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Operation Iraqi Freedom: The Road to Baghdad

In my prior posting I showed pictures from the helicopter reconnaissance I did before the convoy my unit was part of was to depart Camp New Jersey in Kuwait and head across the border into Iraq to participate in Operation Iraqi Freedom.  My unit was composed of Bradley Fighting Vehicles and we were tasked to defend a convoy of vehicles heading north to the city of Iskandariya just south of Baghdad.  We had about 10 Bradleys in my unit that had to defend a  convoy of about 100 vehicles.  So we had one Bradley spread out among every 10 vehicles in the convoy.  I mentioned in my previous posting how the convoy had pot shots taken at it in Kuwait, so we were expecting to be shot at once we crossed the Iraqi side of the border as well.    Here is a picture of the berm that designated the Iraqi border as we crossed it:


On the far side of the border there was then a bunch of wire in place as well that we passed through:


On the opposite side of the border from Kuwait was the small village of Safwan.  We saw a lot of civilians standing around and looking at the convoys as they passed.  I kept expecting one of them to take pot shots at us, but all they did was smile and look at us.  The kids however, would try and jump on the back of slow moving vehicles and try to steal anything they could.  We had to stop the convoy one time to get some kids off of a truck who were trying to loot from it.

Iraqi Kids1

Outside of Safwan we came to the interchange with Highway 8 that would put us on a multi-lane highway that runs all the way to Baghdad:

Iraqi Overpass

I served with the 4th Infantry Division during the war and we were originally supposed to invade Iraq from the north through Turkey.  However, at the last minute the Turkish parliament voted to not allow their territory to be used for the invasion and instead our boats were rerouted to Kuwait.  This through off our carefully scripted and practiced war plans for the invasion.  Another side effect this had was that my unit did not have detailed maps of southern Iraq.  We had detailed maps of northern Iraq which were now useless and instead I navigated the convoy using a National Geographic map I had of Iraq that I had brought with me as a briefing tool.  I never thought this would be the map I would use to go to war with.  Fortunately Saddam’s highway system had some really good signs for us to follow, so not having a detailed map was not that big of a deal.  Here is the highway sign just after the interchange showing the directions to Basrah and Baghdad:

Baghdad Sign

As we traveled north on Highway 8 we were going a very slow speed because a Bradley can only go about 30-35 miles per hour.

South Iraq Highway

So it was pretty slow going.  However, we were fast enough to pass this Iraqi on a tractor:

Iraqi Tractor

It wasn’t only vehicles that we ran into on the highway, but also Bedouins using the highway to move camels on:


British military trucks were a common site as well on the highway since they were responsible for conducting operations around the Basrah area:

British Truck

We reached the refueling point outside of An Nasiriyah in the middle of the night.  We refueled our vehicles ate an MRE and took about a 2 hour nap before we had to be back on the road again.  I was so tired that I can remember that the two hour nap that I took felt like I had just closed my eyes when someone woke me up and told me it was time to go again.  After we left the refueling point outside of An Nasiriyah we then continued north on Highway 8 towards the next major town which was As Samawah:

View Larger Map

Here is the outskirts of As Samawah:

Near As Sammawa

As we neared the downtown portion of the city we once again began to see more people hanging out near the road:

Road to Samawa

This was the first large city we had driven our convoy through since we had crossed into Iraq.  As we drove through the city we received a pretty warm reception the whole way even though we were prepared for any potential ambush:


But nothing happened as we past through the city an we even seen an Iraqi waving an American flag:

Kid waving US Flag

Something I remember from As Samawah was that this was the first city where we saw that there had been some heavy fighting.  We saw destroyed Marine armored vehicles in the city that still had Marines on site trying to recover them.  There was also a number of destroyed civilian vehicles such as this bus that was likely used to transport Iraqi fighters:

Destroyed Bus

The next major city after As Samawah was An Diwaniyah which is where we would travel to next:

View Larger Map

As we got closer to Diwaniyah the more water and plant life we began to see:

Iraqi Pond

We even saw livestock that wasn’t a camel:

Road to Baghdad 3

Just south of An Diwaniyah there was another refuel point we needed to go to to top off our vehicles at. It was late in the night by the time we reached the fuel point and after refueling we took another 2 hour rest before getting ready to move out again.  The next morning we did maintenance on our vehicles and ate a quick MRE breakfast before readying the convoy to move further north into Iraq:

Refuel Point near An Diwaniya

As we began to approach the next city on our route An Diwaniyah, we saw these bombed out buildings at a military base on the south side of the city:

Bomb Building in An Diwaniya

In Iraq there is a train system and when we entered An Diwaniyah this was the first time we had saw a train of any kind in the country:

Train in An Diwaniya

Here is a picture of a mosque from inside the city:

Mosque in An Diwaniya

Diwaniyah was a very big town compared to Samawah.  It was a bit nerve racking to drive through a heavily populated city filled with people.  As we drove through downtown our convoy was mobbed with people with some even reaching into the Humvees to hug people.  I had people trying to jump on to my Bradley to give me a high five.  Looking back I wish I would have took pictures of the seen, but I had one hand on my 9mm from the turret of my Bradley closely watching the crowd to make sure that this was not a ruse to attack our convoy.  I did take out my camera to take this picture of the Euphrates River as we crossed it in Diwaniyah:

Euphrates River in An Diwaniya

From Diwaniyah we continued to follow the highway north to Baghdad:

Road to Baghdad 2

Our next stop would be Iskandariya:

View Larger Map

The further north we went the greener the terrain became:

Road to Baghdad 13

Also as we got closer to Baghdad we began to see a lot more destroyed Iraqi military equipment all around the road:

Road to Baghdad 4

It was pretty clear that Saddam Hussein’s Republican Guard forces were hoping to use the lush terrain south of Baghdad to help obscure their equipment from coalition airstrikes, but it did not work:

Destroyed BMP

Road to Baghdad 11

Destroyed T72

We also saw a lot of shot up civilian vehicles that were likely being used to move Iraqi fighters around in:

Iraqi Vehicles

On the way to Iskandariya we stopped at this Iraqi military base outside the city to link up with a unit of M1A1 Abrams tanks:


The base was quite large with many long warehouse buildings:


Most of the base was still in good shape though a number of vehicles on the base had been apparently looted for parts by locals:

Iraqi Trucks

After we left the military base we continued towards Iskandariya and saw a few more military bases such as this airfield that was shot up:

Iraqi Airfield

As we approached Iskandariya the place was very lush with vegetation.  By Iraqi standards I thought this place was kind of beautiful despite the reminders of war everywhere you looked:

Road to Baghdad 1

We eventually stopped and refueled at another supply point that was located at what looked like a cement factory near Iskandariya:

Gravel Quarry

Later on that evening we finally pulled into our final destination which was an Iraqi elementary school outside of Iskandariya whose soccer field became a staging area for our Bradleys as we awaited orders for where to move to next.  According to Google Maps the total distance we had covered over three days was 633 kilometers:

View Larger Map

This was actually very exhausting for those of us traveling by Bradley because we had to stand up the entire time in the turret during the movement.  The convoy also had to crawl at a monotonous 30-35 mph pace since that was as fast as the Bradleys could go.  Something else that sucked was that exhaust from the Bradleys would at times blow into faces of those of us in the turret.  This caused our faces to turn black with soot.  Finally since Bradleys are maintenance intensive we spent more time doing maintenance on our tracks while those traveling by Humvee got to sleep.  By the third day of the movement I was so tired I was taking coffee grinds and sucking on it like tobacco to stay awake.

Anyway our orders only had my unit escorting this logistical convoy to Iskandariya so we did not know what was in store for us next.  Regardless we were happy to finally arrive after three days of non-stop moving with little sleep.  Below is a picture of the sunset which designated the end of our third day in Iraq and the beginning of whatever else laid ahead for us:

Iraqi Sunset

Next Posting:  The Road To Tikrit

Prior Posting: Aerial Pictures of Southern Iraq In 2003

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