Five Days in Hell, Part One

Letter From Iraq

It was nearly dusk on September 7, when we arrived at the outskirts of Tal Afar, Iraq.  On the main highway to Mosul, about a dozen Iraqi policemen at a checkpoint were supervising a frightened exodus of civilian refugees.  For the past week, there had been media reports of escalating violence between resistance fighters and U.S. troops in Tal Afar, and already many of the residents had fled the embattled city.  From American services in the Mosul Airfield, I had learned earlier that day that a major U.S. offensive was about to begin.  The Americans had reinforced their local garrison with an additional battalion of armor and infantry, and I was advised that, within days, the U.S. military was going to “clean house” in Tal Afar.

I intended to enter the city before it was shut down and then send reports about the civilian casualties and possible humanitarian crisis that would result from a major battle.  I knew there would be some risk involved—particularly once the Americans attacked—but I planned to observe the fighting from a safe house, well away from any actual combat.

The sight of U.S.-paid Iraqi police forces monitoring traffic had seemed like a good sign that things were still under control, despite the recent fighting.  As I did not have an exact address for my previous contact, I approached a police checkpoint to ask for assistance.  When I asked to be...

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