Agence France-Presse – 2004-11-07 23:47:24
NEAR FALLUJAH, Iraq (November 6, 2004) — With US forces massing outside Fallujah, 35 marines swayed to Christian rock music and asked Jesus Christ to protect them in what could be the biggest battle since American troops invaded Iraq (news – web sites) last year.
Men with buzzcuts and clad in their camouflage waved their hands in the air, M-16 assault rifles laying beside them, and chanted heavy metal-flavoured lyrics in praise of Christ late Friday in a yellow-brick chapel.
They counted among thousands of troops surrounding the city of Fallujah, seeking solace as they awaited Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi’s decision on whether or not to invade Fallujah.
“You are the sovereign. You’re name is holy. You are the pure spotless lamb,” a female voice cried out on the loudspeakers as the marines clapped their hands and closed their eyes, reflecting on what lay ahead for them.
The US military, with many soldiers coming from the conservative American south and midwest, has deep Christian roots. In times that fighting looms, many soldiers draw on their evangelical or born-again heritage to help them face the battle. “It’s always comforting. Church attendance is always up before the big push,” said First Sergeant Miles Thatford. “Sometimes, all you’ve got is God.”
Between the service’s electric guitar religious tunes, marines stepped up on the chapel’s small stage and recited a verse of scripture, meant to fortify them for war.
One spoke of their Old Testament hero, a shepherd who would become Israel’s king, battling the Philistines some 3,000 years ago. “Thus David prevailed over the Philistines,” the marine said, reading from scripture, and the marines shouted back “Hoorah, King David,” using their signature grunt of approval.
The marines drew parallels from the verse with their present situation, where they perceive themselves as warriors fighting barbaric men opposed to all that is good in the world. “Victory belongs to the Lord,” another young marine read.
Their chaplain, named Horne, told the worshippers they were stationed outside Fallujah to bring the Iraqis “freedom from oppression, rape, torture and murder … We ask you God to bless us in that effort.” The marines then lined up and their chaplain blessed them with holy oil to protect them.
“God’s people would be annointed with oil,” the chaplain said, as he lightly dabbed oil on the marines’ foreheads. The crowd then followed him outside their small auditorium for a baptism of about a half-dozen marines who had just found Christ. The young men lined up and at least three of them stripped down to their shorts.
The three laid down in a rubber dinghy filled with water and the chaplain’s assistant, Navy corpsman Richard Vaughn, plunged their heads beneath the surface. Smiling, Vaughn baptised them “in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.” Dripping wet, Corporal Keith Arguelles beamed after his baptism. “I just wanted to make sure I did this before I headed into the fight,” he said on the military base not far from the city of Fallujah.
‘Now We’re Going Back in to Finish the Job’
Toby Harnden / Daily Telegraph
“The main thing is to hold our ground and kill as many faggots and bastards as we can.”
— US Marine Lance Corporal Nicholas Federici
NEAR FALLUJAH (November 6, 2004) — In the tents ranged across the bleak military camp, everyone knows the battle for Fallujah is imminent. After months under insurgent control, the city is due to be invaded any day now by a 10,000-strong combined force of US marines and US army. It is likely to be the biggest military engagement of the Iraq war.
At least three quarters of its population have fled the ravaged city, once home to 280,000 people, 30 miles to the west of Baghdad on the banks of the Euphrates river. It has been bombed almost every night for weeks. The US military is determined to pacify Fallujah and the rest of the so-called Sunni Triangle before elections scheduled for January.
Military intelligence officers estimate that more than 3,000 insurgents are ready to defend the city; a mixture of Sunni nationalists, former Ba’athists and a dedicated hard core of foreign fighters.
How many will fight? “Assessments vary from `They’re all cowards who’ll run away once the first tanks go in’ to `Tens of thousands of brave warriors who will fight to repel the western invaders’,” said Capt Brian McLean, a US marines command adviser.
Guns slung over their shoulders, soldiers and marines trudge through the mud to the dining hall as a steady drizzle falls. Many bow their shaven heads in silent prayer before beginning their meals, aware that for some there may not be many left.
Troops line up outside the PX store to get their last supplies before the battle: junk food, sweatshirts for the cold nights and Bibles with camouflage covers. The gyms on base are full of marines pumping iron. On a board in one there is a quotation from Malcolm X: “You can’t separate peace from freedom because no one can be at peace unless he has his freedom.”
L/Cpl Nicholas Federici, 19, of 1/8 Marines, said: “We didn’t get the job done. Now we’re going back in to finish it. It’s the same with the whole of Iraq. Either we do it, or our friends and younger brothers will come after us to do it. Now, we’re going in full force. The main thing is to hold our ground and kill as many faggots and bastards as we can. Then we’ll rebuild the city, keep our military forces in and hand things over to the Iraqi government.”
Bush No Longer Fears Civilian Deaths
In May, an assault on Fallujah failed, strengthening the insurgents. US marines were ordered to storm the city after four contractors were killed in an ambush, their bodies defiled by a mob and two blackened corpses hung from a bridge.
But then, President George W Bush feared the effects of large numbers of military casualties and reports around the world of civilian dead, and, to their disappointment, the marines were pulled back and the city was handed over to the “Fallujah Protection Force”. The force turned out to be an arm of the insurgency.
Fallujah, which had shown the first signs of opposition to the Americans after Saddam Hussein’s fall, became a no-go area for US troops and representatives of the interim government of Iyad Allawi’. Notorious as the place where western hostages, including the Briton Kenneth Bigley, were beheaded, it is also the [alleged] headquarters of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the Jordanian behind many of the suicide bombings in Iraq.
“Fallujah is something that’s been long coming and is overdue. Seven months the insurgents have had control of that city,” said Staff Sgt Jason Benedict. “Marines and soldiers have paid for it.” Eight of Sgt Benedict’s comrades were among those who paid the ultimate price on Saturday when their lorry was blown up by a suicide bomber outside Fallujah. “Now we are going to use overwhelming firepower — air support, artillery and tanks followed up by a sweep through the city with infantry.”
US Casualties Unlike Any ‘Since Vietnam’
At the “Cheaters of Death” field hospital, Cdr Lach Noyes, a naval surgeon, said facilities had been upgraded and medical supplies stockpiled in preparation for scores of wounded. “It’s not been since Vietnam that we’ve had this level of casualties,” he said.
The dead are called “angels” and many of those are expected, too. “We try to get our angels out of sight of our living casualties,” said Cdr Noyes. “Then the mortuary affairs people deal with the physical remains, personal effects and identification.”
There is little doubt that the city can be won back. Whether military victory will lead to Fallujah and other parts of the country being pacified ahead of the January elections is a more difficult question.
Capt McLean acknowledged that the insurgency included not only terrorists but some “who will legitimately only fight if you come into their city” and that dealing with Fallujah would only be a first step, rather than a “silver bullet,” in quelling the insurgency.
Maj Steven Alexander, a US army operations officer, said there was an inherent risk in dealing with Fallujah militarily. “There’s civilians in there who want to just try to live. Beating the crap out of their city is not the best way to co-opt them into the political process.”
Posted in accordance with Title 17, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.