As the sun rose on my fourth day in the Iraq War that morning we would soon find out that we would be departing the next day to execute a mission. The US 3rd Infantry Division had to everyone’s surprise quickly defeated resistance within Baghdad. Those of us in the military expected a long protracted fight to win the city, but the 3rd ID’s superior firepower and fighting skills quickly defeated Saddam’s forces. We had figured our unit would be part of the fight to win the city, instead we received orders to move through Baghdad and help the Marines take Tikrit, Saddam Hussein’s hometown. Early in the morning we linked up with a 3rd ID Military Police unit that would lead us through the route they had secured through Baghdad. As we drove through the southern outskirts of the city I was a bit surprised by the poverty I saw:
I was expecting Baghdad to be a nicer city compared to what I saw in southern Iraq, but the southern outskirts were still quite poor. As we drove deeper into the city the morning traffic began to pick up and we began to see some of the many murals of Saddam Hussein in the city:
Most of the murals had been defaced by the US military or Iraqis by this time. I was also surprised by the traffic. It was almost hard to believe there was a war going on when your convoy is surrounded by cars and buses. Being surrounded by cars also makes you a bit paranoid because you do not know if the car next to use is rigged with explosives or not. That is why I did not take many pictures in Baghdad because I was constantly searching and scanning looking for threats. I was there to fight a war, not to take pictures. Looking back though I really wish I would have taken more pictures, but that was not what was going through my mind at the time.
As our convoy reached the central part of Baghdad we began to see what appeared to be government buildings that were bombed:
There was also an entire neighborhood I saw bombed that supposedly was housing for key regime officials that worked in the government buildings:
I really did not see the point in bombing the government buildings if we were expected to rebuild the country afterwards. Why bomb a building that later you have to pay money to rebuild? Anyway this governmental neighborhood did have a beautiful mosque that was not bombed:
We then came to intersection that was completely backed up with traffic and we could not even more our convoy:
Despite an ongoing war and regime collapse I guess the people of Baghdad were still going to work because the traffic was incredibly heavy. Since we could not move the convoy was highly exposed to an attack. Guys at the front of the convoy were yelling at the Iraqis to pull off to the side so the convoy could pass. They would not move but once it appeared that an armored tracked vehicle would push the vehicles out of the way the drivers began to get off to the side of the road to let us pass.
From there we got away from the heavy traffic when we got on this highway overpass that bypassed the heart of downtown Baghdad:
This is the last picture I took of Baghdad from the highway overpass that led into the northern part of the city:
Northern Baghdad was like entering another country. In southern Iraq for the most part people were pretty happy to see us, however beginning in northern Baghdad no one was happy to see us. We had entered into the primarily Sunni Arab area of the country that were Saddam’s biggest supporters. These people hated us and the looks on their faces showed it. Many of the young men in civilian clothes giving us the evil eye as we drove by I could tell were soldiers because of their close cropped hair cuts. Seeing all of them just standing there watching us with their pissed off faces was when I knew keeping the peace was going to be harder than winning the war.
I took no pictures at all of northern Baghdad because I was constantly scanning for threats. Especially since we could hear gunfire in the distance around us which was from 3rd ID units continuing to eliminate pockets of resistance in the city. Northern Baghdad would also become the first time we would see a significant threat to our convoy. We had come to an intersection that unlike other intersections had no traffic. I did not realize it at the time, but I should of that this was out of place. Sure enough a car came speeding down a road right at the Bradley in front of me. I immediately thought it was a suicide bomber and yelled on the radio at the personnel in the Bradley turret to get down. The vehicle hit the side of the Bradley and did not detonate. Instead the driver flew through the windshield and smashed his face into the side of the Bradley leaving a streak of blood on the side as well as the guy’s kafiya being stuck in the tracks. We had been lucky that they had not wired the car correctly to blow, but in later months the insurgents would show they would get much better at making their bombs.
In northern Baghdad we linked up with the Marine logistics convoy our unit of bradleys was tasked to protect and headed north towards Tikrit. From Baghdad it is approximately 181 kilometers to Tikrit:
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As we exited the urban areas of northern Baghdad we found ourselves driving north on Highway 1 as it crossed through a fertile farming area:
As we reached the city of Samarra just south of Tikrit this is where we could hear heavy fighting going on within the city. Highway 1 has a bypass around the city so we avoided the fighting that was going on within the city between the Marines and the Iraqi security forces that were remaining in the city:
The highway bypass did take us over the Tigris River that at this location was heavily canaled likely for irrigation purposes to support all the farms in the area:
Besides the fighting, the biggest thing I remember about Samarra was its large mosque. I could just make out the shiny dome of the mosque as we passed Samarra and little did I know that this building after it was bombed four years later would become the reason for ethnic cleansing and near civil war in Iraq:
A short drive up the highway from Samarra we eventually came to the gates of Tikrit:
Just like Samarra we could hear the battle going on in the vicinity of the city, but unlike Samarra in this city we were meant to stay. We had a mission to secure the Al Sahra Airfield to the north of Tikrit that was designated to be a logistics base for all the support units we were escorting. Like Samarra the highway bypassed to the west of the city, but we could hear the fighting going on within Tikrit. We were definitely hyper alert at this time because we could see mortar rounds being shot in our direction from the city, but could not range the convoy. Eventually the Marines operating in the city neutralized whoever was shooting mortars in the direction of the convoy. We were really not to concerned about being attacked because the terrain was so open around the highway that anyone attacking the convoy would have been easily taken out by our bradleys. As we expected we ended up reaching Al Sahra Airfield without incident and moved in to secure the base.
Next Posting: Al Sahra Airfield (FOB Speicher), Iraq
Prior Posting: The Road to Baghdad