On June 29, American and Iraqi soldiers were again fighting side-by-side as soldiers from Charley Company 1-12 CAV, led by Captain Clayton Combs, and Iraqi soldiers from the 5th IA, closed in on a village on the outskirts of Baqubah. The village had the apparent misfortune of being located near a main road — about 3.5 miles from FOB Warhorse — that al Qaeda liked to bomb. Al Qaeda had taken over the village. As Iraqi and American soldiers moved in, they came under light contact, but the real threat were the bombs planted in the roads and maybe in the houses.
The firefight progressed. American missiles were fired. The enemy might have been trying to bait Iraqi and American soldiers into ambush, but it did not work. The village was riddled with bombs, some of them large enough to destroy a tank. One by one, experts destroyed the bombs, leaving small and large craters in the unpaved roads.
The village was abandoned. All the people were gone. But where?
Soldiers from 1-12 Cav allowed me to go to the village in one of their M-1 tanks.
As often happens in Iraq, the first time I meet American combat soldiers, we are invariably about to go off and do something serious. Although the soldiers usually do not know me from Adam, they are courteous and professional, and always watching out for me. And so it was with LT Baxter, who was commanding the M-1 tank that I’d be riding along in, and who made sure I didn’t break my neck getting into the tank. I nearly pulled him off getting up, but luckily he was strong.
The tankers drove off FOB Warhorse, and only a few miles later, we arrived at the outskirts of the abandoned village.
American soldiers began unloading dozens of body bags, and the Iraqi soldiers, with grim looks, carried them into the village.
Captain Clayton Combs has been fighting hard in Diyala for about ten months, much of it side-by-side with Iraqi soldiers from the 5th Division. Each time I’ve come into contact with the 5th, they seem better than the rest, and American officers and sergeants who work with them have good things to report about them, saying that although the 5th still has far to go, and cannot sustain itself logistically, it can fight.
Captain Combs said the 3-25 has never run away from combat, and never refused to close on the enemy. Combs said, “I’ve fought with 3-25 (this Iraqi unit) for 10 months in Diyala and they have always come when I am in trouble. They always go on patrols when I ask. They never back down.”
I asked Captain Combs to repeat what he said, making sure he realized I was planning to quote him directly. A veteran like Combs would be unlikely to append his name to such words if he weren’t dead serious. Captain Combs repeated his words and stuck by them. He then demonstrated that faith when we took off into the danger zone with nine soldiers from 5th IA: just Captain Combs, Iraqi soldiers and me. As we passed through the village, Captain Combs pointed out the nice houses, saying the people had been simple farmers with comfortable homes and lives.
Until al Qaeda came.
The houses all were empty. We passed by two donkeys each shot in the neck. Al Qaeda had killed their livestock.
Al Qaeda often plants bombs inside the dead bodies of the animals and people they’ve killed. They have even rigged children’s bodies.
Some steps later, we passed by a crater — one of many in this village — made on June 29 when bomb experts destroyed an IED.
Then a few steps beyond the crater, Captain Combs pointed out a car that had been filled with explosives. American soldiers had destroyed it with a Thermite grenade.
A short walk later, as we passed more abandoned homes, I saw an empty AK-47 magazine on the ground. The houses were in shambles: broken glass and ski masks littered the area. The Iraqi soldier with the goggles saw a photograph on the ground, and picked it up.
We walked into the palm groves nearby. There was a terrible stench. The heat and the vegetation reminded me of the Killing Fields in Cambodia. I had visited the Killing Fields shortly before the most recent trip to Iraq…
Click here to read the full dispatch — with graphic photos — from Michael Yon from Iraq.
— Michael Yon is an independent writer, photographer, and former Green Beret who was embedded in Iraq for nine months in 2005. He has returned to Iraq for 2007 to continue reporting on the war. He is entirely reader supported and publishes his work at www.michaelyon-online.com.