December 13, 2006
The dirt road cuts between two farms, dividing the fields of pale green scrub brush and tall willowy palms. On either side of the road, deep canals run north to south, the murky water slowly filtering through the muddy silt and reeds. A yellow brick wall borders the north side of the road, defining the property line of one of the small farms and curving outward to match the run of the road.
On the yellow brick wall, the black spray-painted scrawl in Arabic seems to shimmer in the afternoon heat. I turn to my interpreter, who is standing next to me with his hands on his hips.
“Spider, what does this graffiti say?”
Spider looks around briefly and then pulls his mask off. His face turns thoughtful as he considers the writing. Finally he grimaces.
“It says, ‘May Allah bless the brave warriors and martyrs that fight the Americans in Fallujah. May Allah bring death to all Americans and their lackeys.’”
I turn and walk a few meters to my HMMWV, which is staged on the south side of the road. My gunner is pulling security, but he turns briefly to throw me a questioning glance as I lift open the heavy hatch on the rear of the HMMWV. Rooting around in the trunk of the vehicle, I toss aside bottles of water, Meals-Ready-to-Eat, and rucksacks filled with gear until I find what I am looking for.
I walk over to Spider, and hand him a black can of spray-paint.
“Give me a hand painting over this shit.”
Quickly we spray-paint black lines vertically and horizontally over the Arabic. The propaganda disappears under a thin sheen of high-gloss black spray enamel. Stepping back and looking at my work with a critical eye, I realize that something is missing.
Turning to Spider, I give him instructions. Slowly, a smile forms on his face and he nods his head as he gets to work, his can of paint flashing in the setting sun as it carves out bold, black Arabic letters on the yellow wall.
Satisfied with his efforts, he gives me a nod, and I turn and wave my right hand in a circle above my head, giving the hand-and-arm signal for the patrol to mount up. As the soldiers pull back from the road and pile into their HMMWVs, I can tell they are wondering what exactly it is that Spider has just spray-painted in Arabic on the wall. Getting back into my vehicle, my gunner leans down thru the hatch and grins.
“Sir, what does it say?”
I can’t help but grin back. Keying the handset for my platoon frequency, I answer the question on everybody’s mind.
“Alright guys, listen up. It’s an old Iraqi saying. It says, ‘We are watching you, and you can never hide. Like the eyes of God, we never sleep.’ Signed, 'the U.S. Army.'”