Read a soldier's account of encountering a deadly terrorist ambush.
It had been a long day, a long mission. Our mission had been conducted in the area of ________, just south of Baghdad. Small villages, open fields, palm plantations, and small creek lines. The roads were a mix of MSR, ASR, and even small dirt roads, which gave our busted-up sedan some troubles. But now, on our way back to our compound located within the IZ, my team found itself back amongst the chaos of the city of Baghdad. Sirens, random gunfire, rundown neighborhoods, and trash-filled streets. As our old model B6 armored Mercedes sedan rolled through the heavy afternoon traffic, it was hard not to notice just how destroyed and decayed this city was. Sanctions, the bombing campaign, and the daily effects of a full-blown insurgency/counter-insurgency war were sure as hell showing its effects on Iraq’s capital city.
Photo: KARIM SAHIB/AFP/Getty Images | Licensed to Alpha Media Group 2013
We sat calm but alert within our armored chariot. We were dressed in our best locally purchased ‘haji shirts’ and sporting a variety of 70′s style moustaches and stylish haircuts. No shaved heads or shinny lens Oakleys on this team! We blended in quite nicely, too. The casual glance of a local Iraqi, and even MNFI personnel, which nearly had me testing my plate carrier’s armor against friendly force 12.7mm rounds once, buts that’s another story…
On this day I had on my favorite haji shirt. Its colors were a mixture of brown, orange and deep red stripes… always stripes! It was amusing to see that nearly every type of local button-up shirt was always striped and contained the absolute worst colors possible to a western eye. Underneath my shirt, which was sized one size up for my build, was my plate carrier. Front and back, soft and hard armor, with the sides free and clear and fastened with a flexible cummerbund strap system to hold it nice and tight. Below that was my battle belt, which held all my mission essential equipment. Two magazines for my pistol, two more magazines for my primary weapon, a small removable first-aid kit, radio, and my Glock 17. My belt also held one very special little item that would soon save the day for me and my fellow operator, who was piloting our slightly dodgy-looking vehicle. As for pants, I was wearing plain blue denim jeans, as the Iraqis seemed to love wearing jeans. Below them I wore my trusty low-cut hiking boots. No use wearing local sandals or those terrible leather loafers the locals wore. If someone were close enough to see the type of shoes I was wearing, then they would certainly be able to tell that I was definitely not an Arab.
Laying just between my legs, and loosely covered by a cloth shemagh that I had purchased up in Jordan, was my M4 carbine. I was running a shorter-than-issue 10.5-inch barrel with a sound suppressor attached. When operating low-profile, if it comes down to you having to ‘go loud’, I’d still rather go loud as quietly as possible. The ability to remain as quiet as possible, even in contact, was a must, as my team was usually very small in numbers. Next to my weapon underneath my legs was my small bug-out bag. These small bags are often called many other names, but it’s basically just a small type of bag or small pack that contains everything you can’t fit on your body without looking too bulky and wrecking your localish-type look. My bag was a simple side-slung pouch-type bag, nothing too big. I used to joke with some cats on the other teams about how their go bags looked more like packs that were ready for a 14-day reconnaissance mission!
My bug-out bag held three magazines for my primary weapon, one water bottle, two small high energy emergency chocolate bars I purchased from the PX and camp Victory, strobe light, GPS (I also wore a small GPS on my wrist), small VS17 panel, med kit, a white heavy-smoke grenade, and spare batteries. On the bags strap were curled a set of Peltor ComTacs. If we got into any type of protracted contact with our cover blown, these bad boys would certainly be around my ears. Even though we were running suppressed, an RPG rocket exploding in close proximity will fuck your hearing up, badly!
So, as we rolled deeper into the city, the streets were alive not only with vehicle traffic but also foot traffic. I can’t tell you how many times I had to try and tell these damn street peddlers that I didn’t want to buy their boxes of tissues or other strange items. I used to think “is my haji shirt really so good that these crazies think I’m an Iraqi on my way home from work and looking to fill up on tissues?” For some reason, Iraqis love tissues and have boxes of them everywhere. We even decorated our vehicle’s back window and front dashboard area with a couple of boxes. Maybe that’s why these crazy street sellers thought we wanted more. Now that I think of it, that is probably why. But my mind wasn’t on stocking up on our local vehicle disguise items; my mind was on getting my team back into the IZ, back to the safety of our Compound.
We had just turned off a very busy road and onto a very heavily IED’d road. I was looking at all the IED holes and wondering how our ragged-ass vehicle would stand up against a hit from one of these roadside bombs, when comms from our local assets came up telling me that there were some IP up front causing some disturbance on the road. I got up on the comms and asked our local assets if the IP looked legit or sketchy. The Iraqi Police were always sketchy, even if they were legit, but sometimes they were straight-up insurgents. The call that came back from my local guys wasn’t good. “Sketchy! These guys are no good.” I got on the comms and asked, “Bassam, what are they doing dude, why are they bad?” This time his voice was very muffled and scared, and in his best English he said “these guys terrorist, they try make illegal checkpoint.”