Sky Rockets in Flight

04 December 2003


A strange form of celebratory behavior demonstrated by the local population is the firing of weapons straight up into the air.  This disregard for Newton has resulted in numerous injuries to both Iraqis and Coalition forces alike.  After a recent victory of the Iraqi national soccer team, the rat-tat-tat and pop-pop-pop of AK-47s and semi-automatic pistols could be heard from all directions for the better part of the evening.  The aftermath ensured that the doctors in town would be working until dawn.

The night it was announced that the 101st Airborne had killed Uday and Qusay Hussein up in Mosul was the worst.  Minutes after the gruesome images of the slain dastardly duo were shown on Al Jazeera, the evening sky erupted into what looked like a laser light show.  Of course the streaks of orange weren’t harmless photon beams but phosphorous-tipped lead tracer rounds.

I was outside taking a jog around our compound when the commotion began.  At first the noise sounded as if it was coming from the vicinity of the north gate.  Drawn by foolish curiosity, I ran toward the sound of the guns to see what was going on.  But then a barrage opened up from the east.  Then from the west.  Then from the south.  Within moments, the sound of small arms fire encircled the entire perimeter. 

My initial reaction was that our position was under attack.  Motivated by wounded pride and seeking to avenge their fallen princes, loyalists of the past regime had mounted an assault on the compound.  At any moment, I expected to see angry mobs of fierce, bloodthirsty Arabs running down the street, rifles in hand, eager to dispatch any GI that was unlucky enough to be caught in their stampede.  How active my imagination turned out to be.  When I noticed the tracers arcing high overhead, it became clear to me that no one was shooting at us, rather, they were shooting over us.  This was not the Tet Offensive, but rather the most recent and enthusiastic demonstration of celebratory fire.

From every horizon, tracers lit up the night sky.  Like a Fourth of July fireworks display, I became mesmerized by the spectacle and watched with great interest each round streak across the dark heavens until burnout.  From which direction the next formation of projectiles would come became a gleeful guessing game. 

As it became apparent to me that the show would be going on for awhile, I resumed my exercise and jogged down the street, eyes gazing upward.  “Oh wow!” I marveled, with complete detachment, “That last burst went flying directly overhead.  How neat.”

No sooner had I finished that thought then a whoosh-whoosh-whoosh sound started coming through the stand of trees ten feet to my left.  My next thought was not “Oh wow” but “Oh (something else)!”  With only a sweaty T-shirt and the short hairs on my head to protect me, I suddenly felt very vulnerable.  The 7.62 mm rounds continued to impact nearby.  My house, with the safety that its sturdy roof provided, seemed a thousand miles away.  In what even then seemed laughable, I put both hands on top of my head and ran as fast as I could in a zig-zag pattern back to my hooch. 

When I commented that night to a housemate that there must be something in the culture here to make people think that celebratory fire is a good thing, he replied, “Yeah, at least we’re civilized enough to simply light automobiles on fire and vandalize downtown shopping districts after our teams win championships.”  We both laughed.  “Savages,” he concluded, as he buttoned the chinstrap on his Kevlar.