when the dust clears

Words about and images of matters political, social, and military

1/2 Charlie Co. & Chicken Lady

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This sequence, edited by Rachel Shuman and Adam Bolt, was built from footage I shot on one of the first patrols I videotaped. Of all the scenes we had to cut, I was saddest to lose this one. It captures, from a boots-in-the-mud perspective, the perpetual miscommunication between our troops and Iraqi civilians and the general absurdity of the mission.

First Battalion/Second Marine Regiment was nearing the end of its 2004-05 deployment to northern Babil province. Iraq’s first national election since Saddam Hussein’s toppling was two weeks away. Anti-US forces, particularly Sunni militant groups like Hizb al Awda and Ansar al Sunna, had promised violence. “This ain’t the fucking Republicans and Democrats,” Col. Ron Johnson, commander of 1/2’s parent unit, the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit, remarked in his characteristically colorful style about the growing Sunni-Shia conflict during a briefing for me and two other journalists.

Days after 1/2 left Babil—and before the unit had even shipped out from Kuwait—a car bomb rocked Musayyib Hospital. Eighteen people were killed. The patrol base Bravo Company set up for the election had been next door, in the Musayyib Police Station.

Less than six months later, a suicide-bomb blast in Musayyib (also rendered as Mussayab or Mussaib) killed more than a 100 people, all Iraqi.

“I knew the spot, an intersection in the city’s center,” I wrote in a 2005 blog post. “I had walked or driven through it a dozen times with grunts… There’s a beautiful mosque right at the crossroads.” The bomb had been planted in a fuel tanker nearby. “The blast ignited the fuel inside the truck, turning what might have been a sadly typical tragedy into mass slaughter.

“In November 2005, bombers attacked the same mosque, killing 20 and wounding 64.”

And so on through the years: December 18, 2011: “A sticky bomb attached to a car exploded when the driver entered a bus terminal…”

I can’t say with any assurance what life is like in Musayyib now. Just as it was in 2005, finding stories about the city (in English) that aren’t about violence and death is very difficult.

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