Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Tagging along

My first Army patrol of this trip was blissfully uneventful. It was a full day riding a few slow miles from a base on the edge of Kirkuk to the village of Khifa. A few days before someone had set off a bomb that knocked down a guard tower near Khifa and the small convoy of Humvees was heading out to see if the town’s muqtar, or neighborhood boss, might shed light on things.

It’s a strange thing to ride in a Humvee here. With helmet and body armor on, you squeeze your knees under your chin talk yourself into believing that it doesn’t really hurt to sit like this. And you work the odds in your head to convince yourself that a bomb won’t go off on this particular trip, and that if it does it will be too far from you to do any harm.

The gunner splits time between standing and sitting in sling that’s something like those flexible rubber swing set seats at a grammar school playground. It’s his job to wave a red flag, to curse, to point his machine gun until all the civilian cars give it wide berth. Some take more convincing than others, and in some areas you can tell the fear of getting shot up by the Humvees is stronger than in other places.

Y put along at 10 to 30 mph, everybody looking for a suspicious pothole or pile of trash.

After a few wrong turns, we found the village. And a few wrong turns later, we found the muqtar’s pad. He was gone, but his son was there.

What did he know about the explosion?

Nothing. I was asleep, he said.

Sleeping, huh? Well, said the hulking sergeant in his spacesuit of body armor, we’d better find something out.

If they know anybody who did the bombing, he said, they’d better step up or the U.S. Army is coming back and it won’t be pretty. Somebody’s going to get jacked up. Somebody’s gonna end up in jail.

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