Friday, October 27, 2006

Bodies On A Highway

Baghdad - October 2006 - The shots ring out, and are clearly audible inside the Stryker I am sitting in.  Four of the roof hatches are open and the firing can be heard thumping away in a steady rhythm.  They are mostly 7.62mm rounds from a single machine gun nearby.  Outgoing, luckily.  None of the Stryker's weapons are firing, which is a good sign.

            Our patrol of Strykers is straddling two lanes on a main highway in southwest Baghdad.  The firing comes from an Iraqi National Police machine gun.  The INPs are upset, for good reason.

            The INP vehicles are clustered along the median strip of this four-lane highway. They have a handful of pickup trucks and Toyota Land Cruisers with light bars.  The Strykers are parked amongst them.  Two bodies, bound and shot in the head, lie on the side of the highway nearby. 

            The INPs got here first, on a routine assignment to recover the bodies which had been dumped earlier by a death squad.  When they arrived they went to move the bodies.  A grenade went off under one of the bodies and two INPs were injured immediately, they say.  Then gunmen in a line of nearby houses started firing on the exposed cops.  The INPs took cover behind their vehicles and returned fire.

            That's when our Stryker patrol rolled onto the scene by chance and stopped in the middle of it.  The bulky green-painted steel armored cars shifted the balance sharply in favor of the INPs, who kept firing anyway.  The Americans saw no targets to engage and so held fire.

            The Americans say it is likely the booby-trapped bodies were placed to draw in the INPs, and the hidden gunmen then fired a full clip from their AK-47 automatic rifles at the INPs and fled.  A full clip for an AK-47 is 30 rounds, and between the grenade going off, the wounded INPs and scores of bullets headed in their direction, it is no wonder the INPs started firing back and didn't stop.

            Eventually the firing died down.  Sheltering behind the Strykers from a possible reappearance of the gunmen, the INPs and Americans strategized how to recover the bodies.  It looked like it would take too long for an EOD (explosive ordnance disposal team - the bomb squad) to arrive.  In the end three American soldiers drove up to the bodies in a Stryker, hopped out, tied a rope to the bodies, hopped back in and tugged them a few feet, checking for any more explosions. 

            Those were brave men who didn't know if more explosives might have detonated by a radio remote control when they stepped close to the bodies.

            The Americans helped roll up the bodies in body bags and threw them in the back of an INP pickup to go to the morgue.

            The soldiers and policemen headed off and traffic started driving down the highway again. 

            The random bravery of the Americans who pulled the two bodies, and the INPs who tried to recover them originally, is unmarked on this highway and will be soon forgotten.  Such random acts of bravery are a common occurrence in Baghdad. 

            That is in contrast to the bullies who snatched the two young victims, almost certainly unarmed, and put bullets in their heads.  There is little honor in the death squads which inflict harm as widely and randomly here as possible to spread terror amongst the people.

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