Quatrain by Medler, John - HTML preview
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January 18, 2013. Abandoned soccer field. Williamsburg, Virginia.
His code name was “Haytham,” the “Young Hawk,” named for his sharp eyesight. Fifty-one year-old assassin Mohammed el Faya lay down on his stomach, looking through the scope of his long-range sniper rifle. He calmly breathed in and breathed out, lining up the site. Six hundred yards away was a large toy monster truck. Attached with duct tape to the side monster truck was a six-foot tall plastic red rod. At the top of the rod was a red and white target. El Faya pressed a button on a remote control, and the monster truck began moving from one side of the soccer field to the other, with the target bobbing up and down on the swinging red stick. When the truck moved to a point near the goalie box, el Faya calmly pressed the trigger in rapid succession. The red and white plastic target was annihilated. But even more impressive, every bullet also hit the white goal post behind the truck. El Faya was ready. He rested on his back, and pulled out a Marlboro, contemplating what lay ahead of him in two days. He was happy The Planner had not given him the Kirkwood school assignment. He thought the killing of children was wrong under any circumstances, and thought for a moment about his small brother, killed at the hand of Saddam Hussein. No, he was glad that another Abisali had been chosen for that assignment. He could not kill a child. He only had to kill one person, an unworthy and bad person, a defiler of the faith. He would not lose any sleep. His untraceable phone buzzed, indicating a text message. It was from The Planner. “Phase Two Ready. See attachment for planned route.” He opened the attachment, and viewed the map where his target would be traveling in two days. He thought for a moment about vantage points. He would have to case the area, but he believed this was doable. He sent a text message, “Confirmed.” He put his phone away and took out a cloth, and cleaned his gun. His aim would be true this time. This time….
July 8, 1982. Dujail, Iraq (50 miles north of Baghdad).
Eighteen young, angry militants from the Iraqi Shiite Dawa Party gathered in the small stone house which they had converted into a temporary headquarters. Every man in the room hated Saddam Hussein. Every man in the room had a relative who had been imprisoned, tortured or killed by Saddam. Mohammed el Faya, a tall, lanky brown-bearded 20 year-old with piercing brown eyes and a sharp nose, was especially interested in the mission. Two years earlier, Mohammed’s brother Salmon, who was then eight years old, had been playing football on a small dirt street in Dujail when he had experienced the inhumanity of Saddam Hussein’s Revolutionary Guard. Salmon el Faya had been given the soccer ball from a traveling Red Cross worker, and it was his pride and joy. He carried it everywhere. He had mastered the flip throw-in and even the scissors kick. He was far better at football than any of the older boys, and he hoped one day to play on the Iraqi National Team. On that afternoon two years ago, he had been practicing flipping the ball over his head and onto his shoulders, where he attempted to cradle the ball between the top of his shoulder blades and the back of his neck. It was a tough move, but Salmon felt he could master it. No one had known then that President Hussein would be coming through town that afternoon with his motorcade. Had his family known, Salmon most certainly would not have been playing in the street. Oblivious to the oncoming Mercedes Benzes, Salmon flipped the ball from his foot to his thigh, then back to his foot, then over his shoulder, where he kicked it with the outside edge of his foot, attempting to pop the ball over his shoulders for the neck-shoulder-blade move. He lost control of the ball and it went down the dirt street and under the lead car of the motorcade. Salmon had not wanted to lose the ball, so he ran toward the front car. The car honked loudly at him and a man stuck his head out the window telling Salmon to move. Salmon tried to explain to the man that his ball was under the car. It was at this time that Mohammed el Faya heard the news about the motorcade and ran from his house out onto the street to find his brother. The crowd was thick and was being corralled to the side of the street by Saddam’s armed guards. Mohammed tried to yell at his brother, but the crowd made too much noise for Salmon to hear.
The next moment was like a slow-motion dream that he had seen a hundred times in his sleep since then. A burly guard exited the car, armed with an AK-47. Without the slightest hesitation, the guard sprayed a volley of automatic fire into Salmon’s head, chest, and legs, killing him instantly. The lead car of the motorcade then drove over the boy’s lifeless body, which thumped loudly under the wheels of the Mercedes. The crowd was outraged, but the guard wasn’t hearing any complaints. He sprayed another set of rounds in the air as a warning, threatening anyone who dared to challenge him or Saddam’s authority. Before Saddam left the town, he stopped his car and walked to the edge of the street, where he plucked a small child from the hands of its mother like a friendly politician. Saddam paused, smiling, holding the child up. Another guard took out a Polaroid Instamatic and took a picture of Saddam with the child. Saddam turned to the frightened mother and, returning her child to her, said, “It is so nice to see the children of Dujail.” Saddam patted the child on the head and drove off in his car.
Mohammed ran into the street wailing in anger and grief, holding his dead little brother, his small white cotton shirt drenched in red blood. At that moment, holding his brother, he vowed to get vengeance on Saddam Hussein. He promised that he, Mohammed el Faya, would put the bullet through Saddam’s brain.
For the next two years, he trained extensively with firearms. He learned to use American weapons, Russian weapons, and cruder models. However, he was most interested in sniper rifles. He had been a very good shot as a child. His father had let Mohammed and Salmon guard the family’s small flock of sheep from coyotes and other predators. Mohammed had incredible vision, the kind that comes once in a generation. He was determined to be skilled at the most sophisticated long-range sniper weapons. His father had given him his Accuracy International sniper rifle, and Mohammed soon became expert in shooting it.
Four months ago, some of the young men in town who had similar grudges against Saddam decided to form a team to stage an assassination. They recruited an older Shiite military fighter from the town called Sabat to plan the mission. Sabat’s son had been taken to one of Saddam’s prisons five years ago and had never returned. He had a salt and pepper beard, and, even though he was grossly overweight, he had the full respect of all the young men. The first part of Sabat’s plan was to plant spies in as many places in Baghdad as they could. The sole mission of the spies was to learn when Saddam would be coming again to Dujail. Sure enough, last week, a Dujaili spy working at a restaurant in Baghdad had overheard two generals in the Republican Guard talking about Saddam’s plan to travel to Dujail today. Saddam was planning to give a speech thanking local conscripts in Dujail for fighting against Iran in the Iraq-Iran War. Sabat quickly organized the men to finalize plans for the assassination attempt. There was a place in the town very near the place where Salmon had been gunned down where the main road ran through a very narrow stretch between several houses. The plan was to wait until the convoy reached the chokepoint between the houses, and then one of the men would drive a large truck out of an alley at high speed and smash the lead car. A second man would then drive a petroleum truck behind the back car of the convoy. Then Saddam would have nowhere to go. Rocket launchers would then be used from the roofs of the houses on the remaining cars. There was a metal water tower just on the edge of the town. The militants built a small perch on the tower for the marksman, Mohammed. He would take out Saddam if they tried to clear him from the cars. The remaining men would rush in from the date orchards on the side of town and shoot anything that moved coming out of the cars.
Many in the town of 75,000 knew of the plan, but everyone was sworn to secrecy. Sabat rallied the eighteen men at the planning meeting.
“I want each of you to look at that dirty, flattened soccer ball nailed to the wall.” started Sabat. Sabat put his hand on Mohammed’s shoulder. “All of you remember Little Salmon el Faya, Mohammed’s brother. He was one of the finest football players this country has ever seen. I have no doubt he would have made the National Team. And he was everything young Mohammed had in the world. And we all remember the day two years ago when Saddam’s men mercilessly gunned him down in the street for NOTHING! Nothing at all!” The crowd of men became agitated and started nodding. “He was eight! And each of you has a similar story. Malik, Saddam took your father and grinded him to a pulp in a wood chipping machine! He, too had done nothing at all! This man Saddam Hussein is a monster, the most evil man on earth! And I am sure you all know the story of my son, who was taken from me in the night, with no charges, no trial, and no word. And every night, I worry that he is being tortured by Saddam in some dark prison somewhere. Our country is paralyzed in fear by this man. No one will take action because everyone is afraid. That is why the ones who must kill Saddam are those who have nothing left to live for and nothing left to fear—the ones Saddam has rendered walking ghosts. We are those men. Saddam will be killed this day, I swear to you. And when we have killed him, and have spit on his grave, we shall dance and rejoice, and then, and only then, will we inflate this dirty little soccer ball and have a grand game in Little Salmon’s memory!”
The men erupted in cheers, waving their guns in the air.
“To your stations! And may Allah guide your sights so that your aim is true!” The crowd of eighteen men filtered out of the house, determined to carry out their mission and rid the world of Saddam Hussein.
With his sniper rifle bag slung over his shoulder and his magazine of cartridges in a canvas pouch tied on a string around his neck, Mohammed began the long climb to the top of the water tower. The tower was over four football fields away from the place where Saddam would be passing, but that was well within the 870-yard range of his Accuracy International Arctic Warfare bolt action sniper rifle. Mohammed was a skilled climber, having practiced climbing on the rugged hills near his home in Dujail. This tower had large bolts at regular intervals, which served as excellent handholds. Normally, climbing the tower would pose no problem.
Unfortunately, however, this morning, Mohammed had woken up with an incredible pain on the left flank of his lower back. For the last two weeks, he had an incredible amount of difficulty urinating. This morning, however, was worse than anything he had ever experienced. What Mohammed did not know was that he had a kidney stone, a rather large one, and it was blocking the opening from his ureter to his bladder. Kidney stones often were caused by a lack of water, and that certainly was the case here in this town with frequent temperatures over 110 degrees. As he grabbed on to one of the metal struts during his climb, the pain stabbed at him. He began sweating and was feverish, but he was steadfast in his determination to kill Saddam, so he forced himself through the pain until he had scaled to the top of the tower.
At the top of the tower, there was a small flat metal perch, which had been broadened earlier in the week by some of the men in the town with pieces of plywood and 2 by 4s. Mohammed unrolled a two-foot square, black, rubber mat near the edge of the perch. This was to stop the gun from sliding on the plywood. Mohammed took the rifle out of the black canvas bag and set the bag behind him near his feet. He unfolded the integrated bipod of the slender weapon and set it down on the mat. The Arctic Warfare sniper rifle was built in 1988 by a British company as an upgrade to the Precision Marksman rifle specifically for use by the Swedish Army. Because the Swedes often needed to work in cold environments, the specially designed rifle featured special de-icing features allowing it to be used at -40 degrees Farenheit. The stockhole, bolt, magazine release and trigger guard on the rifle were made bigger so that they could be used with heavy winter mittens. Even though the rifle was originally intended for cold climates, however, it became a popular sniper rifle even in warmer climates, and was used in conflicts around the world. Many such rifles had been used in the Afghanistan War and the Iraq War. Mohammed’s father had smuggled the gun out during his service in Saddam’s army before he had to retire for disability reasons.
Mohammed removed from his pouch the ten-round detachable box magazine filled with .338 Lapua Magnums and connected it to the chassis of the rifle. He hoped he only needed a few shots. He laid down on his stomach and peered through the German-made Schmidt & Bender PMII telescopic sight. He focused the sight and was quickly able to see the critical section of road through the intersecting black lines in the scope. If Saddam got out of the car, his job should not be too difficult. Now all he had to do was wait.
As he lay down on his stomach, his midsection was entirely uncomfortable. His pain in his back was getting worse. “Why do I have to get sick today?” he thought. “The one day when I am needed most.” It was unclear when Saddam’s convoy would be coming. All they knew was that it was sometime in the morning. Mohammed’s thoughts began to turn to Salmon. They had been so happy together. He remembered happy times around the family dinner table, eating his mother’s lentil stew, Salmon telling jokes and his mother laughing. There was the time Salmon had been stung by a bee, but was convinced it was a scorpion. And there were times spent in the hills, just he and his brother, talking and wondering what their futures might bring. Anger swelled within him again as he remembered the soccer ball incident with Saddam Hussein. He tried his breathing exercises, slowly breathing in and out to obtain the focus and clarity needed for the shot. He would only get one or two shots at most, and they better be good.
He waited for about an hour and a half, and now he was getting concerned. The pain in his back was incredible, but that is not what bothered him. He could withstand pain for his brother. It was the constant urge to urinate. He was tapping his foot back and forth and trying to think of math problems or anything else he could think of to get his mind off the problem. He could not leave his post now. Saddam could be here any minute. He thought of a story his mother had once told him about three goats, a wise man called Azaram, and a pot filled with never-ending food. He liked that story. He started thinking of the story to keep his mind off his physical problems. Soon, however, he could hold it no more. He moved the gun back and forth to survey the surrounding countryside with his rifle scope. As far as he could see, Saddam’s convoy was nowhere in sight. If he just left for a minute, he could surely make it in time.
Mohammed El Faya stood up and walked to the back of the platform. Mohammed pulled down his brown trousers and began to relieve himself off the back of the platform. Just then, he heard a commotion in the town below. He turned his head to look over his shoulder and saw the dust cloud of the motorcade coming down the road to Dujail. “Of all the luck!” he thought. He finished his business and then quickly spun around to get back into position. As he did so, he caught his foot on the strap of the rifle bag and he tripped. When his weight came crashing down on the board, the plywood tilted upward, knocking the gun on its side, and sending it sliding down the plywood where it began to veer towards the edge of the board.
Meanwhile, Saddam’s line of white Mercedes Benzes was getting close to position. The huge gray dump truck driven by his friend J’aana screamed down the alley at high speed and smashed the lead Benz into the wall of one of the houses. The men inside tried to lower their windows to shoot but the windows were jammed against the side of the truck.
Mohammed slid quickly across the platform and dove for the gun. He managed to catch it by one of the legs of the bipod just before it fell off the tower. However, this left Mohammed half on the plywood, and half off, with one leg dangling. He threw the gun up on the platform first and then hoisted himself up.
The silver petrol truck pulled from an alley five streets away and blocked the exit of the caravan of white cars. Inside Saddam’s vehicle, which was in the middle, his Chief of Security, a dark, tanned, burly man with a mustache much like Saddam’s, quickly surveyed the scene and could see they were in an ambush. If the petrol truck exploded, they could all be incinerated. The only safe course was to get President Hussein out of the vehicle. He would have to shield him with his body, in case there were snipers on the roofs. With grim determination, he reached for the door handle.
Mohammed quickly re-set the gun on the mat. The two trucks were in position. Damn it! He lied down on his stomach, but he was still sighting the scope when Saddam’s Chief of Security dashed him from the car. Mohammed fired quickly, much more quickly than he would normally take to aim, and his first two shots hit the bullet-proof glass of the open door, forming spider web cracks, but not shattering the glass. As the Chief cleared the door with Saddam, he was within Mohammed’s sights. Mohammed fired again, this time cleanly hitting the Chief of Security in the head. There he was, Saddam! Out in the open, he was ducking and heading for the door of a house! Just then, Saddam’s guards started filling the streets, shooting at anything that moved with automatic weapons. He had a millisecond to aim and put Saddam down. Saddam yanked open the wooden door of the house and Mohammed shot three bullets in rapid fire succession through the door frame which splintered the wood, destroying half the door. Each of the three bullets missed Saddam’s head by an inch. But he was too late. Saddam was safely inside the house. Mohammed cursed himself and then turned towards Saddam’s guards. He took four more shots and managed to take down one more guard but then his magazine was out of bullets. He reached over to put in the next magazine and then realized with horror that the other three magazines had slid off the tower during his fall. He had no ammunition left. He would be a sitting duck up here. He still had some time before the guards got to the tower, as they were busy fending off gunfire from his other comrades who were coming in from the orchards. Mohammed packed up his weapon in the canvas bag, and began to scale down the tower.
The gunfire between the Republican Guard and the Dawa militants continued for about fifteen minutes. It was hard for Mohammed to tell who was winning. Mohammed was about half way down the tower when he heard the chopper blades. Saddam was sending in reinforcements. He looked towards the horizon and saw clouds of dust near the road. He shimmied down the rest of the tower as fast as he could.
Five minutes later, Saddam’s reinforcements arrived. Dozens of troops fanned out in the streets, shooting at everyone, even women. When they reached the petrol truck, they fanned out through the houses, looking for the President. They found him in an upstairs bedroom, hiding in a closet. They formed a phalanx of soldiers around him, taking him up to the roof of the small house, where they set up a perimeter. Their first concern was snipers. In about one half hour they had shot and killed everyone in the vicinity who was on the rooftops. The only other high vantage point was the water tower outside town, but when they looked through their binoculars, they could see no on at the top of the tower. They took Saddam across several rooftops, jumping from building to building. After jumping over about five houses, they led Saddam down a series of stairs to the ground floor. A military Humvee sped right in front of the door. The soldiers put down ground cover and then hustled Saddam into the Humvee. Safe inside, Saddam cursed in anger at the Dujaili people. The Humvee went through the backstreets, and was able to get back to the main highway. Saddam’s soldiers killed the remaining militants in the firefight, which last another three hours. The assassination attempt had failed.
Three days later, Saddam returned to Dujail, this time with dozens of armored vehicles. Saddam ordered large transport vehicles into the main part of town. Hundreds of soldiers went from door to door, rounding up townspeople. Soldiers grabbed young boys out of the arms of their mothers, who were screaming and clawing at the soldiers to stop. Over 393 men and 394 women and children were placed in the transports and imprisoned at Abu Ghraib. Most of the men, and some of the women, were mercilessly tortured. Forty men died during interrogation. Over the next few months, 148 of the captured men confessed to having some part in the attempted assassination attempt. On July 23, 1984, Saddam Hussein signed the death sentences for 96 of the 148 men. He also ordered that their homes, buildings, date palms, and fruit orchards be razed to the ground. In 1989, on orders of Shu’bat al-Mukhabarat al ‘Askariyya, Saddam Hussein’s Directory of the Department of Military Intelligence, ten children from Dujail were executed.
Mohammed el Faya, however, was not among those captured, tortured, or executed. He had fled the town in guilt after the failed assassination attempt. He vowed that day that he would find some way to murder Saddam Hussein for his crimes. But that would have to wait for another day.
What Mohammed could not imagine that day was that sometime in the future, he would hate someone even more than Saddam Hussein.