in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom, VMU-2 is within 200 hours of surpassing that number on their current deployment in Iraq.
"We broke a thousand hours in three months. We are allotted 300 hours a year. So in three months, we've flown almost four years worth of flight hours," said Ward.
According to Kush, part of the reason for the increase in flight hours is due to many people discovering the value behind the Pioneer's capabilities.
"People didn't know what we could do in the past. Now people request the services we can provide," he added. "We get requests for targets to check and we divide them up between upcoming flights. We (check) roughly 15-20 targets daily."
Regular wear and tear from flying increased hours in desert conditions would be a problem without the maintenance Marines, said Cpl. Jeff Witherspoon, internal UAV pilot, VMU-2.
"Maintenance has been doing an exceptional job. We've been flying for three months straight and that takes a toll on the aircraft," said the 27-year-old from Burkburnett, Texas.
The maintenance Marines have made a few changes due to the operational tempo, said Sgt. Jamie D. Shepler, UAV plane captain, VMU-2.
"Each aircraft has assigned mechanics. But with 24-hour (operations), you work on what needs to be worked on," admitted Shepler. "It takes eight maintenance hours (for) every one (hour of flight)."
The method that VMU-2 uses to approach flight separates it from other flying squadrons in the Marine Corps, said Lt. Col. Douglas M. Hardison, commanding officer, VMU-2.
"With this airplane, it's not so complex, so the Marine Corps can push the responsibility on to the enlisted Marine," said the 42-year-old Dallas native.
While an officer still signs for the aircraft and becomes the mission commander, he gives control of the aircraft to an enlisted pilot.
"Mission commanders are aviators that watch over the mission. He signs for the aircraft and allows us to fly it," said Ward. "This is about the closest an enlisted Marine can come to flying an aircraft."
Flying a UAV is less like piloting a manned aircraft and more like flying a remote controlled airplane, said Ward.
"Where other pilots can be inside the cockpit and feel shudders and hear noises, I have to do everything visually," he said. "It's a pretty stable bird with autopilot. It's like a (remote control) aircraft, but on a bigger, heavier scale."
The UAV pilots take pride in their enlisted heritage in a field now dominated by commissioned officers, said Ward.
"We are the last of the flying sergeants," he added in reference to the days of World War II when enlisted noncommissioned officers were chosen to be pilots based on their potential to fly.
Using enlisted Marines to pilot UAVs instead of higher-paid officers, maintains a high level of skill at the position while cutting down the cost, said Hardison.
"I give the guys a lot of latitude to fly the airplane. Nine times out of 10 he does a great job -- just like any aviator would," he explained. "For the Marine Corps, we are a great bang for their buck."
With cost and safety in mind, UAVs are the future of Marine Corps aviation, said Hardison.
"We have the technology now so we can do all the things we do in the air from the ground. You would need a huge airplane to do all the things we do here on the ground," he said.
Marines of VMU-2 are happy to be working with the wave of the future, said Shepler.
"They call it the next big thing in Marine Corps aviation. I'm glad to have my foot in the door," he said
An RQ-2B Pioneer unmanned aerial vehicle speeds past its operator, Staff Sgt. R. Brian Ward, external and internal pilot, Marine Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Squadron 2, Marine Air Control Group 38, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, during a takeoff at Al Taqqadum, Iraq, June 10. Ward, from Anderson, S.C., controls the UAV from the flightline with a remote control before transferring control to an internal pilot for the remainder of the mission. Ward and the rest of VMU-2 are deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Photo by: Lance Cpl. Matthew T. Rainey
06-18-04, 08:53 AM
Local Marine replies to questions on Iraq
A few weeks ago, this column introduced you to U.S. Marine Lance Cpl. Scott Anderson, a 2001 graduate of North Boone High School who is deployed in Hit, Iraq.
Before that column ran, I asked my journalism students at Belvidere High School if they wanted to ask him any questions. I sent seven questions to Anderson, and here are his responses.
When asked how he felt about fighting for his country and seeing some of his buddies die, Anderson said, "We Marines give great sacrifice, some the ultimate sacrifice, for the freedoms that most Americans take for granted -- (for) the second part of this question, I will answer by saying that it is the ugliest thing I have ever seen, and I wish that on no one. There is nothing glorious about seeing a brother in arms die; it isn't Hollywood, kid."
Anderson said that being away from the United States "makes home soil that much more beautiful," when asked how he felt about his home in the wake of negative news reports.
WHAT IS THE HARDEST part about going overseas? "Homesickness," Anderson said, "is a new kind of pain a person goes through."
Anderson said he missed his family and friends, but noted that "it is a little of an adventure and that it's not all negative.''
However, he added this: "A quote by an unknown source -- in war, everyone finds one of two things, either religion or cover."
Asked what made him want to join the military, the Boone County Marine said that a friend was enlisting and that he liked what he heard from the recruiter. "(The recruiter) made it sound like it was the best thing that a young man could do in life," Anderson said.
One of the results of his military experience is a desire to go to college, which answered a question about his plans. His idea to study veterinary medicine has changed. "I am seriously thinking about studying world religion -- and then teaching at a Christian high school or college," he said.
What's the strangest thing you've ever seen?
"THE STRANGEST AND MOST terrible thing I have seen is my best friend in my platoon (get) wounded in an ambush. There was blood all over him, and I had to talk to him while another Marine bandaged him," he said.
All of this happened while the platoon was under enemy fire in Hit.
Asked what he missed most about being away from home, Anderson said, "My fiancee, Jacque, my family and friends are the most obvious. (Also), living in an unviolent, war-free society where you have the rights and ability to do anything within human morals and law that you wish. And not to fear for my life and the men's lives around me every day, like I do here."
Mike Doyle's column on people, places and things in Boone County runs Thursdays in the Rockford Register Star.
06-18-04, 08:54 AM
Things have remained moderately quiet or maybe now we are just used to the days of war. A few days ago two more men from my unit were killed in action along with some more wounded due to an IED (Improvised Explosive Device). Attempted IED attacks happen daily here, however we have been tremendously blessed to either find them first or, by the grace of God, not catching any shrapnel. The “up-armor kits,” that were added to our HUMV’s to protect us, work better than the local welding jobs we had for armor before. However, I saw the doors on a HUMV that was hit the other day and the blast went through the armor. This is amazing because the “up-armor” is supposed to stop a .50 Cal round.
Yesterday, a Company’s CO was hit, but nobody in his vehicle was injured. Sadly, after the explosion, an Iraqi driver passing the scene accidentally hit and killed a small boy that had just survived the attack. Then yesterday, some Marines that were escorting a civil affairs team from our Battalion were ambushed by IEDs, small arms fire, and RPGs. This was right next to the Sheik’s house where we have been IED’ed many time before. And all this despite the U.S. having given his people energy, a new water pump, a generator, and support for schools. The Sheik claims that he is being framed, although our intelligence people are very skeptical. To counter these IEDs we have been patrolling the roads a lot and setting up counter-IED ambushes. However, it is very rare that we catch them because there are so many miles of road and we, in my opinion, just set ourselves up for more IEDs with all the military traffic.
The other day my platoon and I went out in the desert to set up a covert observation post in order to listen to the Call for Prayer. Our translators said that the Iman was calling for the people to draw arms against the US because we are the evil infidels and murders. These people are brain-washed like crazy! Then we went to meet with the new ICDC (Iraqi Militia) Colonel in our AO (Area of Operations) in greater Fallujah. He was given 5 days to resign or the AIF (“Anti-Iraqi Forces” – the newest PC term for the enemy) was going to kill him and his family. These threats are incredibly serious. I have known at least ten mayors and police chiefs that have been murdered here in the last few months for cooperating with Coalition Forces. It was the 5th day when we visited the ICDC HQ and he was still there. This was a great sign that he is serious and has the guts to do the job.
Many of these Fallujahian ICDC soldiers were extremely anti-American and anti-Bush while extremely pro-Saddam. They say Saddam never tortured them like the Americans did in Abu Grahib, and that he left them alone. This is a crazy lie! I have met too many Iraqis whose brothers, fathers, and sisters were taken away and never seen again. And this because they might have mentioned something against the Saddam Regime. Then the Iraqi soldiers told me that the Americans break-in in the middle of the night and have killed babies. Again lies! We have done Cordon Searches, where we bust into homes of the enemy hierarchy, but we never fire unless we are getting shot at and the burden of proof required for us to search a house is so great that there is never a question that the suspect we are hitting is an extremely bad hombre.
However, my platoon has stumbled across abandon homes with families that have been executed by AK-47 fire and left to rot, usually it is just the father and children dead and the mother is taken to be one of these bad guys wives. Most likely these people were punished for nothing more than simply cooperating with the Coalition.
My Battalion has spent over a million dollars improving the plumbing, and electrical problems that were ignored for all the years of Saddam’s regime. We have spent over $800,000 on schools and half a million on hospitals. We have built city buildings for their mayor’s office, police stations, and Militia Posts. We bought all of their policemen, security forces, and militia armored vests and weapons, as well as paid their salaries. We have protected their new religious freedoms as well as the many other things they previously weren’t allowed to do under Saddam, such as have Satellite TV. Too many have either died or been wounded trying to keep these freedoms alive. Yet we are not allowed to fly or display American Flags in order to be sensitive to Iraqi feelings. Nine men in my new platoon have Purple Hearts, some of them have two Purple Hearts.
My Platoon is amazing. I am now a rifle Platoon Leader, and these guys are studs. They are all tremendously mature and bright men that constantly humble me when I think about how lucky I am to lead them. They are all the type of guys I would have wanted to be friends with in college and high school and have a tremendously positive and humorous attitude. This is mainly due to our Platoon Sergeant. He is hysterical and reminds me of a Hawaiian Mark Snyder. Also our company commander is the best one could anyone could ever have. He is a true leader that cares about his men and he leads from the front.
I know this letter is far to long so I will end it with a new list of people to pray for since clearly prayer and the good Lord are what has kept us safe.
A YOUNG LT IN IRAQ
06-18-04, 11:12 AM
Insurgent ambush stage for valiant displays in Iraq
Submitted by: 1st Force Service Support Group
Story Identification #: 200461822858
Story by Lance Cpl. Samuel Bard Valliere
CAMP TAQADDUM, Iraq(June 18, 2004) -- Four Marines and one sailor were honored here June 10, 2004, for displaying valor during an hour-long firefight that killed 14 insurgents.
At an early-evening ceremony, troops from 3rd Battalion, 24th Marine Regiment's Weapons Company were presented with medals recognizing their performance during the April 10, 2004, gun battle.
Cpl. Zachary D. Smith received a Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal with a combat "V," a device that signifies the medal was earned in combat. Petty Officer 2nd Class Greg Cinelli, Sgt. Jason D. Woodward, Cpl. Billy B. Wallis and Lance Cpl. Cody J. Wilson were all awarded Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medals, also with the "V."
Insurgents attacked a squad from the reserve infantry battalion with roadside bombs, mortars, rocket-propelled grenades and small-arms fire.
The unit, which provides security for 1st Force Service Support Group here, was patrolling the area around the camp.
The mission was not new. The Marines were familiar with the task and the road; they had traveled down it numerous times on the same kind of mission.
The routine suddenly changed when a homemade bomb exploded next to the lead vehicle, thrusting Weapons Company into its first and only firefight since it arrived here in March.
The bomb blast knocked Wallis, who was manning a grenade launcher mounted on the roof of his humvee, back inside the vehicle.
Unaware of the shrapnel lodged in his face, neck and arm, the 22-year old from Springfield, Mo., popped back up and continued firing grenades at the attackers.
When other Marines told him he was losing blood, he replied, "I ain't got time to bleed."
Wallis, who was also awarded the Purple Heart, insisted he did no more than any other Marine in the fight.
"Everybody out there reacted the same way," he said. "We just did our job."
Immediately following the explosion, the Marines darted from their vehicles, took cover behind a house and fired at a nest of insurgents inside two houses about 400 meters away.
When an enemy bullet punctured the helmet of 20-year-old Aurora, Mo., native Lance Cpl. Curtis Hensley, Cinelli, 33, a corpsman from Haverhill, Mass., braved the fusillade and put his own safety aside to bandage the injury before Hensley, with the bullet lodged in his brain, was medically evacuated.
"If it had been one inch lower, there would have been nothing I could do about it," said Cinelli.
Cinelli directed his comrades, who were distracted by Hensley's injury, to keep their focus on suppressing the enemy attack.
He and two others dragged Hensley to a vehicle and rushed him back to the base. After dropping him off at the battalion's medical station, Cinelli "turned around and went right back out there," rejoining the Marines in the fight.
Meanwhile, reinforcements arrived.
One of the company's mobile quick reaction forces was in the vicinity of the patrol and rushed over to assist the ambushed Marines.
Woodward, 25, a squad leader with the reaction force, ordered Smith to move to a position that would enable him to kill insurgents in a nearby field and also put the Marines in place to attack the house from the side.
To accomplish this, Smith, 26, dauntlessly led his four-man team across about 500 meters of farmland with very little cover from enemy fire.
The task wasn't easy, Smith said, adding that the enemy fire was uncharacteristically accurate for insurgents.
"It was getting pretty hairy there for a little while," said the Springfield, Mo., native.
The worst part was slithering on his back across a shallow ditch to reach a nearby berm for cover while enemy rounds impacted all around him and his assistant fire team leader, Lance Cpl. Buckley C. Cain, a 22-year-old also from Springfield.
The fight concluded when helicopters swooped in and pummeled the building housing the insurgents.
Smith said sharing the combat experience has brought him closer to his Marines.
"I was so proud of my guys," he said. "They did exactly what they were supposed to. It was perfect."
Wilson, 19, a rifleman in Woodward's squad, earned his medal not just for commendable actions during the firefight, but for another occasion where he spotted and reported an enemy mortar position and several roadside explosives during patrols before anyone was wounded or killed.
Two other Marines received Purple Hearts for wounds received during the firefight: Lance Cpl. Patrick S. Henderson, 24, of Kansas City, Mo., and Lance Cpl. John K. Tinsley Jr., 19, a Fayetteville, Ark. resident.
Two companies from the battalion, based in Bridgeton and Springfield, Mo., provide security for the camp. The other three companies are spread throughout the I Marine Expeditionary Force's area of operations.
Editor's note: Hensley, who lost his right eye as a result of his injury, is currently recovering in Aurora. He received a Purple Heart.
Lt. Col. Milt Wick, 42, presents Petty Officer 2nd Class Greg Cinelli, 33, a corpsman with 3rd Battalion, 24th Marine Regiment’s Weapons Company, with a Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal with a combat “V,” a device that signifies the medal was earned in combat, June 10, 2004, at Camp Taqaddum, Iraq. One Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal, four Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medals and four Purple Hearts were presented at the early-evening ceremony. Two companies from the battalion, based in Bridgeton and Springfield, Mo., provide security for the camp. The other three companies are spread throughout the I Marine Expeditionary Force’s area of operations. Wick is a native of Winfield, Kan., and Cinelli is from Haverhill, Mass. Photo by: Lance Cpl. Samuel Bard Valliere
06-18-04, 04:07 PM
The Baghdad Follies
Hunkered down with the press corps in Iraq
By JANET REITMAN
No one wants to go to Iraq -- it's not a fun war. Afghanistan was fun. It had colorful resistance fighters on horseback. It had Al Qaeda bases. There were moonscape mountains and green river valleys. You could get in your car and head off to the Hindu Kush. "You felt as if you were in the back of beyond," says Alissa Rubin of the Los Angeles Times. "I'd probably move to Afghanistan in a heartbeat."
Iraq, by contrast, is a place reporters can't wait to leave. Baghdad has choking dust storms, two-hour traffic jams and rubble. Even buildings not devastated by last year's "shock and awe" look as if they were. Most nights, military helicopters fly deafening, unlit missions over the city, like huge whirring bats. The "resistance" -- which seem to comprise a good portion of Iraqi society -- drive pickups, wrap their faces in kaffiyehs and see Americans as occupiers whom they have a duty to kill. There are lots of dry, scrubby bushes. There are allegedly some luscious date-palm groves south and west of Baghdad, but given the danger on the roads -- kidnappings; ambushes; and the poor man's land mine, the "improvised explosive device," or IED -- people aren't exactly spending a lot of time there.
"Iraq is like a prison," says Melinda Liu, acting bureau chief of Newsweek. One of the most seasoned war correspondents in Baghdad -- she's got a bullet-wound scar on one leg -- Liu serves as a sort of den mother to the other reporters, reminding them to take their flak jackets when they go on the road. "When things are manageable, you think, 'Hey, maybe it isn't so dangerous after all.' Then when things are rock-bottom terrifying, you think, 'I'll ****ing die on the way to the airport.' You can wake up and not know if, by the end of the day, you'll be eating dinner by the pool or dealing with a kidnapping. It's stressful -- even if you're hunkered down in a hotel room."
When I arrive in Baghdad in April, most American journalists are holed up in their rooms, reporting the war by remote: scanning the wires, working their cell phones, watching broadcasts of Al Jazeera. In many cases, they've been reduced to relying on sources available to anyone with an Internet connection. Editorial writers might like to compare Iraq to Vietnam, but reporters on the ground say there's no comparison. In Vietnam, journalists rode Hondas to the front. In Iraq, they rarely venture into the streets. When they do, they hide behind the smoked windows of their armored vehicles, called "hard cars." At least nine Western journalists have been killed since the occupation began, not because they are reporters but simply because they are Westerners. Fear has become an accepted part of life in Baghdad, as inevitable as military roadblocks. While Arabic and European media such as The Guardian and Le Monde manage to cover the war on the ground, American reporters seldom interview actual Iraqis. Instead, they talk to U.S. officials who are every bit as isolated as they are, or rely on local stringers and fixers, several of whom have been killed while working for Americans. "We live in a bubble," grumbles one AP reporter. "If we know one percent of what's going on in Iraq, we're lucky."
Most of the journalism coming out of Baghdad is produced within the fortified compound that contains the Sheraton Ishtar and the Palestine Hotel. Together, the two buildings house the bureaus of Fox, CNN, several major newspapers and wire services, as well as a rotating crew of photographers and independent journalists of all stripes. Towering side by side over the Tigris River, the hotels are a virtual fortress, ringed by coils of razor wire and surrounded by fifteen-foot-high cement barriers known as "blast walls." To enter the compound, one must endure body searches at two checkpoints, navigate a corridor that runs alongside a fortified lane for armored vehicles and answer questions posed by the U.S. troops that patrol the compound day and night. The Sheraton -- the tallest building in Baghdad -- has been struck so often, some journalists call it the Missile Magnet. "More rockets have hit this place than any other building in the city," says Paul Roubicek, an Australian cameraman who has done segments for Fox News.
Roubicek is sitting in his room on the third floor of the Sheraton, drinking red wine and getting high on Afghan hash. You can buy excellent hash in Iraq. It's one of the perks of reconstruction. Before the war, getting high was punishable by a long stint in one of Saddam Hussein's jails. Now you can send an e-mail order and have hash delivered right to your hotel room. Roubicek's dealer is a cigarette salesman in the compound.
Roubicek is having a really bad day. Like everyone else in Baghdad, he wants to get embedded. It's not the military's perspective he's after -- it's the protection. Given the violence raging outside the hotel, embeds are often the only way to cover the fighting. Roubicek listens as his producer, Doug Luzader, speaks to a Marine Corps major on his cell phone, trying to talk his way into Fallujah. Since four private military contractors were killed and mutilated there by an angry mob a few weeks earlier, the city has been the scene of the fiercest fighting since the war began. Roubicek and Luzader, who are producing documentaries for a small outfit called HDNet, want in -- but the only way to get there is with the troops.
"I think there's been some kind of mix-up," Luzader says into the phone. "We wanted the embed for this weekend." He listens. "Look, Major, we were told yesterday . . . Yes. Right. But. . . ."
Roubicek, dressed in running shorts, a T-shirt and flip-flops, launches into a rant: "There's a list. We've gone from number thirty to number sixty, no explanation. We're getting shafted. I mean, ****, what's the deal?"
Luzader paces, his face getting red. "What do you mean there's nothing you can do? Fine." He hangs up.
"What," Roubicek says morosely.
"Basically," Luzader says, pouring himself a drink, "until the mujahedin start their own embed program, we're **** out of luck."
The Sheraton is the spookiest hotel in Baghdad. When I arrive in Iraq, a rocket has turned the lobby into a construction zone. A quick-fix reconstruction soon restores the hotel's marble floors, and the lobby features a wide-screen TV, a cushy bar and a large white, goddesslike sculpture. Nevertheless, the place always seems deserted. The elevators work when they feel like it. "I'd rather commit suicide than live at the Sheraton," says Melinda Liu.
The alternative is the Al Hamra Hotel, across town and a world away. It's smaller and quieter, with far fewer blast walls and no U.S. troops. Instead, the Hamra is home to a small army of private military contractors, hired guns who have come to Iraq to get in on the action. The men are walking arsenals, brandishing assault rifles and packing flash grenades. The cowboy aesthetic of the contractors is so offensive, most journalists refuse to sit, or even stand, anywhere near them. "These guys freak me out," says a British journalist who scurries inside whenever he spots one. "We are living with trained killers. You might as well walk around with a big red target on your head."
Perhaps another reason journalists resent the contractors is because they are so nerdish themselves. Josh Hammer, Jerusalem bureau chief for Newsweek, is not exactly the image of a war jock. He frets over every line of his stories, angsts over his career path and spends entire afternoons shopping for Persian carpets. In May, he returns from an interview with Maj. Gen. David Petraeus feeling dejected. "I could tell Petraeus thought I was a wimp," Hammer says mournfully.
For protection, virtually every major newspaper and network employs its own battalion of contractors. Some accompany reporters to interviews, openly packing. Some hide inside the vehicles with an arsenal. All wear flak vests and are built like Humvees. In a sense, journalists have become prisoners of their own bodyguards. "You're unable to walk on the streets," says Kevin Sites, a freelance reporter for NBC and MSNBC. "We don't go out trolling for news anymore -- not here. You have to plan your route with your security, you bring along your security, do your interviews and come right back. It sucks. I remember this bombing that happened a few months ago, and we had to wait for our security before we could go cover it. By the time they arrived, the entire area had already been cordoned off."
Reporters at NBC, who use the Hamra as their bunker, are so put off by the military contractors that they hardly ever come downstairs to socialize. The network has even set up a gym for staff next to its makeshift broadcast studio. The bureau is sealed behind a white metal gate, guarded by Iraqi security with metal detectors. There is no in or out without passing the gauntlet.
06-18-04, 04:08 PM
Sites, a forty-one-year-old surfer from California with reddish-brown hair and a goatee, is preparing to do a one-minute live shot from the NBC studio -- a set of black curtains rigged with a small opening that offers a view of the city. The scenic backdrop gives his broadcast a you-are-there feeling, but Sites is frustrated: He has spent the day at his desk in the hotel, assembling news gathered by others. "God, I hate these," he says, peering into the camera and fixing his hair. "In so many ways we're just giving headlines." He squints at a cheat sheet taped to the side of the camera and begins to read: "Today's violence reaches in nearly all directions. . . ."
Sites says he envies print journalists who, unencumbered by heavy gear and private guards, can move about more freely. David Enders, a twenty-three-year-old freelancer, takes taxis around Baghdad, lives in an unfortified hotel and has many Iraqi friends. Instead of traveling with armed goons, he relies on a much cheaper form of protection: He tells people he's French. "No one wants to kill French people," Enders says. "Plus, they charge you less if they think you're French. My taxi bills have been cut in half."
But Enders is the exception. Outside the Hamra, veteran war photographer Robert King lounges by the pool. He and Josh Hammer are awaiting an embed in Fallujah. "Basically, Baghdad sucks," he says. "It's just a bunch of white guys sitting around their hotel rooms, drinking beer. In every other war -- Rwanda, Chechnya, Kosovo, Afghanistan -- the fighters were more than happy to take you to the front. They respected you for it. Here, the U.S. soldiers will accuse you of being a liability if you want to see what's going on. We just want to cover the reality -- which is not them handing out candies to little kids. The reality is that people are dying here every day because of this war."
For some reporters, the only foray out of the hotel is what they jokingly call the "Five O'Clock Follies" -- the daily press briefing by the Coalition Provisional Authority held at the Baghdad Convention Center. To get to the briefing, journalists leave their fortress and enter another fortress. First there is the drive across the Tigris from the hotel compound to the Green Zone, the headquarters for the American occupation. Then there's a military checkpoint, where signs warn, in both English and Arabic, that "deadly force is authorized." Past the razor wire, sandbags, camouflage nets and several more checkpoints, you arrive safe within a compound some call the Bubble.
The convention center is the nerve center of the CPA's propaganda machine. In Conference Room Three, where the briefings are held, two plasma screens project upbeat messages in English and Arabic. Interspersed are photos of happy-looking Iraqis interacting with U.S. soldiers. While everyone waits for the briefing to begin, lite jazz is occasionally piped in to serenade the room. "I used to laugh at people who'd come to these," says Karl Vick, a Washington Post correspondent. "Now, I'm one of them."
John Burns, bureau chief of the New York Times, strides into the room. Standing more than six feet tall, with a mane of wild, curly gray hair, piercing blue eyes and a hawk nose, Burns walks among his lesser colleagues like a king. The Bush administration seems to believe that journalists are little more than anti-war activists in disguise, ready to take up placards to oppose the war. But Burns, the son of a NATO general, supported the war. "The United States has been overwhelmingly a force of good in the world," he says. "This is very unfashionable talk, but I think this ought to be remembered here. I grew up in a world where the survival of democracy depended on the military and economic power of the United States. If that power became less credible here, I think the world would be a lot less safe. The stakes are extraordinarily high. I think this is a tipping point in the fate of the American empire."
Shortly after five, Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt delivers the exact same line he uses to open virtually every briefing. "Good afternoon," he says. "The coalition continues offensive operations to establish a stable Iraq in order to repair infrastructure, stimulate the economy and transfer sovereignty to the people of Iraq." If Kimmitt were given the option of being stuck on an iceberg off Antarctica, you get the feeling he'd prefer it to the podium of Conference Room Three. His pronouncements often sound like something out of Dr. Strangelove. In response to a question about Iraqi children being frightened by the sound of low-flying U.S. helicopters, Kimmitt replied, "What we would tell the children of Iraq is that the noise they hear is the sound of freedom."
Luke Harding, a thirty-six-year-old British correspondent for The Guardian, attends the briefings for entertainment. Once clean-cut and clean-shaven, Harding now has shaggy, shapeless blond hair, and his face is hidden behind a reddish-blond beard. Though he spends half of his time at briefings with his hand in the air, he has only been called on once. Instead, coalition spokesmen choose journalists who lob softball questions, like the American reporter who, as the scandal at the Abu Ghraib prison was breaking, wanted to know about political negotiations that day in Najaf.
"Unbelievable," Harding says, as reporter after reporter ignores Abu Ghraib and asks about cease-fire agreements and weapons buybacks. "I really hate the lack of criticism in the American media. Things that Kimmitt says are reported as if they were true." Harding puts his head in his hands. "It's so depressing."
Iraqi journalists are even more disgusted with the briefings. They don't even bother with questions half the time -- they lecture Kimmitt and once walked out in protest. "In the beginning, the Iraqi journalists were very simpering toward the coalition," says Vick. "Now they ask increasingly hostile questions. Which, I suppose, reflects the feeling in society."
Their questions often go directly to the heart of the matter. One afternoon, an Arabic reporter catches Kimmitt off guard: "Are the coalition forces ready and capable enough to maintain security for the Iraqis by the 30th of June -- without making any violations or offending or inflicting harm to the Iraqi people?" Kimmitt, looking startled, responds that the coalition forces, "side by side with their Iraqi security partners," would "continue to provide a safe and secure environment here in Iraq, not only this month, next month, but also post-30 June as well."
That seems unlikely, even to the most lightweight reporters in the room. The coalition's standard line is that the majority of Iraqis -- "the good people of Iraq" -- are supportive of the occupation, even while half the country seems to be in flames. At one briefing, Jim Chu of NBC News notes images of "ordinary Iraqis" cheering attacks on coalition forces. "How does this jive with what the coalition has been saying - that this is essentially a small minority that's supporting these insurgents?" Chu asks.
Without skipping a beat, coalition spokesman Dan Senor assures Chu that those "select images" in no way reflect the majority of Iraqis. "If you look at the polling" -- Senor often brings up polling in his briefings -- "while there are some who cheer on violence, the silent majority of Iraqis express grateful appreciation for the liberation." Reluctantly, he concedes that quite a few Iraqis also expressed opposition to the occupation. "Which we understand," Senor says. "It's not nice to be occupied."
After the photographs of Iraqi prisoners being abused at Abu Ghraib surface, it takes almost a week for American journalists to realize just how big the story is. "This is going to drive people insane," predicts Stephen Farrell of the Times of London. "Just give it a few days." Abu Ghraib, in fact, turns out to be the best thing to happen to the press corps since the fall of Saddam. Because many of the prisoners held are from Baghdad, journalists can actually get to them. Within a week, reporters have not only found some of the naked men in the photographs, they have interviewed them and conveyed their stories across the United States. It is a military nightmare.
Hoping to contain the damage, the Army offers the press a tour of the prison. Some of the press, that is. Harding, whose paper regularly bashes George Bush, isn't invited. Newsweek is also left out of the trip, as are Time, the Wall Street Journal and USA Today. The military says there simply isn't room for everyone. In fact, there are two buses for reporters, one of which is completely empty. Kimmitt claims it's a spare, in case the other bus breaks down on the way to the prison. No one believes him. Several reporters jump into their own cars and head for Abu Ghraib, arriving ahead of the press bus. "We're probably the only *******s in history who've tried to break into Abu Ghraib," says Babak Dehghanpisheh of Newsweek.
06-18-04, 04:09 PM
When the bus arrives, the reporters file off and approach a massive expanse of tents, each housing twenty-five prisoners. A soldier screams, "No talking to the detainees!" But as soon as the prisoners catch sight of the press corps, pandemonium erupts. Dressed in rags, the Iraqis press their bodies against double layers of barbed wire. There are hundreds of them: shouting, holding up crude signs or crutches. Several wave prosthetic legs. "Where's the freedom?" they shout in Arabic. "Is this the freedom?" A prisoner with a bullhorn denounces Americans in English: "They've taken away our freedom, our liberty, our rights!" The military's staged press tour has devolved into unscripted chaos.
Farnaz Fassihi of the Wall Street Journal stands frozen. "I feel like I'm in a bad dream," she whispers. "God, what have the Americans done?"
Trying to control the damage, the MPs quickly herd everyone back on the buses. "Get the hell on that bus!" an MP orders Anja Niedringhaus, an AP photographer trying to photograph the scene. But when the tour reaches the "hard facility" where the infamous photos were taken, the screams are even more horrific. Female detainees, who, like most prisoners, have not yet been charged with any crimes, shout down to reporters from the second tier of the prison. "I've been here five months!" one woman yells from her cell. "Why?"
"This is a sin!" another cries, in Arabic. "I have five children, and they're alone!" As the screams echo and bounce against the cement walls, the MPs push the reporters along. One soldier grabs a journalist's camera.
A prisoner shouts that soldiers in the prison stripped her naked.
"What's your name?" an Iraqi radio reporter asks.
"Jamilla," she says. "Please help me."
The journalists invited to Abu Ghraib are not allowed to do anything journalists normally do: ask questions, take pictures. "Why are we here?" wonders Fassihi. Every accredited reporter in Iraq must sign a seven-page document agreeing to the U.S. military's ground rules. Essentially, the military has the right to kick you out of the country if you don't behave. It can seize your photographs. It can revoke your press ID. It can put you on a plane back to America. Some reporters joke that perhaps the military should have required its own soldiers to sign the document: One of its rules specifies, "No photographs or video will be taken of detainees in a demeaning manner in which individuals can be identified individually or in which they are made an object of public curiosity or subject of public ridicule."
Josh hammer and robert king are missing. It is Sunday evening, May 9th, and no one has heard a word from either of them since morning. Melinda Liu, Newsweek's acting bureau chief, nibbles on a plate of fatoush salad at the Hamra and looks at her phone, as if willing it to ring. "He should have called by now," she tells her colleague, Babak Dehghanpisheh. Both of them have been calling Hammer's cell phone and satellite phone for hours. Nothing. "I'm not sure whether to go into full crisis mode yet," says Liu.
"Just wait a little bit longer," says Dehghanpisheh.
For the past week, Hammer and King have been quietly venturing out of Baghdad to cover the siege in Fallujah. They made an attempt the previous Saturday but turned back at a Marine checkpoint outside the city. Gray plumes of smoke were billowing on the horizon outside of Baghdad, where a fuel truck had fallen victim to an ambush. "I think it's too soon," Hammer concluded.
That evening, as they returned, word began circulating in Baghdad that several other journalists had actually entered Fallujah. "****," Hammer said, looking at King over dinner at the Hamra.
"I guess that means we're going back," King said.
The two bicker like college roommates thrown together in freshman year. Hammer tends to assume everything will always work out. King, a self-described hillbilly from Memphis, assumes disaster at all times.
"To think I was planning on spending the day at the pool," King jokes when I join them on their way out of Baghdad the next morning. The fuel truck they saw the previous day is still on fire. By now, half of the frame is burned into the ground. Military sharpshooters stand watch on an overpass as a convoy of Bradleys rumbles by. Hammer, dressed in a T-shirt and jeans, calmly opens a bag of beef jerky. "This place is really deteriorating," he says.
"Rapidly," King agrees.
The road to Fallujah runs past Abu Ghraib, not far from where a Reuters cameraman was recently killed. King looks at Ala'a, our Iraqi driver. "Got any rock & roll?" he asks.
"No, habibi," Ala'a says. He puts on some Iraqi pop music. The road is deserted. "We are driving to hell," Ala'a mutters.
Outside of Fallujah, a line of cars idles before a checkpoint. The city is quiet and empty. Hammer peers at the low-lying buildings, most of which show scatter damage from U.S. bombing, as the car cautiously moves along the deserted main drag. "We're in Indian country now," he says under his breath.
At the soccer stadium in the southern sector of town, Fallujans are busy burying their dead. "Jesus, check this out," King says, walking onto what used to be the main field. It is now a mass grave; a bulldozer cuts long trenches in the soil. Several loud booms echo across the cemetery, followed by the sharp staccato of gunfire.
Upon seeing the foreigners, a group of Iraqi men in dishadashas starts talking furiously in Arabic. Following procedure, Ala'a introduces Hammer and King as Canadian journalists. This satisfies the elder of the group, who begins waving his arms, denouncing Americans. "Those graves," he says, pointing at the cemetery. "It's not enough for four people?" he says, referring to the four military contractors who were killed in the city.
The anger among the men is palpable. One woman, they say, was in labor when a bomb hit her home. One family lost all of their children, who were buried together in a single grave. In the embattled Jolan neighborhood, where most of the fighting is taking place, a family of thirty lie under the ruins of their house.
"What do you think?" Hammer asks King. "Should we try to go to Jolan?" King looks at him like he's crazy.
"Bad idea, huh?" Hammer persists. "Trying to get into the neighborhoods that are still held by the muj - "
"Bad idea," says King. "I think we should wait a day or two, but that's just me -- chicken****."
The men argue about the risk. "There's too much shooting," King says, as more gunfire erupts from outside the stadium.
"That's outside the city," Hammer says. "Don't be so worried."
King gives up. "If you want to go, we'll go," he says.
Hammer looks at Ala'a. "He probably thinks it's crazy."
"Not a good idea," says Ala'a.
"OK, it was a bad idea to come here today," King says. "But we're here."
"Yes," Ala'a says. "But there is worse and better than worse."
To get to Jolan, the men need to cross the Euphrates. With Iraqi guides in tow, they drive along the river, past a wasteland of collapsed structures. The air is heavy with thick clouds of dust. Suddenly, they are at the bridge.
"Jesus," Hammer says.
The contractors, who were ambushed on the main road, had been strung up on this bridge. The photographs of the incident are some of the most infamous of the war. Since that day in March, King and Hammer are among the first journalists to visit the site.
The area is a pile of rubble, bombed beyond recognition by the Americans. A hand-painted sign over the bridge reads in Arabic: welcome to fallujah, city of mujahedin. A rank odor permeates the air. Hammer pulls his shirt up over his nose.
"Let me get out -- I want to get a picture," King says. He walks toward the bridge. Suddenly, the Iraqi guides start yelling. Across the river, a convoy of American APCs is moving closer, training its guns. In a second, the street is deserted as the Iraqis scramble for cover. "They're not going to shoot us," Hammer tells King, but the fear is contagious.
"Let's get the **** out," King says.
Afterward, Hammer sulks. There was something oddly tentative about the whole trip -- it felt more like a reconnaissance mission than reporting. "We pussed out," Hammer says.
"We didn't puss out," King says. "I think we did pretty good for the first day."
"We ****ed up," Hammer insists. "We should have crossed that bridge. We have to go back."
It is now almost 9 p.m. on Sunday, and there's still no word from Hammer or King. The two men had returned to Fallujah that morning, headed for Jolan. Their driver and translator have arrived back at Newsweek without them, the vehicle -- stripped and ransacked by Iraqi fighters -- in shambles. The driver, who never wanted to go to Fallujah in the first place, is shaken.
Finally, Melinda Liu's cell phone rings. It's Hammer. "Josh?" she yells into the phone. Then the call ends abruptly. "****," she says.
When Hammer and King arrive a few hours later, they recount what happened. Almost as soon as they reached Jolan, they were approached by a group of young fighters with guns.
"Sahafi," King said, raising his hands. Journalists.
"Mukhabarat," the fighters said. Spies.
Hammer and King were ordered, at gunpoint, into separate cars. Hammer told his captors he was French.
The jihadi wanted proof: "Let me see your passport." Hammer had failed to leave his U.S. passport at the house -- a standard procedure to prevent identification.
"You are American," said the jihadi.
"My mother is French," Hammer improvised.
The jihadi looked at him. "You are American."
06-18-04, 04:10 PM
It was touch and go for eight hours. The two journalists were shuttled from house to house by fighters armed with pistols, rocket-propelled grenades and Kalashnikovs. One, whom the journalists dubbed Suicide Bomber, informed the men he was a terrorist, lifting his shirt to reveal a white suicide belt with two triggers. During a lunch of kebabs, yogurt and tea, their captors discussed Balzac and Victor Hugo. They also talked about the siege of Fallujah. "My mother was shot and killed by a sniper's bullet," said one young fighter. "My sister and my brother were killed." A young man in his twenties named Mohammed pulled out his .45 and started fiddling with it. "We are filled with grief," he said. "Grief has taken over our lives."
And then it was over. One of the town's religious leaders had intervened. "You're lucky we got you," one of the fighters told Hammer as he and King were released. "There are some very bad people in Fallujah."
The next morning, the head of Nicholas Berg, an American civilian contractor, appears on the Internet. Word in Baghdad is that he was killed in Fallujah.
After Robert King returns from Fallujah, he locks himself in his room. He remains there for three days, afraid to leave. Newsweek's drivers had spilled everything to their captors during the ordeal, including inside information about the magazine's housing and security arrangements. Within a day, the entire bureau has left its villa in the Baghdad suburbs and moved to the Sheraton. Hammer returns to Jerusalem.
Paranoia has settled over Baghdad. At the Fanar Hotel, a low-rent dive that's part of the Sheraton compound, freelance journalists are scrambling to get out. Nicholas Berg had lived at the Fanar, in Room 602, before he disappeared. It is rumored that Berg had been sold out -- by a jealous contractor, a journalist hoping to score points with the insurgency, one of the hotel's Arab employees -- no one knows. A Tunisian photographer switches hotels every night. Whether anyone is really after other Fanar residents is immaterial. People believe it. In Baghdad, that's enough.
Liu has spent the day attempting to report on Berg's death. An ominous-looking gray parrot with red tail feathers sits on its perch in the Fanar's lobby, bobbing its head like a yo-yo. There is, allegedly, a monkey on the roof that no one has seen for quite a while. The timing of Berg's execution -- on the heels of the Abu Ghraib scandal -- strikes many reporters as suspicious. One popular theory is that the footage of Berg's execution was made public on American orders, to deflect world attention from Abu Ghraib. Liu doesn't rule it out. "That's how I know I need to take a break," she says. "That theory actually makes some sense to me."
As other journalists leave Iraq, however, King signs up for an embed with the First Cavalry Division at Camp War Eagle, in Sadr City. "You know," he says a few days before the embed is set to start, surveying the empty courtyard at the Sheraton from his balcony, "at least in other wars you knew who the enemy was." In Iraq, the list of enemies seems incalculable: Shia militia, Sunni mujahedin, Saddam loyalists, Syrian jihadis, Al Qaeda, Hezbollah - all determined to fight occupation.
In the days leading up to the June 30th hand-over, many journalists are skeptical that much will improve after the Coalition Provisional Authority is disbanded and the new interim Iraqi government led by Iyad Allawi takes charge. Blast walls continue to appear throughout the city, popping up at the sites of suicide bombings, scrawled with English messages warning Iraqis to stay away. Several journalists are ambushed on the outskirts of Baghdad. Four more contractors are killed, this time on the road to the airport. In Fallujah, the U.S.-supported Iraqi Brigade is camped outside the city, while inside, insurgents rule.
"This is our doing," King says, looking out at the Green Zone across the river from his hotel. He seems unable to believe that his country has created such a disaster. "This isn't America, what's going on in Iraq," he says. "It's not the America I know. This is scary. If this is America, then we're in deep ****."
(Posted Jun 16, 2004)