I know, I know. It’s hard to believe, but the guy who risked his life to save Jessica Lynch is a lawyer. The textbook spec ops raid on the “hospital” where PFC Lynch was being held would not have happened if a brave Iraqi lawyer named Mohammed hadn’t given us the word. Described as a “gregarious 32-year old lawyer”, Mohammed was in that hospital visiting his wife, a nurse, when he saw Lynch through a window in the room where she lay under a blanket, being beaten by one of the black-clad Iraqi “elite” troops. Mohammed walked six miles before he found some Marines. Approaching them carefully, he told them what he knew.
While Mohammed’s information was digested and turned into the plan for the raid, he went back. Twice in the day that followed, Mohammed went back to the hospital, and back to the Marines to tell them what he saw. The rest you know. Mohammed and his family are now being kept safe at a refugee center. We owe him more, much more. If the new Iraqi government is looking for Supreme Court justices, I have a nominee to suggest. We should honor him as well. For that bravery, he should be made an honorary Marine. Good on ‘ya, Mohammed.
In 1968, at a place called Khe Sanh, an intense battle raged for almost three months in Vietnam. A Marine forward combat base, cut off and surrounded by tens of thousands of North Vietnamese regulars, the Marines at Khe Sanh were supported by the most intense air attacks in modern history. For many days, Air Force and Navy aircraft dropped 5,000 bombs a day on the enemy. Lt. Col. Oliver North saw that air attack first hand. Yesterday, while Task Force Tarawa fought up to a position near Saddam International Airport, Ollie was there, too. He said the air attack on Iraqi forces there was even more intense than at Khe Sanh.
I can’t begin to tell you how proud–and jealous–I am of Ollie. Subbing for him on the radio show is a great honor and fun. But what he’s doing there, with Regimental Combat Team 5 of the First Marine Expeditionary Force is important. Chronicling the exploits of RCT 5 and its commander, named “Fighting Joe” by his men, Ollie is participating in history.
By the end of the day, American Army and Marine warriors were in possession of most of Iraq’s main airport. It’s now Baghdad International Airport, and should be an operating base for coalition forces by tomorrow. And it’s all–according to the French–a huge mistake.
French Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin–pinch-hitting for de Villepin while he recovers from his exhaustion from months of close combat against the American enemy in the U.N. Security Council–said yesterday that the U.S. erred “morally, politically, and strategically” by going to war to remove Saddam. My imagination isn’t fertile enough to come up with that. The French. Making moral judgments about us, and offering strategic and political advice. It’s low comedy. But then again that’s all the French are good for.
CENTCOM continues to deny that we turned out the lights in Baghdad. It would have been easy for us to do, and there’s no reason for us to deny it if it were true. That the regime turned out the lights is much more disturbing. They are, I am convinced, doing two things. First, they are committing atrocities against their own people, and preparing to blame us for them. Second, they are trying to use the darkness to hide their movements of last-ditch resisters, and create nasty surprises for our soldiers who later enter Baghdad. We shall see, in the next few days, whether their plans succeed.
Defense Secretary Rumsfeld has apparently sent the President a memo outlining the need to establish a provisional Iraqi government quickly. If we do, and do it right, the remnants of Saddam’s regime left in Baghdad (those who haven’t fled to Syria or taken refuge in the Palestinian Embassy) will find themselves irrelevant. But how to do it? The president has to take action to keep this new government in the hands of the Iraqis, and not–as Tony Blair urges–give the U.N. control of it. Iraq must be for the Iraqis. Colin Powell delivered that message yesterday to the Eunuchs gathered in Brussels. We have to stick to our guns on that. And that means ditching the efforts by the State Department and the CIA to keep the Iraqi opposition groups out of the provisional government. By trying to pick and choose those who will soon govern Iraq themselves, they are proving that they’re not nearly as smart as they think they are.
Sixty-five Iraqi opposition groups have been united since last fall, waiting for their chance. We need to give it to them, and to allow their leaders to run Iraq. Yes, make them hold free elections quickly. Yes, allow other nations to contribute to humanitarian aid. But to give the U.N. any significant role or to keep the Iraqi opposition out of the interim government will be as great a mistake as his father made in not removing Saddam in 1991.
At dawn today, the First Marine Expeditionary Force kicked in the eastern gates of Baghdad. Fierce fighting has raged throughout the day, and may continue as I write this. I spoke to Oliver North at about 4 P.M. EST, about midnight Baghdad time. Here’s what Ollie told me.
Shortly before dawn, the 2nd Tank Battalion led the assault into the city. It quickly became apparent that this was the toughest fight of the war so far, much tougher than the fight at Nasiriyah. It is also the first standup fight that the uniformed Iraqi army has made, and the first in which the Iraqis have used standard infantry tactics. On entering the city, the Marines began taking heavy fire from them, and it continued through the day. The Marines are advancing steadily, and though the battle continues, the outcome is not in doubt. The only question is how high the price will be to win it.
Ollie spent the day aboard a medevac helo that had been ferrying wounded Marines the seventy-five miles back to the MASH unit set up to serve them. They had made a number of flights, rushing about thirty wounded men to the hospital. By the time we spoke, some had already been flown to Germany to the more sophisticated hospital there. So quick are our medevacs, that the wounded are in doctors’ hands in a matter of a few minutes. That’s because the pilots are willing to take their birds directly into the fight, and the corpsmen routinely risk their own lives to save their wounded fellow Marines.
He said the pilots were amazingly cool under fire, but his highest praise was for the corpsmen. These medics have only one job: keep the wounded alive long enough for them to get to the MASH unit where real doctors can take over. Ollie told me how he watched these men struggle with what he called “extraordinary courage and skill” to save the wounded, going out into the killing zone to do it. All but three carried on that helo today survived.
You haven’t heard this news anywhere other than on Ollie’s Common Sense Radio show, and haven’t read it anywhere else but here. None of the television crews embedded with the troops can stop long enough–or turn on enough lights during the battle–in order to bring it to you. It is only by God’s grace and Ollie’s courage and luck with his sat phone that I can tell you what he told me.
We all need to say a little prayer tonight for those in the fight. And tomorrow, and through the next few days until this battle is over. It shouldn’t take much longer than that, but the embedded fedayeen are a considerable danger. One reliable report today said that the terrorists were now imposed on civilian homes, where they now base themselves. They want to make Baghdad into Mogadishu. But they still don’t get it. We aren’t playing games this time, and neither Les Aspin or the U.N. is in charge.
The Iraqis have more fight left in them than we had thought. And they are still under more of a command and control structure than we thought could function at this point in the war. Nevertheless, this battle will finish like the others, with a decisive Iraqi defeat. You would think that by now most would have surrendered or fled, but a great many haven’t. There are–supposedly–thousands of would-be “martyrs” in Baghdad. If they want to die, our troops will accommodate them. Their casualties will exceed ours by a ratio of 300 or 400 to 1. That is the price the Iraqis have been paying all through this war. The numbers of Iraqi dead in Baghdad alone will be very, very high.
It may be that Saddam is alive. The videotape of Saddam touring Baghdad released today doesn’t appear genuine, but it may yet prove to be. I thought the whole exercise was faked, intended to give those who are still trying to make a peace deal on his behalf the incentive to keep trying. Even if he is dead, those left of the regime would still benefit from that. The chance for a deal is long gone. And if Saddam is still alive, he won’t be for much longer.