More Continuation … Day Four, Or: Fast Times and Hard Days with Straight Ahead and Lieutenant Go-Go (Iraqi Army Diaries)

Yesterday, the Second Battalion opened a local mosque that’s been shuttered for nearly two years (an Iraqi Army officer was assassinated there before it was shut down). The Commanding Officer of Second Battalion, Colonel Wasim (pronounced Wasam), gave a speech at the opening. I attended with a young, degage lieutenant named Jaider, and another man, one of the colonel’s servants. We were joined by a group of other officers, at the event. There were a couple of hundred men in attendance and a huge feast was prepared. I sat in a small guesthouse with Jaider, Ahmed and three other officers. As usual, we laughed endlessly. They taught me some words in Arabic, I told them some things in English (with Ahmed translating), and we laughed some more. There was another officer I’d not met before, who reminded me of one of my wild uncles. He had a hint of something crazy in his eyes, and he had the room in laughter the whole time.

Jaider pointed to the guy and told me he was always on the go, hellbent for action. I couldn’t understand the guy’s name, so I began calling him Lieutenant Go-Go. Lieutenant Jaider, on the other hand, had already become Straight Ahead. The night before, we’d gone on a mission to check military checkpoints around town, and every time he got back into the Humvee, he’d point through the windshield and say something that translated as adelante, or onward ho.

As characters, the two men are foibles. Both like to laugh and carry on, and they’re harbingers of that subterranean sense of mischief given to men in their early 20s, but their bearings are appreciably different. While Go-Go is always looking for (and usually finding) the next humorous line, Straight Ahead is quiet and phlegmatic, with a stony expression. A man from the south, with the dark color and fine features of an Indian or Pakistani, he’s something of a dandy. He walks quietly around headquarters with a measured gate, his hands behind his back, and seems always in deep thought.

But it doesn’t take much to bring mirth to the surface of his facade—he’s quick to smile and as quick as his fellow officers to laugh. Two nights ago, I gleaned one of the reasons for his seriousness. It was my first mission kicking in doors, and I realized the inherent danger these guys face on a daily basis—parlous circumstances they lead other young men into. There’s nothing rational about kicking in a door and charging into a room that might be holding men with guns—or a bomb—and common sense speaks against it. But these guys have a job to do (a hallowed one, when state sovereignty is put into the mix) and they do it well and without complaint.

Driving in the dark, on the way to a couple of those raids, I notices a hint of what I interpreted as nervousness in the bearings of Lt. Jaider and another Lieutenant, the Battalion intelligence officer, a man named Hamid. A good looking guy in his mid 20s, Hamid has the attitude of a high school prom king. His wit is quick and his tongue sharp. When he laughs, he does it several beats after everyone else. If his confidence is robust, it’s not without merit. He’s the guy who goes toe to toe with targeted individuals when unidentified men have been pulled out of a house and the platoon waits—vulnerable—to figure out who stays and who gets carted off.

He makes split second decisions and good reads. And if he doesn’t, the consequences are heavy (innocent men will go to jail, the safety of his own men will be jeopardized, etc.). Another young officer, X, is an educated man who’s seen enough violence for a lifetime and who likes to laugh. He’s recently gone through a different kind of soul-twisting. Two days ago he told he was going to share a secret with me that I had to keep it to myself.

His girlfriend was pregnant, he told me, and he was torn up about it. I didn’t know they did abortions in this Muslim country, but he said they do, and that’s what the couple had decided upon. They weren’t even dating anymore, he said, and he’s not far into his 20s—he’s got a full life ahead of him.

“I’m going to lose a child,” he told me,” but if we had the baby, I’d be losing two—her family would kill the baby and then it would kill her.”

Yesterday I talked with him and he told me the operation had been done. It cost $300. He was quiet and preoccupied. He laughed when we were with others, but when I got him alone he told me he was distraught. I killed a child today, he kept telling me. My son or my daughter, I killed it. He said he was bitter and angry with the ex girlfriend, that she’d told him she was on birth control—and that he’s not having anything to do with a girl again until he’s married.

[One week update: X has a new girlfriend already, and seems to have abjured his renunciation of women]

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