Late at night, we are summoned to roll with the Iraqi General and his special operations company. Our convoy, over 30 vehicles strong, rolls out onto the quiet streets of Baghdad, and maneuvers toward a small desert village.
The convoy links up with another of thirty or so vehicles, all loaded with soldiers and their weapons ready to do business. Several Americans dismount and find the Iraqi General. In the middle of his personal security detail, he is barking orders and waving his hands. His orders are to search every house, every closet (even drawers and refrigerators) and announces that we will be here all night and all day, until we find the bad guys. In minutes, vehicles start maneuvering around the village blocking roads, shining lights on houses and knocking on doors.
At 3:00 am, he walks down a small street at the front of the village, as if he is the owner. We follow behind him and listen to his discussion. All around us, Iraqi soldiers scurry around shining lights on rooftops and into windows. They bang on doors and enter homes as cell phones are used as to give orders to platoon leaders around the village. Overhead, the buzz of UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles) let us know that we are being watched.
In the background, route clearance teams search for IEDs emplaced along main supply routes. Large vehicles in the dark, with dozens of high-powered lights mounted on each vehicle, do their best to see in the nooks and crannies of their environment. It reminds me of a scene out of a sci-fi movie. In a moment of surrealism, I wait for lasers to start shooting at and exploding targets but it never happens.
We reach the end of the road and inspect a hole. Sunken pavement, maybe three meters across. The Iraqi General reaches into the hole and pulls out a piece of plastic, inspects it, and discusses the potential of what it might be, then throws it on the ground. We turn around and go back toward the beginning of the street.
Half way down the street, the commander stops at the village sheiks house. Plastic yard chairs are assembled out front and we sit down, almost as if we are stopping by, just to say hello. After the sheik is awake and dressed the Iraqi General moves inside to discuss business. As dawn breaks, he emerges from inside the home.
We patrol the streets one more time in our Iron Camels. It’s 5:30 am and people are beginning their day, heading to jobs, doing chores within the village trying to get ahead of the hot, overbearing sun.
Before we leave, one man is apprehended. He is accused of stealing property from an Iraq soldier that lives in this village, who is also part of this mission. The Iraqi soldier informs the Iraqi General that he has gone to the police, but they refused to listen to his story. After a brief interrogation, the General orders the Iraqi soldiers to arrest the man. He tells the man to pay 1.5 million Dinars ($1300) and will be released when the Iraqi soldier receives all his money. If he doesn’t pay, he will remain in prison on charges of terrorism. It will be years before a judge can hear his story.
Just as fast as we descended on the village we leave.