By late April, we had probably conducted at least 20 missions in and around Baghdad looking for WMDs and HVTs. Obviously, we never found any WMDs, but we did find a lot of weapons caches, bunkers, Iraqi Intelligence Service (IIS) safehouses, and torture chambers. I remember one IIS safehouse in particular. A kind Iraqi gentleman – whose front door we had just blown off, whose family we had just terrorized, and whose entire house we had just ransacked at 3 o’clock in the morning looking for “WMDs” – was more than gracious to show us.
We hit his house right at 3am. The first guy through the door after the lock was blown off with a 12-gauge shotgun had entered the pitch-black residence ready to smoke someone. I followed directly behind the hulking Ranger screaming in Arabic for everyone to get down on the ground or else they would be shot. The squad of Rangers pouring through the door had almost trampled a new-born baby and two small children to death – they were laying with some female members of the family on the living room floor near the front door. The men of course, were all sleeping in the back room together.
Within seconds, everyone except the children and the mother of the new-born were zip-tied. It was pure chaos from the second the door was blown and kicked in. Not only was it difficult to see, but the women and children were all screaming, the dudes in the back starting whining like a bunch of bitches, and the Rangers were yelling commands back and forth while I was screaming at the Iraqis to shut the fuck up. After everyone was brought into the front room and some small oil lamps were lit so we could stop shining flashlights in people’s faces, I began interrogating the men and asking where the WMDs were.
You might ask yourself, “Why were you searching a two-bedroom apartment at 3 o’clock in the morning with a family and small children for WMDs?” Well, that’s a good fucking question. I guess you might also ask why we ever invaded Iraq and perhaps you’ll get the same answer. It was all bullshit, as we now know. Allegedly, a human source named “Curveball” who the Germans had debriefed and classified as a habitual fabricator of intelligence information was relied upon as the vanguard of our intelligence, “proving” the Iraqis had WMDs.
(Author’s Note: For a full account of this story, an account that will surely make your blood boil, please take a look at the book of the same name, Curveball: Spies, Lies, and the Con Man Who Caused a War. This and other severe intelligence oversights came together in the perfect storm to justify this misadventure and invasion.)
Anyways, as I was in Baghdad having fun looking for WMDs, blowing doors off peoples’ houses, searching pesticide factories and looking behind every mosque, I began to realize that something wasn’t adding up. After yet another unsuccessful raid on a “Suspected Chemical Weapons Site,” otherwise known as some poor schmuck’s house, I half-jokingly asked the guy if he knew where Saddam was. He boisterously replied, “Yes, he has a house right down the street from here.” I almost bust a nut right there. Holy shit, if this guy was right and we caught Saddam….!!
As it turns out, everyone I interrogated had either “seen Saddam the other day right down the street” or “knew a house where Saddam used to sleep at” or could show us a residence that “Saddam used for secret activities.” Some of these were actually real. Most Iraqis immediately equated any government activity with Saddam himself, so whenever they saw a bunch of IIS cars or other government looking vehicles roll up to a house in their neighborhood, whether or not Saddam was in one of those cars, they always thought he was. It was a classic case of super-paranoia permeating the entire population.
After we released the folks from their plastic handcuffs, gave the kids some candy so they’d shut up and dropped off a case of water and MREs, our Iraqi friend agreed to take me to the “Saddam House.”
Diyaa – I’ll call him ‘Diyaa’, since I can’t remember his name – rode on top of the Pander with me as he gave directions in Arabic. I translated and then yelled them into the hatch to the PFC driving. At first I was sure he was full of shit, like 99.99% of Iraqis I spoke with, but, as we slowly made our way through the rat’s nest of side streets, low-hanging telephone wires and dirty neighborhoods, Diyaa’s face lit up as he saw something down the street.
“There, there!!” he yelled in Arabic.
I looked down at the driver, and jokingly yelled, “Driver, there, there,” randomly pointing in a forward direction. He sort of half-smiled and slowed the armored vehicle as we came to an intersection. Diyaa, who was obviously getting very nervous at this point, started screaming at me that he wanted to get off the vehicle and that he would stand on the corner and yell the directions to us as we went down the street.
“Motherfucker, you’re going with us! How do I know you’re not lying and this isn’t an ambush,” I asked, angrily.
He was visibly upset at the sight of the neighborhood and the walled residence we were quickly approaching. He kept telling me to keep my weapon ready and I obliged him.
He finally pointed out the house in question and I gave the command to the driver, who drove past the house and took up a defensive blocking position at the end of the street. The remaining Panders and gun trucks secured either end of the two-way street, and the rest set up in a herringbone fashion along the road in front of the residence.
The entire neighborhood was quiet, no kids, no people, no movement anywhere except for the occasional stray dog that would appear from nowhere. I knew something was up when Diyaa jumped from the Pander and began running…
(Featured Image Courtesy: Defense.gov)