As the we pulled into the outskirts of Mosul I began seeing indicators that something was very fucking wrong. Pick-up trucks with masked men carrying weapons seemed to show up on every corner. The stress was rising… Even though we were traveling in a local vehicle, had beards and were wearing local clothes, the never ending sense of death and danger was palpable in the small, four-door sedan. If stopped, I could pass as a Jordanian or Palestinian, Bob however, could not. We had rehearsed the ruse of him pretending he was deaf and dumb but this cover was only surface deep and couldn’t be relied upon in truly dangerous encounters.

I told him to cover his M4 as we pulled up to the first police checkpoint coming into the eastern edge of the city. Being a fluent Arabic speaker, negotiating checkpoints was a little easier for me than some of the other guys in the unit but, the pucker factor always high. We slowly inched forward, my left hand on the steering wheel and my right hand clasping the loosely concealed 9mm pistol on my lap. I always pointed my Sig towards the driver’s side door at the Iraqis manning the checkpoints, always ready to kill if things went south.

I engaged the tired looking Iraqi Police (IP) Officer with a thunderous Assalamu Alaykum ya akhi, shlownuk? (Peace Be Upon You my brother, how are you?) The IP Officer mumbled something back in Mosul dialect and waved us through. If only he had known I was aiming my pistol at his balls perhaps his demeanor would have been less nonchalant. But nonchalant was good, and lazy Iraqis meant less interaction with us while we were on the street.

As we were pulling away from the checkpoint, we both noticed that the policeman appeared to immediately get on his mobile phone and stand in the middle of the road looking at our vehicle as it was pulling away. “Fuck…” I said. “I wonder if he’s a spotter and calling us out to his boys down the road for an fucking ambush?”