Wednesday, October 27, 2004

Patriots and Soldiers: Iraq

The Fallen 49 and Patriots

On Sunday, October 24, 2004, the new martyrs of Operation Iraqi Freedom were massacred on their way home on leave after having graduated from the Iraqi Army training camp in Kirkush, northeast of Baghdad. Forty-nine newly minted Iraqi Army soldiers from the 17th Battalion, 7th Brigade, 5th Division were ambushed not far from their base as they returned home on leave on civilian buses.

Based on information from CBS and other news sites, the first of three mini buses was hit with an RPG. All of the twelve off duty Iraqi Army soldiers in the bus were either killed on impact or burned alive in the bus. The other 37 off duty Iraqi soldiers were offloaded from the buses, made to lie on the ground and were then executed. According to Joe, a soldier in public relations with the Army, those that resisted did not have a chance to go far:

All who tried to escape were shot down. The bodies were stripped of money and valuables – they had just been paid – and even shoes were stolen as the blood of those lifeless, young bodies drained into the sand.

According to additonal information, the buses may have been stopped at a fake checkpoint manned by men in police clothes or military uniforms. The investigation is still ongoing and allegations of infiltration within the ranks is rife.

Go on to the inner sanctum to read more from Joe about the story and the struggle to rally the Iraqis around their fallen patriots.

Joe over at Able and Kane was on assignment that day, taking pictures of graduation day, Sunday Oct 24. Later that day, some of the same soldiers he photographed were gone:

Then, in the evening, back to the photos. Which of these young soldiers were now dead? Which face no longer beamed with pride, which boot would never march again, which salute was the last, which smile gone forever, which of these digital ghosts reflected only a memory rather than a life? My computer all at once became a casket and a mausoleum; my flat-screen monitor a memorial gravestone displaying a final rendition of men who volunteered to become the protectors of a new Iraq. The benign photo cut lines seemed pitiful epitaphs.

Joe has pictures of the graduation day here.

What strikes me most is the crisp uniform of the young officer carrying his sabre, looking very smart and proud. The creases in his trousers and the perfection of his tan beret, aligned just right. He looked very proud and professional.

The other photo is a close up of three men out of the marching cadre and the man in the middle looked like he was in his early twenties and he was trying to look serious but obviously supressing a smile. He looked very excited to be there.

Looks like the “Fallen 49” is now officially the “Forgotten 49,” as the Prime Minister of Iraq Ayad Allawi blames everyone but the perpetrators of the massacre of 49 soldiers and three bus drivers Saturday.

Joe and I exchanged an some emails where in I asked where were the slogans like "Remember the Alamo!" and the charismatic leaders of Iraqi Nationalism on this point. This last post answers my thoughts about what the "fallen 49" could mean to the war effort:

It’s amazing how one day can change the whole course of a war, and possibly of history. Consider what would have happened if the following course of action had been taken after the massacre:

1) The PM and the Minister of Defense issue a statement within an hour or two of the report saying that murderers have attacked unarmed Iraqis on their way home on leave from the army. A press conference will follow later in the day to answer questions from the press. An investigation into the killings is being conducted but right now we are trying to contact and offer condolences to the families of these fallen heroes who volunteered to protect the new Iraq.

2) The next day issue more details along with statements from the commanding general of the Iraqi army saying that “we will not be intimidated by terrorists” and we will hold the perpetrators responsible and either capture and kill them in due course.

3) A national day of mourning would be announced along with a memorial procession to honor the “Fallen 49” to take place within the next week. Representatives from the families and all the Iraqi security forces would attend along with Iraq’s allies from the coalition and multinational forces, who are helping us to build the new Iraq.

4) A new medal/award would be created to honor any soldier killed while serving on active duty service and would be called the “Martyr’s Freedom Medal” with a “49” as part of the design scheme. It would be awarded to the families of the fallen. (Iraq currently has no awards or medals of any kind for their forces).

5) The Fallen 49 would become a rallying point for all Iraqis to start taking back their country from the insurgents.

Joe talks about what the public relations office thought should have happened:

More importantly was what happened after the attacks. If there were any attempt to implement the plan above – yes, that was the plan we had ready to go (summarized) – perhaps a tragedy could have become a turning point for the better and those fallen 49 soldiers would not have died in vain, but instead would have been remembered in Iraq as the straws that fractured the camel’s spine, the point where Iraqi began fighting back and taking control of their country.

But before the plan had any chance of being implemented, the Iraqi leadership took what appears to be the wrong path, and we now find ourselves with internal problems that just complicate the situation more than anything.

And the Fallen 49 heroes of the 17th Battalion have now become the Forgotten 49.

After reading Joe's comments, I thought very strongly about it. What feels wrong from this side of the ocean is what appears to be a missing Iraqi national will or concensus about who they are, what they are fighting for and who it is all for. Seems like every group has their own agenda and can't see to the first agenda, the national agenda.

Where then are the patriots? Are they there but we just can't understand them? It's damn confusing from this side of the ocean. Frustrating as hell. But then my frustration is tempered because, after all, I am not there and there are many who are living with greater frustration and taking their lives in their hands. I just wish that I could see some patriot rise up and tell the Iraqis to live for Iraq and freedom.

Is that too much to hope for?

Who writes the stories of the Iraqi patriots? The fallen 49?

1 comment:

Tom said...

I too worry that our efforts to forge a new Iraqi army will falter on the shoals of tribalism and religious divisions. From what I hear most Iraqis are simply biding their time and staying quiet until they see who will win. From the long nightmare of Saddam they learned how to shut up.

My greatest fear is that this massacre, coupled with the constant bombings of police recruits, will discourage Iraqis to the point where they fail to volunteer.

I too am disappointed by the Iraqi government's response. Joe's thoughts on what should have happened make sense to me. Thanks also for introducing me to a new blog.