Michael's Dispatches

The Hands of God

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A Village, North of Mosul: Friday 26 January 07

The attacker walked down this alley.

He was dressed as a woman as he walked down the alley toward the mosque full of worshippers. It was Friday, just before Ashura, and the air was chilled.

The bomb strapped to his body was studded with ball-bearings so that he could kill more villagers as they gathered for prayer. The detonation would eviscerate and dismember those closest, shattering bones into fragments, but the ball-bearings would ensure lethality beyond the percussive edge of the blast wave, ripping through the flesh of people who might not have been knocked down by the explosion.

There were no soldiers in his path to stop him; no police to alert to the man in women’s clothes. There were only villagers. The man dressed as a woman was to be the agent of their deaths. He kept walking down the alley toward the mosque where more than one hundred people were praying, a mass murderer masquerading in a woman’s garb.

The prayerful people may not have known he was coming, but we hear the explosions every day. Every single day. Seven days per week. I remember the story told to me by Tennessee National Guardsman of another such man who had grabbed the hand of a nearby child as cover, then walked over to some policemen before detonating himself and the child. I remember the bomber who rammed a car full of explosives into vehicle full of American soldiers in Mosul. The Americans had been surrounded by Iraqi children, and the bomber could have waited a block or two then attack the Americans man-on-man, but instead he chose to blow up the Iraqi kids. Sometimes we see the torn and mangled hunks of flesh. Sometimes their open bodies curl a baleful steam into the cold morning air.

The closer a counterfeit comes to the genuine article, the more obvious the deceit. As the murderer dressed in women’s clothes walked purposefully toward his target, there was a village man ahead. But under the guise of a simple villager was a true Martyr, and he, too, had his target in sight. The Martyr had seen through the disguise, but he had no gun. No bomb. No rocket. No stone. No time.

The Martyr walked up to the murderer and lunged into a bear hug, on the spot where we were now standing.

The blast ripped the Martyr to pieces which fell along with pieces of the enemy. Ball-bearings shot through the alley and wounded two children, but the people in the mosque were saved. The man lay in pieces on the ground, his own children having seen how his last embrace saved the people of the village.

L to R: A.J. the Iraqi interpreter wearing American uniform and taking notes; LTC Eric Welsh; Off-duty Iraqi Army soldier; local man wearing sunglasses; local man asking that we send Iraqi Army or American Army to protect the village.

Unproven claims successfully disguised as facts in the media can be persistent obstacles to finding the truth. Once something is put in print, it becomes referenced as fact by other people who seldom check the source. There was a time when American soldiers were derided in the press for wearing sunglasses in Iraq. Someone had the notion that sunglasses were deeply offensive to Iraqis, many of whom also wear sunglasses. In the retelling of terrorist attacks in Iraq, key details are often left out while others insinuate themselves into places they don’t belong. So it was for the thwarted bomb attack in this village, which quickly found its way into media reports, described as yet another incident of sectarian violence, which on some level it was.

In front of the walls pocked with craters from the ball bearings, truth was more nuanced. But apparently no journalists visited the village to find out what really happened and what it tells us about the people who live here. American commanders were so taken with the sacrifice that LTC Eric Welsh led a patrol up to the village, and after some time we found the mosque. LTC Welsh talked with the village men where the Martyr saved the people. I recorded the conversation. Please listen here.

In the alley of the bomb: The hand-marks were fresh blood. The other writing was older.


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