Michael's Dispatches

Color of War

Desolate Battles

Western Nineveh Province, Iraq

Desert Battles are unfolding in hidden and faraway places. Bullets snapp through air, then splap through flesh and men fall. Bodies crumple onto the desert, a fly lands on the lip of an open mouth, fingers twitch as the flesh dies and the winds kick up and dust settles on unblinking eyes. The dry earth drinks their sticky blood and they are forgotten. Their families do not know they are dead. They came to kill Americans and innocent Iraqis. Instead, they were killed themselves. In a desert landscape, sometimes the color of a war can bleed out into black and white.


Into the sixth year of war, the missions continue.  Two Blackhawks from 4-6 Air Cavalry Squadron took off from FOB Sykes near Tal Afar, flying in the direction of Syria.  We flew over desert, and over the Sinjar Mountains.


The pilots swam the helicopters through the air.  Along the way, the soldiers in the doors test-fired their machine guns into the wilderness.  These men and women are excellent shots.


We flew by this cement factory.  When you drive near this factory on the ground, you see John Deere tractors and repair shops.  The people here are friendly to Americans.


Near the more populated areas around the Sinjar mountains, many homes look like they might be in Mexico.


The ubiquitous parabolic dishes, found even on mud homes.  This settlement has electricity, a tractor, a motorcycle and water on the ground.


Standard Yezidi architecture.  Many houses are painted white.  That bike-ramp-looking structure on the roof is actually a door.  Some Iraqis say Yezidis are dirty and worship the devil.  Yet Yezidi and other Kurdish communities tend to be far cleaner than those of most other Iraqis.  Despite being minorities, Yezidis and Kurds do not subscribe to the victim mentality endemic to this region.


Interestingly, the people who accuse Yezidis of being devil-worshippers are responsible for the deaths of perhaps a million people in the last few decades. They are the ones who put Yezidis on “reservations,” poured chemical gases on Kurds, set oil wells ablaze, poisoned the water with oil, and encouraged suicide attacks. What do Yezidis want from us? Not much. They want to thank Americans for beating back Saddam. They want Americans to know they appreciate the sacrifice. They don’t ask for much, but since the Iraqi government remains mostly inert, if you’re offering, they’d like to have a school in their community—a real school, not a place of religious indoctrination. They want their kids, including their girls, to get university degrees.

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