Bless the Beasts and Children, Part 1


First Published: June 30, 2007

Where did they go?

On 29 June, American and Iraqi soldiers were again fighting side-by-side as soldiers from Charley Company 1-12 CAV—led by Captain Clayton Combs—and Iraqi soldiers from the 5th IA, closed in on a village on the outskirts of Baqubah. The village had the apparent misfortune of being located near a main road—about 3.5 miles from FOB Warhorse—that al Qaeda liked to bomb. Al Qaeda had taken over the village. As Iraqi and American soldiers moved in, they came under light contact; but the bombs planted in the roads (and maybe in the houses) were the real threat.

The firefight progressed. American missiles were fired. The enemy might have been trying to bait Iraqi and American soldiers into ambush, but it did not work. The village was riddled with bombs, some of them large enough to destroy a tank. One by one, experts destroyed the bombs, leaving small and large craters in the unpaved roads.

The village was abandoned. All the people were gone. But where?

On 30 June, soldiers from 1-12 Cav allowed me to go to the village in one of their M-1 tanks.

LT Baxter, Tank Commander.

As often happens in Iraq, the first time I meet American combat soldiers, we are going off to do something serious. Although the soldiers usually do not know me, they are courteous and professional, and always watching out for me. And so it was with LT Baxter, who was commanding the M-1 tank that I’d be riding along in, and who made sure I didn’t break my neck getting into the tank. I nearly pulled him off the tank while climbing aboard.

The tankers drove off FOB Warhorse, and only a few miles later, we arrived at the outskirts of the abandoned village.

American soldiers began unloading dozens of body bags, which the Iraqi soldiers, with grim looks, carried into the village.

Captain Clayton Combs has been fighting hard in Diyala for about ten months, much of it side-by-side with Iraqi soldiers from the 5th Division. Each time I’ve come into contact with the 5th, they seem far better than most. American officers and sergeants who work with the 5th have good things to report about them, saying that although the 5th still has far to go, and cannot sustain itself logistically, it can fight.

Captain Combs said this particular Iraqi unit, the 3-25, has never run away from combat, and never refused to close on the enemy. Combs said, “I’ve fought with 3-25 for 10 months in Diyala and they have always come when I am in trouble. They always go on patrols when I ask. They never back down.”

I asked Captain Combs to repeat what he said, making sure he knew I was planning to quote him directly. A veteran like Combs would be unlikely to append his name to such words if he weren’t dead serious. Captain Combs repeated his words and stuck by them. He then demonstrated that faith when we took off deeper into the danger zone with nine soldiers from 5th IA: just Captain Combs, Iraqi soldiers and me. As we passed through the village, Captain Combs pointed out the nice houses, saying the people had been simple farmers with comfortable homes and lives.

Until al Qaeda came.

The houses all were empty. We passed by two donkeys each shot in the neck. Al Qaeda had killed their livestock.

Al Qaeda often plants bombs inside the dead bodies of the animals and people they’ve killed. They have rigged children’s bodies with explosives.

Some steps later, we passed by a crater—one of many in this village—made on 29 June when bomb experts destroyed an IED.

Then a few steps beyond the crater, Captain Combs pointed out a car that had been filled with explosives. American soldiers had destroyed it with a Thermite grenade.

A short walk later, as we passed more abandoned homes, I saw an empty AK-47 magazine on the ground. The houses were in shambles: broken glass and ski masks littered the area. The Iraqi soldier with the goggles saw a photograph on the ground, and picked it up.

We walked into the palm groves nearby. There was a terrible stench. The heat and the vegetation reminded me of the Killing Fields in Cambodia where I had visited shortly before the most recent trip to Iraq.

Soldiers from 5th IA said they’d found some of the villagers: They were dead.

Iraqi soldiers were excavating several graves.

The bodies were fresh, and the smell was overwhelming. A small group of American soldiers were keeping a respectable distance, but the area was filled with Iraqi soldiers from 5th IA.

I told the Iraqi commander, Captain Baker, that it was important that Americans see this; he took me around the graves and showed more than I wanted to see. He said the people had been murdered by al Qaeda. I made video of him speaking, and of the horrible scene. The heat and stench were crushingly oppressive and broken only by the sounds of shovels as Iraqi soldiers kept digging.

There were bodies of men, women and children. Al Qaeda slaughters families everywhere: as these graves were being unearthed, more bombs were found in London.

There was no sign of the sacred at this gravesite.

Stashed in shallow graves. The stench felt like punches in the stomach.

Some of the bodies seemed fresh. The air temperature was about 115°F.

One of the graves.

By the time I arrived, 5th IA had uncovered parts of six bodies. But from what I could see, they did not all appear to have been murdered at once. In one grave, there were exposed ribs and other bones, although there was still flesh on the bones.

The digging was the first part of the gruesome job.

Hot, hard work and as it progressed, the stench got worse and worse. An Iraqi soldier carefully sprinkled water on the corpses.

Soldiers from 5th IA said al Qaeda had cut the heads off the children. Had al Qaeda murdered the children in front of their parents? Maybe it had been the other way around: maybe they had murdered the parents in front of the children. Maybe they had forced the father to dig the graves of his children.

Feet of a woman.

Iraqi soldiers were barely talking. All had grim looks and everybody seemed to want to be a million miles away. Yet these Iraqi soldiers helped me do my job.

Later in the day, some of the soldiers from the unit I share a tent with, the C-52, told me that one of their Kit Carson scouts (comprised of some of our previous enemies who have turned on al Qaeda) had pointed out an al Qaeda who had cut off the heads of children. Soldiers from C-52 say that the Kit Carson scout freaked out and tried to hide when he spotted the man he identified as an al Qaeda operative. Just how (or if) the scout really knew the man had beheaded children was unknown to the soldiers of C-52, but they took the suspected al Qaeda to the police, who knew the man. C-52 soldiers told me the Iraqi police were inflamed, and that one policeman in particular was crazed with intent to kill the man who they said had the blood of Iraqi children on his hands. According to the story told to me on 30 June, it took almost 45 minutes for the C-52 soldiers to calm down the policeman who had drawn his pistol to execute the al Qaeda man. That same policeman nearly lost his mind when an American soldier then gave the al Qaeda man a drink of cold water.

While that was happening elsewhere in Baqubah, we stood around the stinking graves of people who had gotten a close-up view of al Qaeda-style justice. The villagers’ bodies were rotting in the heat before us.

The blade of the shovel struck more fingers, and the Iraqi soldiers stopped and pointed to the fingers so I could film them. But I had seen enough and pulled back into the palm groves.

Captain Baker, commanding the 3-25 of the 5th IA.

Captain Baker gave an important interview on video. Captain Baker, who in Captain Combs’ words is “an excellent soldier,” is from the Kurdish north, but Baker said he is Iraqi first, Kurdish second. He told me American Special Forces had trained him, and he shared some interesting details about the killing of Zarqawi which occurred back in 2006. Zarqawi had been the leader of al Qaeda in Iraq, until he was killed nearby by U.S. bombs.

Soldiers from the 5th IA continued with their task as Captain Combs and I departed, heading back to the M-1 tank.

Along the way we passed fresh craters. The bomb that made the water-filled crater above would easily have destroyed the Bradley in the photo.

LT Baxter, the tank commander, was concerned that the heat was getting to me, and checked my uniform for sweat, asking several times if I was okay. They always watch out for me. But I was okay from the heat; I can take the heat as well as our soldiers can. Still, I felt very sick, the kind of sick that no amount of cool water can fix. I put on the comms in the tank, then ripped them off and left off my helmet and held the jet hose of the air conditioner on my face as the tank rumbled back to base.

Bless the Beasts and Children, Part 2

Bless the Beasts and Children, Part 3

Update on "Bless the Beasts and Children"


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  • This commment is unpublished.
    Mark T. Rodgers · 13 years ago
    I pray to God that everyone in America who thinks we never should have went into Iraq could see this story.

    May God have mercy on those who turn a blind eye to this treachery.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Adam Alire · 13 years ago
    I do not think that America should have ever went to Iraq and still feel the same way after reading this story.

    I also do not think that Al Qaeda would be in Iraq if we had never initiated military operations there.

    These injustices exist yet we should never turn a blind eye to their catalysts which would in turn justify them.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Scott Maniscalco · 13 years ago
    I realy get tired of people being critical of the excelent work being done by our soldiers from the comfort of their computer chairs.
    Aside from the grafic reports from Michael I suuggest critics listen to JFK's inauguration speach. The greatest sin is apathy.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Elmo Jones · 13 years ago
    Thank you for what you are doing. You strike me as an honest man. Please tell the Troops that the People will never forget them !
  • This commment is unpublished.
    George B BARRETT · 13 years ago
  • This commment is unpublished.
    maralyn cantrell han · 13 years ago
    Thanks for all you do. I was disgusted to hear about Michael Moore and his use of your picture of the American soldier holding the child wounded by one of the IED's that the Iquada ( my name for them is nazi islamic folks) had planted. I am a veteran and have children who are in the military and I know that in civilian life as in military training our soldiers are not taught to harm women and children. Michael Moore is a disgrace. I wish you well. Keep up the good work. Reporting the truth is going to become harder and harder for you. May God keep you safe as well as the military personnel that you are with and all the American military where ever they may be fighting for Michael Moore's freedom to steal from your work.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Matt Burkett · 13 years ago
    Adam, perhaps you forget that Hussein had murdered by torture and chemical weapons 400,000 of his own people during the 1990's. So a little terrorism is okay? WTF is wrong with you. When you know someone who has their head chopped off, you may adjust your views. Why don't you go over and help or do something - ANYTHING - other than live your free peaceful life (which was provided to you by the men and women of the USA) bitching on the internet.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    usman munawar · 12 years ago
    no coments
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Adam · 12 years ago
    Saddam Hussein murdered many of his people and kept extensive records of all sinister accounts during his regime.
    His tactics have been compared to those of Adolf Hitler during his ethnic cleansing of europe during WW2.

    Any terrorism is wrong. Any violence is wrong even in retribution.. that was the point of my original comment.

    Beheadings happen and are happening more frequently because of the US occupation in Iraq. This is knowledge which I have ascertained previously before your "enlightening" post, and does not change my distaste for the war in Iraq.

    Judging by your attitude toward my post you must be in the military or else you wouldn't be telling me what to do, how to do it, and which way it should be done. I can assist my country in retaining its values, freedoms, and prosperity through various means not just by signing my blood and bones over to the government.

    And as far as "bitching" on the internet.. suffice it to say.. you had just completed that objective by finishing the sentence itself.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Jesse · 12 years ago
    Unbelievable. Is this incident small scale compared the Stalin-Pol Pot- Hitler genocides? Sure, but does that really matter? How many civilians have died as a result of this war, both at the hands of al Qaeda and the US-led forces, and to what benefit? Iraq is now supposedly a legitimate democratic nation, and the atrocities that Saddam committed are finally done and gone. That is something to truly take pride in, and I know that there are Iraqi's who are deeply grateful for what has been done.
    What bothers me is the broader institution of war, and its effects on innocents and soldiers. That being said, God bless the soldiers who preserve our way of life. A day when armies are obsolete would be amazing... and a pipe dream.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Doug Johnson · 12 years ago
    I thought we learned after WW II that murderous despots had to be kicked out of power ASAP . . . or worse would come. So the option would have been (for the people who make policy) . . . don't kick Sadddumb out of Iraq . . . because an outlaw group like al Qaeda MIGHT take advantage of the chaos, embed itself and start terrorist actions? Yet to not kick Soddumb out would guarantee Sodbumb continuing to kill thousands of his own people.

    Hummmmmm . . . . the logic behind that escapes me.

    Of course Adam has a right to his opinion. The great thing about America is that everyone has the right to be right as they can be or wrong as they can be!
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Adam Alire · 11 years ago
    Quote From Doug Johnson:"I thought we learned after WW II that murderous despots had to be kicked out of power ASAP . . . or worse would come. So the option would have been (for the people who make policy) . . . don't kick Sadddumb out of Iraq . . . because an outlaw group like al Qaeda MIGHT take advantage of the chaos, embed itself and start terrorist actions? Yet to not kick Soddumb out would guarantee Sodbumb continuing to kill thousands of his own people.

    Hummmmmm . . . . the logic behind that escapes me.

    Of course Adam has a right to his opinion. The great thing about America is that everyone has the right to be right as they can be or wrong as they can be!"

    The revolution or insurrection which would "kick the murderous despot" out should be internal.

    The fate of a nation should be decided by the people. A government for the people by the people.. ring a bell?

    If the circumstances are unfit for legislation, it is up to the people to take up arms.. not the responsibility of a foreign government to "liberate" them.

    I agree with you, but that's only because i never dis agreed with you.

    I never said to let Saddam stay in power. I just don't believe that a country that has left depleted uranium on the land in question and has bombed Arab countries, should step foot on soil that has been tainted by the blood of both worlds. This only leaves that nation open much like a wound, to the rest of its invaders enemies.. seething in hatred. These " outlaw groups" or Al Qaeda if you will.. would rather be hailed as heroes because of their correlation with tribal nations.

    However it has happened and now the gears are in motion for a brighter future for both.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Brendan Scully · 11 years ago
    I can't quite say whether it was the best thing (it certainly wasn't a wrong thing) or misguided good intentions which have proven to have negative side effects from my position- I'm living in a small cushy community in NE PA, casually working part time and playing world of warcraft. I'm dreaming of leaving it behind to be a Pararescueman one day.

    However, I do feel that this doesn't prevent me from seeing that we're doing the right thing. It may have at one point been a bad idea to engage the Al Qaeda, but we're stuck now with either seeing this bloody (although it's nothing in comparison to past conflicts) war to the end, or abandoning the natives.

    I must say, Adam, that I see your point about a foreign government is noted and is well made. However, let me point out something else which should sound familiar- All are created equal. In my opinion, that means that if we value are constitution, we can't back out of doing what we are in the Middle East, since I'm willing to bet even the most Liberal of us would do the same if such a situation were to happen in their back yard. They are just as deserving of the help we are giving them as we would be. I'm not assuming you've thought of it this way (And I'm honestly not intending to sarcastically imply anything) but if you were to see it from my point of view, to be against our war in the Middle East would be racist.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    John Kunnari · 11 years ago
    Michael, the graphic pictures and description of likely events you provide us and the world are shocking, horrific, necessary and so much more than I can say. This is indeed the work of Evil incarnate. This is a view into who are our troops and our allies are fighting against and why we must support them to destroy the monsters that are carrying out such atrocities!
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Adam Alire · 11 years ago
    I appreciate your honesty, and acknowledgment of my viewpoint.

    Its not that I don't believe that everyone is created equal, and deserves the chance at the same freedoms us American's share... however, I do not believe that it is our right to push upon other nations these values and institutions.

    We have "policed" the world for far too long, and have militarily imposed nations in reinstalling our own officials to protect interests. As far as helping those in Iraq and Afghanistan... I see that as blind optimism. We are imposing our will not to assist them in the development of democracy, but to reap the benefits of further industrializing their oil production. It will benefit us in the end, and them as well.. but the ideologies extended to us by our four fathers is not the first objective. It will be a residual effect that will ultimately cement freedoms, but that is a long road paved with blood and tears.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    mylissa · 10 years ago
    heyy i feel so sorry the man that are soldiers because they will lost there family and kids.

    ♥ps. :cry::
  • This commment is unpublished.
    James Faith · 10 years ago
    I was there in 06. I remember going down that road almost everyday. I remember looking for weapon caches in there at night. That is sad these villagers were killed. For those of you who have not been over there, and wanna play the we should not have over there card you need to shut up.
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