THE ENEMY |
October 23, 2006
The front gate of the Alamo opens up into the sprawling town. A mass of triple-strand concertina wire and Jersey barriers block out traffic and channel incoming vehicles thru a chicane of concrete blocks. The front entrance is reinforced by an up-armored HUMMWV, a gunner sitting in the cupola manning a long-barreled .50 caliber machine gun. The gunner scans oncoming traffic looking for signs of trouble, while the driver sits patiently and monitors the radio. The vehicle must be moved for any traffic to enter or exit, and is a last ditch effort to prevent a car packed with explosives from slamming into the Alamo and reducing the building to fire and ash.
Nearing the front gate and stepping around the wire, I wrinkle my nose as I catch a fresh draft of hot wind from the city. The sewer stench of the city permeating the air is something I will never get used to.
At the front gate a man stands patiently, waiting to talk. He is wearing a dark blue robe and worn brown sandals. His rolled-up sleeves reveal faded swirling tattoos and Arabic markings on his skin. His unshaven face is rough, made up of sharp angular planes that are hardened by hooded, expressionless eyes. Looking into those dark brown eyes, I can tell that he wants me dead.
Without taking my eyes off his, I motion for the interpreter. Steve walks over and stops suddenly, as if sensing the tension between the stranger and myself.
"What does he want?" I ask.
Steve begins hesitantly, stumbling over the first few words of his normally flawless Arabic. The man replies so softly that Steve has to lean forward to catch his last few words.
"He says he has come for his brothers."
"Who are his brothers?"
"He says that one of his brothers was killed by Americans yesterday, and that the other brother was taken and arrested."
Unconsciously I nod my head. I know who he is talking about. The day before, an IED had hit an American patrol. Immediately after the blast, the soldiers had spotted a blue bongo truck fleeing from the scene. The patrol reacted quickly and gave chase. The truck fled until its tires were shot out. As it ground to a halt, two armed men had jumped out and started running. My patrol had arrived on scene just after one had been shot dead and the other had surrendered.
The two brothers had been insurgents. This one likely is as well.
Standing before me is the enemy.
The bastard is trying to stare me down.
Resting my right hand on my pistol, I feel an involuntary rush of adrenaline.
"Tell him that he can have his brother's body. I will show him where it is."
At the mention of his brother's body, his gaze cracks. For an instant, the corners of his eyes tighten with grief, and then his features return to the intense, hate-filled stare. Motioning with my right hand, I turn and walk over to the Iraqi police station. Behind me, the man follows, shadowed by two of my soldiers pulling security. They have picked up on the lethal atmosphere and are moving with extra care, their eyes scanning for trouble.
I can feel his gaze on the back of my neck.
Walking into the comparative cool of the police station, I step thru the shadowed concrete corridors and into a back room. There, on a wooden pallet, is a body bag with his brother's remains. An Iraqi policeman walks in and Steve quietly explains what the man is there for. There is a slight stench in the air that no words could properly describe.
The man steps around me and walks up to the bag. I can see him grip his blue robe with his right hand, holding the material so hard that his knuckles have turned white. After a long moment, he turns to face me.
"And my other brother, the Americans arrested him. Where is he? How can I get him?"
I look at him for a moment, not saying anything.
"Your brother was arrested after he attacked an American patrol. He has been confined and they are doing an investigation. If he is guilty of terrorist activity, he will be charged and sentenced by an Iraqi court of law. If he is not guilty of terrorist activity, you have nothing to be afraid of. If he is innocent, he will be released and you will see him again. If however, he is guilty, he is going to be going to prison for a very long time."
The man looks at me, his jaw working in anger. For a brief second, I get the impression that he is going to attack, and then suddenly, as if the energy has gone out of him, his shoulders slump slightly and he looks down at his brother's body.
"Can you help me move him to my vehicle?"
I can tell that it was painful for him to ask me for assistance. Looking steadily at the man standing before me, his face half cloaked in the shadows, I consider his request. Part of me goes out to the man in sympathy. For the loss of a brother.
And then I remember all of the bodies of innocent civilians that my men have found rotting in the sun, their hands bound behind their backs, and their eyes blindfolded, before they were shot in the head by insurgents that had suspected them of helping us. This man is an insurgent. His brother had tried to kill Americans.
My resolve hardens, and I shake my head to clear my thoughts. I will get him what he needs. "Tell him that the Iraqi Police will help him carry the body." The policeman in the corner nods, and leaves the room to get a colleague to help. For my men will do no such thing.