08 October 2003
“You think it’s hot now mister?” the little boy on Karada Street asked me on that sweaty June afternoon. “Wait until July and August. You won’t even be able to breathe.”
He wasn’t kidding.
It was a long, hot summer. Hot like a pizza oven. Within minutes of standing outside, our uniforms (worn under heavy body armor) would be soaked with sweat. Riding in the back of a humvee was like holding a hairdryer two inches in front of your face. I mean it was really, really hot. Temperatures over 120 degrees every day. Civilization started in Mesopotamia, and now I know why everyone left.
Man did people get angry that summer. Soldiers used the “F” word so much that my translator finally said to me, “I thought I knew what that meant, but you guys use it for everything, so I’m not sure anymore.” “F” this and “F” that. I bet even our unit chaplain, when pressed, would have told you it was f-ing hotter than hell around here.
The Iraqis were plenty angry, too. Long lines for gasoline didn’t help any. For hours on end, they’d sit in their sweltering jalopies getting angry. Angry about the heat, angry about the American humvee that just knocked off their side mirror, angry knowing that beneath them was the second largest pool of oil in the world and there they were waiting in line for fuel. I don’t know how to say the “F” word in Arabic, but I’m sure they were saying it just as much as we were.
“Sir…look over there!” the sergeant shouted to me as we stood on the corner guarding our vehicles near the German embassy. A man in line for petrol had been rear-ended ever-so-slightly by the guy behind him. Both cars were junk, so it shouldn’t have mattered. In the wintertime, perhaps a minor exchange of words would have ensued. But this was summer. The summer of pizza ovens and hairdryers and the F word. Without hesitating, the man in the front car hopped out, opened his trunk, and grabbed a tire iron. Before we could do anything, he leapt toward the other man and hit him over the head.
“Oh crap,” I muttered as my legs started moving toward the scene.
“What are we going to do sir?!” the NCO shouted anxiously.
I lifted my knees and ran over to the two men. One was on his knees with blood running down his face, the other was standing with the piece of metal raised above his head, ready to deliver a second (and probably fatal) blow.
“What are we going to do, sir?!” the NCO shouted anxiously again.
Raising my rifle to my shoulder, I shouted, “Oguf! Oguf! Stop! Stop! Drop that f-ing thing right now.”
The attacker looked at me and hesitated. When the sergeant leveled his M-16, the man knew we were serious. He dropped the tire iron, jumped back into his car, pulled out of the queue, and sped away.
More soldiers came outside to see what had happened and to assist the injured man.
“Do you want to go to a hospital, sir?”
“That man was crazy,” he answered, clutching his bleeding scalping.
“Sir, do you want us to get you to a hospital?”
“Is it air-conditioned?” he replied.