Kurtz, ill-Will and a Luckless Weekend with Bernie

Editor’s note: As the US troops head into Baghdad, the Post’s intrepid and increasingly wary correspondent rounds out a week started badly for some and finished much worse for others

BAGHDAD: April 15 — As the battle for Baghdad bounces off satellites and across your television screens, spare a thought for the Kurtz-like Colonel Joe Dowdy, commander of 5,000 marines who fought a dozen pitched battles along Route Seven from Nasariyha to al-Kut between hearty puffs on a Cuban.

Dowdy was the one who prophesied that “we have the tools to I pose our will” on Iraq in that pre-war briefing, then went on to do just that in a slug-fest that took a heavy toll on both sides, numerous civilians and a chap called Bernie.

Bernie’s real name was Abdul, a teacher-turned-soldier whose left leg was blown of by a 50-caliber ina firefight against US troops. The medics had run out of space so Abdul was placed on the hood of our ambulance (a Humvee load with guns and drugs) as corpsman Tony Garcia stood over him, acting as a human shield through the crossfire of two battles until a safe place could be found for the hapless Iraqi.

Despite Garcia’s bravery and will; to save his enemy’s life, Abdul died. In this war, as in all others, luck clearly plays a deft hand. US trooper Jessica Lynch had it and was rescued from Iraqi captors in Nasariyha by soldiers from Delta Force.

Colonel Joe Dowdy and a handful of journalists were lucky too when whn Iraqi artillery fired eight rounds at our tent. Each round has a kill circle of of 100 meters, and the Iraqis missed by only 300 meters from a distance of 19 kilometers.

A Marine in Shirat was fresh out of it, shot, strung-up from a town-square and his corpse desecrated. Fate dealt seven women and children a bad hand too when a US soldier opened fire because the word “stop” is not part of the Iraqi vocabulary.

The miserable cost of war is high but Dowdy’s troops pushed onto the gates of Baghdad. Along the way thousands of children, women and men lined the highways, waving and cheering on the Marines, hailing them as liberators from the torment of Saddam Hussein.

Then, with victory in clear view and our commander ready to pounce, the senior brass imposed their will and and relieved Dowdy of his post.

For reasons known only to the generals, Colonel Dowdy had been dealt an embarrassing clear career killing blow, gutted just as he was poised for the march into Baghdad, and a once-in-a-lifetime shot at military glory.

The troops were genuinely upset. They likened this to Preident Truman’s sacking of General Douglas MacAuthur and suggested tha Dowdy must have committed some unspeakable act with a general’s daughter to warrant such treatment.

Dowdy was out of luck. One ponders such things over a cup of morning coffee: the dead, concepts of glory, and a chap named Bernie.

There was nowhere to put Abdul after he died, but he had to kept until the paperwork was cleared so the lads wrapped him in a blanket and duct-tapped him to the trailer where fitted neatly between the wheel hub and my coffee pot.

Henceforth he was known as Bernie — our dead witness to the imposition of Dowdy’s will — and the lads in my platoon had him over for the weekend. We made coffee and ate biscuits and cheese donated by Bernie’s fellow Iraqis.

At some point I was warned by a Lieutenant-Colonel not to write about Dowdy being relieved of his post because this was “highly embarrassing for him and his family” and I risked being alienated by the senior ranks if Dowdy’s demise made it into the newspapers.

Bernie had no such objections so I decided to write.

PS: In my next missive I hope to catch up with my subversive friend Waqil and provide an update on just how well my camel, Spit, is fairing in the raging desert heat, which is now topping 43 degrees Celsius. The lack of cigarettes is also a small mental toll on me but until next time, dear readers, a fond farewell.

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