Urban Hamid

Raid on Samarra

It is 4:30 a.m., on Friday. A few Bradleys are slowly crawling into a residential area in Samarra. One of the Bradleys comes to a sharp halt and the back door opens up, slowly, slowly. It makes a sound like a spaceship from a sci-fi movie as the electric motor lets the door slide open. Five men in camouflage uniforms, carrying M-16’s and other rifles, with night vision devices attached to their helmets, spill out of the APC. They look like Martians about to invade earth. The contrast between the crisp chilly air and the moonlit sky makes the soldiers breath heavily as they suck the air into their lungs. Everybody shivers. It is pitch dark. Two other Bradleys have stopped nearby. They also unload their cargo of Martian-like soldiers. The dogs in the neighborhood bark and growl to warn their masters of the impending danger.

The walkie-talkies spit out crackling, but subdued commands to the troops, "Yes, Sir! Roger, that..." The boots tread the gravel quickly and with determination as the soldiers quietly regroup. They can only be heard if you are very, very close. The men have left the safety of the warm and safe womb of their Bradleys.

Just some 200 hundred meters from the point where they left their APCS, they stop in front of a white cement wall that surrounds a pale two-story villa. Quickly, they spread out, two men stand guard, two men spread stand close to the wall, while one man climbs the wall. In just a few seconds he is on top of
it. He slides down to the ground on the other side of the wall. The house is dark and totally quiet. The only light that can be seen is the red, very thin ray of light coming from the night vision devices on the soldiers helmets.

The soldier tries to open the gate. It is locked! He whispers, “We have to try the other door” Two men from the outside try to open the door with a sledge-hammer. Once again they fail. The officer contacts his Bradley, which lumbers over like a gigantic dinosaur and rams the other gate.

The first time it barely makes a dent into the wall. The second time the wall crumbles like ice. It only takes a few seconds and the wall is down! As the wall tumbles down, light filters first through the cracks and then through the 2.5 by 2 meter hole. That is all that remains of the gate and it looks like the Milky Way. The soldiers jump into the light like flies drawn by a lamp.

There is a short moment of chaos. They try to kick in one of the doors of the house. The door refuses to give way. Eventually, an old woman, dressed in black, opens the door and yells in Arabic: "What do you want? There is nothing here! There is nothing here!" She is terrified and is weeping loudly.

One of the soldiers pushes her aside and the rest of the group enters. Soldiers from the two other Bradleys join the first group. Room by room, they methodically go through the house.

They have soon rounded up two men, one of them is immediately forced to sit down and a hood is put on his head. The other, a huge man in his fifties, is lying on the floor in what appears to be the living room. Four women and one boy are pushed into the same room. The same woman, who had opened the door earlier, puts up her hands in a gesture of despair and indignation when she in vain tries to explain to the soldiers that the man has a bad knee and needs help. She is shouting: "Riglo maksour! Riglo maksour! (the leg is broken in Arabic). Nobody understands a word of Arabic!

Two soldiers pick up the man lying on the floor in spite of the fact that he is in agony.
He moans and his face twitches from pain as they make him stand up. The commanding officer claims that they had seen the man earlier and that his leg had been OK then and that he now is drunk as a skunk. (The latter seemed to be the case). They push him out into the cold air and make him sit down
in the backyard as they discuss the best method to take him to the place where he is supposed to be detained. It is freezing cold: ----Perhaps 5 degreees C and cold wind that chills you into your bones. Both men are shivering from the cold as they are sitting handcuffed on the cold cement.

The decision is made: "Put them in a Bradley"! The idea seems absurd. One of the men weighs perhaps 140 kilos and is about 190 cm tall. On top of that, he has a bad leg!

In spite of the fact that these soldiers work out and are in great shape, they have to struggle to carry him. They end up picking him up by his arms and dragging him on the ground, through the mud and the puddles. The main problem is to get him onto the Bradley. He is barely conscious (due to being drunk), and since he has a bad leg they have to put him on his back on the floor. He is so tall that they have to keep his legs up into the air and hold them there so that they can shut the door. So there he is lying on the floor in between the soldiers. Nobody is able to move. He is basically lying on top the soldiers' feet. The whole time he is crying out loud in agony.

For some reason that is almost impossible to understand he has to have a sack over his head. In his state that constitutes a danger: he can very easily start throwing up and suffocate in his own vomit! His head bounces up and down as the tank skids in the mud and the sand trough the dark and eerie night.

Some of the men make derogatory comments about the man, and his family: "Look at this man he has 4 whores waiting for him at home" says one in the darkness of the Bradley. Another suggests that they should serve some ham since he has committed a sin by drinking liquor. One comment is that he is rubbing his leg against the soldier’s leg and thus suggesting that the man is turned on by that. Somebody says that he stinks. These are just some of the least offensive remarks made by the soldiers. Within 45 minutes they arrive to the compound where other units from the Charlie Company of the 1st Infantry Brigade, 8th battalion have arrived with their catch this morning. In total there are: 16 detainees; some AK-47s and ammunition; pictures of Saddam Hussein; various passports and IDs. This constitutes the total result of this operation in Samarra, 100 kilometers north of Baghdad, in the so called Sunni triangle. According to 1st Sergeant Mikel, at least one of these guys is a Fidayyin that will end up being sent to Tikrit for further questioning and probable prosecution. Some of these men are innocent but will be detained as "hostages" instead of their relatives whom they failed to round up.

As soon as the Bradley arrives to the compound, the man is put on a stretcher and put outside on the ground in the very cold and windy weather that prevails that morning. He is dressed in his "disdashe" which is the Iraqi name for the nightgown-like clothes that men traditionally wear in this area. On top of that he has his black leather jacket, but no socks or no gloves.
Of course the sack over his head provides some protection!

The other 15 detainees are standing in the cold with sacks on their heads and their hands tied up behind their backs (luckily the man on the stretcher was removed of his restraints when they put him on the stretcher). They are being interrogated. Some have stains of blood on their clothes, a couple are being treated for nosebleed (a common illness among POWs). It is not uncommon that they get beaten up American soldiers, who get carried away while performing their duties. All of a sudden somebody discovers that the man on the stretcher has an erected penis! This provokes many a laugh and comments of the not very pleasant kind. A couple of men even touch the man's penis!
There he is lying on a stretcher, while he is being emasculated in front of men from his own town. There are other forms of humiliation as well: some men have their pictures taken together with the POWs. This is strictly forbidden by the Geneva Convention.

The atmosphere is that of a safari: ---The soldiers make demeaning comments about Iraq and Iraqis. They laugh and are having a party. Around 8 a.m. a truck brings in breakfast: pancakes, sausages, omelets, French toast, some kind of steak and of course coffee. The soldiers eat while the hooded detainees are standing, shivering in the cold. They have not been given anything to eat or drink or even been able go to the bathroom for 4 to 5 hours! Many of the detainees are only wearing their thin "dishades" in the cold.

Before the prisoners are taken away, they undergo a physical examination by medics.
Then after breakfast the soldiers brutally load the detainees into the very same truck that brought them. One of the detainees falls onto the bed of the truck which is covered in mud, filth, and who knows what, his white "dishdashe" is smeared in brown mud which makes one of the soldiers comment: "Have you done popo in your "dishdashe"?

According to the responsible officers the tally from this operation was that they probably had identified one Fidayyin, and 4-5 people involved in some kind of insurgency. They did not know whether the rest were innocent or not, but they detained anyway because they had found weapons in their houses.

The described operation took place in Samarra on Dec. 12th. This action was carried out by Charlie Company and constituted the spearhead of a larger operation that is still going on in Samarra right now.

Text and photo: Urban Hamid