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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Kurtz, ill-will and a luckless weekend with Bernie

Kurtz, ill-will and a luckless weekend with Bernie

BAGHDAD: As the battle for Baghdad bounces off satellites and across your television

screens, spare a thought for the Kurtz-like Colonel Joe Dowdy, commander of 5,000

Marines who fought a dozen pitched battles along Route Seven from Nasiriyha to al-Kut

between hearty puffs on a Cuban.

Dowdy was the one who prophesied that "we have the tools to impose our will"

on Iraq in that pre-war briefing, then went on to do just that in a slug-fest that

took a heavy toll on both sides, numerous civilians, and a chap called Bernie.

Bernie's real name was Abdul, a teacher-turned-soldier whose left leg was blown off

by a 50-caliber in a firefight against US troops. The medics had run out of space

so Abdul was placed on the hood of our ambulance (a Humvee loaded with drugs) as

Corpsman Tony Garcia stood over him, acting as a human shield through the crossfire

of two battles until a safe place could be found for the hapless Iraqi.

Despite Garcia's bravery and will to save his enemy's life, Abdul died. In this war,

as in all others, luck clearly plays a deft hand. US trooper Jessica Lynch had it

and was rescued from Iraqi captors in Nasiriyha by soldiers from Delta Force.

Colonel Joe Dowdy and a handful of journalists were lucky too when Iraqi artillery

fired eight rounds at our tents. Each round has a kill circle of 100 meters, and

the Iraqis missed by only 300 meters from a distance of 19 kilometers.

A Marine in Shirat was fresh out of it, shot, strung-up from a town square and his

corpse desecrated. Fate dealt seven women and children a bad hand too when a US soldier

opened fire because the word "Stop" is not part of the Iraqi vocabulary.

The miserable cost of war is high but Dowdy's troops pushed on to the gates of Baghdad.

Along the way thousands of children, women and men lined the highways, waving and

cheering on the Marines, hailing them as liberators from the torment of Saddam Hussein.

Then, with victory in clear view and our commander ready to pounce, the senior brass

imposed their will and relieved Dowdy of his post.

For reasons known only to the generals, Colonel Dowdy had been dealt an embarrassing

career-killing blow, gutted just as he was poised for that march into Baghdad and

a once-in-a-lifetime shot at military glory.

The troops were genuinely upset. They likened this to President Truman's sacking

of Douglas MacArthur, and suggested that Dowdy must have committed some kind of unsporting

act with a general's daughter to warrant such treatment.

Dowdy was out of luck. One ponders such things over morning coffee: the dead, concepts

of glory, will, and a chap named Bernie.

There was nowhere to put Abdul after he died, but he had to be kept until the paperwork

was cleared so the lads wrapped him in a blanket and duct-taped him to the trailer

where he fitted neatly between the wheel hub and my coffee pot.

Henceforth he was known as Bernie - our dead witness to the imposition of Dowdy's

will - and the lads in my platoon had him over for the weekend. We made coffee and

ate biscuits with cheese donated by Bernie's fellow Iraqis.

At some point I was warned by a Lieutenant-Colonel not to write about Dowdy being

relieved of his post because this was "highly embarrassing for him and his family"

and I risked being alienated by the senior ranks if Dowdy's demise made it into the


Bernie had no objections so I decided to write.

PS: In my next missive I hope to catch up with my subversive friend Waqil, as well

as provide an update on just how well my camel, Spit, is fairing in the raging desert

heat, which is now topping 43 degrees celsius. The lack of cigarettes is also exacting

a small mental toll on me. But until next time, dear readers, a fond farewell. S.Y.



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