It was mid-day in Sadr, the sun was its hottest in the day, Oldaba and

The Shadow of Death
Nelson Borrego
It was a little over mid-day in Sadr; and the sun was at its hottest. Tarek and his 3rd squad
of the Liberation Army had been awaiting the American Convoy since early dawn. The trucks
would be full of ammunition, night vision equipment, food, and most importantly, water. Tarek
knew this area well; he had lived in Sadr for about 10 years during the reign of Saddam Hussein.
He had suffered then, and he was suffering now. The American ideal of democracy was
threatening to destroy his people, his beliefs, his very way of life. The Americans didn’t
understand their way of life, or so he thought. How could they? They barely understood their
own. What kind of army sends their women into battle and deems civilians military targets.
Tarek felt his facial scar, his reminder of vengeance ever since the American fighter
bombers killed his family. His family was military targets in American eyes; he gleamed. Tarek
was not a very big man; he was a slim 5’9 with a short beard and hard face. His hair was a dark
thick blond. His eyes were narrow and concentrated; they were almost always low as if inward
looking, and his skin a dark pale brown. He was an Arab Muslin. Tarek was a dead man
walking; his face always held the resemblance of the infamous 1000 yard stares; he had nothing
to live for, nothing to look forward to, and nothing to die for. Revenge he thought, this is what
gives men life. He had to avenge the death of his two sons and his wife. This is why he was
chosen to lead the 3rd squad in for the ambush. Sweat ran down Tarek’s back and hands; he had
been buried in the rubble for over five hours. Every now and again he could feel sweat drip from
his forehead onto the ground, sometimes landing in his eyes and burning them. Even after living
in this climate for 27 years, Tarek still couldn’t understand what it would be like to live without
such extreme heat. He was however, thankful for it, the Americans, he knew, were not as well
adapted as he and his brothers were to the heat. He knew there was no turning back. They would
lay there until the Americans arrived. Hopefully, this attack would give them the much needed
night vision equipment they desired, along with the necessary ammunition. Tarek reached into
his right leg and took out the mirror he had in his pocket. He lifted it, and waved it around a bit
in a pre-determined symbol, indicating no sign of enemy presence. Beyond the rubble about forty
feet directly across in a half-blown motel came the mirrored reply. Shafeek was the signaler: he
was the one with the Russian RPG. His squad was only equipped with one, complete with three
additional rockets. Tarek knew he would have to make each rocket count. This is why he granted
Shafeek three riflemen armed with the Kalashnikov 47 to provide cover and distraction, and only
left two for him.
Shafeek had his own reason for joining the Liberation Army. He was a devout believer;
and before the American occupation, he was a freelance mercenary. He had been a squad leader
himself back in Afghanistan, when the Russians attempted an invasion of his homeland. Shafeek
was a very slim man, slightly smaller than Tarek at about 5’7 with light skin. He looked well for
a man in his early 40’s he had no hair, but no one dared to comment or ask him about it, his was
a full beard about 4 inches long, dark brown in nature. His eyes were green and soft as that of an
innocent child. He had studied biochemistry in England for three years .His blood was not pure
Arabian, it was tainted by the presence of Eurasian blood. It was easily discovered by others
since it was seen from his lighter skin pigmentation, and his body features. His father’s lineage
lead back to someplace in Europe. Broken and barred with such confusion and frustration,
Shafeek turned his hatred to the West. Although confused and full of anger, Shafeek, was also
very stealthy and his specialty was Improvised Explosive Devices. There was one main
difference between Shafeek and Tarek, Shafeek loved battles. His very presence in battle would
make him trigger happy, sometimes firing pre-maturely. To him, war was a game and the best
players would always win. You could see the contentment in his eyes after a frenzied kill. He
loved what he did. On the other hand, Tarek saw war as a necessary evil; he fought it because he
had to, because he was trained for it. After the death of his family four years ago in 2002 Tarek
had begun training with Guzman the local trainer for the Liberation Army. Guzman had taught
him everything he needed to know about their new enemy, the Americans.
Tarek sighed and rested from these thoughts. A glimmer of light came from Shafeek. It
was the enemy presence signal. Tarek looked to his second in command for the binoculars.
Karish passed them over while nodding with a smile; his smile reminded him of his own sons.
Karish was, in Tarek’s opinion, too young to be fighting such a war. He was a mere 17 and was
looked down upon as too inexperienced compared to the other men in the unit. In fact, Karish
was the youngest of the men assigned to Tarek. Although young, Karish was smart .He had a
knack for strategies. Very few others had his gift. Hence he was Tarek’s second in command.
Tarek stared into Karish’s eyes as the binoculars switched ownership. Karish had dark black
pupils held within sad tired eyes. He had rich black hair. His mother had been killed when he
was only 12 by a group of Saddam Hussein’s men; they wanted to rape her and she resisted. The
reflection of horror was almost permanently imprinted into his pupils. Karish was raised by
Guzman. Karish’s father had been killed when he was much younger by a Syrian terrorist,
however painful; he was rumored to have royal bloodlines. Tarek shook the thoughts from his
mind and attempted to concentrate on the present. This was what they had been waiting for all
night. In the distance coming from the East were two American Humvees. Quickly, Tarek took
the mirror and signaled to hold fire until he fired first, reminding himself of Shafeek’s itchy
finger. The Humvees were roaring towards them leaving a trail of grey puffy smoke as they
entered the rubble laden area. As they entered, the drivers slowed, scouting for any ambushers.
Tarek knew this was the riskiest moment of his ambush. Americans were edgy in urban areas,
and they would pull the trigger at the sight of any moving object. Tarek had chosen an area
without too many citizens that would cause suspicions. The Humvees suddenly stopped. The
gunner mounted on the 360 degree .50 caliber mounted turret began firing into the rubble around
him. Tarek could only hope that Shafeek would follow his orders of holding his fire. The
American Humvee gunner was firing very near his area in short bursts He cried out something in
English to the gunner on the other Humvee, and he began laughing. It became evident they were
testing the area for less experienced ambushers.
The fact that the American gunner laughed was a good sign of their over confidence,
Tarek looked at Karish and noticed his limp body. He was dead. The Humvees began moving
again. The trucks closed in on the rubble. The shootings the American Humvee Gunners had
done bounced some of the rubble around and made the terrain more difficult to cross. The trucks
would have to slow in order to cross; and this would be the textbook recipe for the perfect
ambush. The American Deuce II trucks slowed. “Thank Allah” sighed Tarek. In the rear of the
trucks were the two flank escorts; they were in what the Americans called a buggy. To Tarek
they were fast moving coffins, with little armor. The buggies had taken a defensive stand, one in
the front of the first truck and another on the back of the third truck. Slowly and quietly, Tarek
lifted his Dragunov Romak 3 Sniper Rifle and aimed for the first trucks frontal wheel. With that
wheel blown off, the truck wouldn’t stop, but it would slow it down enough to make the entire
convoy a sitting duck. Tarek placed his index finger on the trigger. He felt it, hesitating with the
knowledge of what repercussions the pull would have. This is it he thought; he looked through
the lenses of his Romak 3, held his breath, and squeezed the trigger. The Romak 3 did nothing…
Tarek checked the rifle and noticed it wasn’t cocked. How foolish of him he thought. He pulled
back the cocking bolt and once again held his breath, aimed for the moving tire, and squeezed as
he exhaled. The Romak 3 released a thundering sound of hell, the 7.62 mm round ripped through
the frontal tire of the first truck almost instantly. The surprise attack caught the Americans off
guard, and the shock of a sniper had the troops manning the turrets hitting the ground. This
however was exactly Shafeek’s specialty. As if on cue, Shafeek’s rifleman along with Tarek’s
own jumped from their cover and started moving towards the American Buggies. Firing their AK
47’s at full auto, they finally hit a 5 gallon reserve tank on the front buggy causing it to explode.
To the sound of the rifle fire the second buggy seemingly taken aback by the coordination of the
insurgent attack attempted to flee and open the way for the trucks escape. Shafeek however saw
the maneuver in time and released a hell-ridden RPG Rocket straight for the reversing buggy.
The sound was like one of a screeching banshee. The rocket was slow so it missed hitting the
vehicle, however a good piece of shrapnel tore through the light buggy and the pilot and turret
gunner were killed. Tarek looked around towards the west to see if the Humvees were returning.
If they hadn’t heard the rifle fire, they would have surely heard the distinct sound of the RPG.
Knowing time was of the essence, Tarek came out from beneath the rubble. His riflemen were
holding two American truck drivers hostage. The third one, who was seemingly the leader, was
dead with an M9 pistol in his hand. Tarek assumed his riflemen had encountered some resistance
with the third one. It was of no matter. He ordered one of the riflemen who was stationed with
him to return for Karish and load him in one of the trucks. He then ordered the immediate
execution of the two American truck drivers. This was his time for vengeance. One of the
Americans seemingly knowing what Tarek had ordered threw himself aground crying. Tarek
shook his head and kicked the American to the ground shoving his face in the dirt. He looked at
Shafeek who was picking up the third truck driver’s M9 pistol as a souvenir and said, “This is
what democracy does to warriors, what it does to nations, and what it does to honor…” He shook
his head “It breaks it all down, we must avoid this for our people.” Shafeek laughed and shot the
second truck driver who was attempting to calm the first one. “The Americans aren’t warriors,
they are businessmen… and this is surely a bad business for them, no?”
Tarek ordered the three riflemen who were staring at the execution to check the trucks
and ready them for departure. The last American truck driver was still wallowing around on the
ground with the heel of Tarek’s foot on his high back. Shafeek looked at Tarek “Comrade, it
behooves us to finish this and leave before the Humvees return.” Tarek turned his sights away
from the pathetic American and looked at Shafeek with a nod of agreement. He lifted the crying
American to his feet, a young boy not much older than Karish, but he was light skinned, blond
with green eyes and a freckled face; his face was red from the fear and crying. Shafeek offered
his M9, Tarek aimed and fired a single shot at the boy’s heart. The American soldier was taken
by the shot and fell backwards to the ground. No blood was seen, surprised Tarek aimed and
fired for the forehead, this time the shot held true and the American was with certainty dead.
“Harder to kill than rats, eh?” said Shafeek, but Tarek was reaching into the American’s vest.
What had stopped the bullet from reaching his heart? Tarek thought, he groped around in the
boy’s vest. One of the riflemen came reporting to Shafeek, “Trucks are ready for departure and
Karish is loaded sir” “Allah’s countenance has smiled upon us.” spoke Shafeek. Shafeek looked
onto Tarek “Shall we head out?” Tarek was too focused on pulling out, what seemed to be a
small leather book from the soldiers vest. It was riddled with smoke and dust from what
appeared like many months in Iraq. He brushed some of it off with the palm of his hand. It had a
bullet stuck in it. The bullet from the M9 he had fired first. Tarek looked at it and pulled the
bullet off the fragile book. The book had a title, but Tarek couldn’t read it. It was in American
English. He saw fit to keep such a magical book with him. Maybe it would stop a bullet for him
too he thought.
Shafeek touched Tarek’s shoulder lightly as he was putting away the little black book in
his rebel vest.” I can read some English, Tarek, I will read it to you after we get back if you
want.” Tarek looked back and said “Alright, lets go.” With this, Shafeek and the rifleman
followed him to the first truck. The rifleman smiled and asked Shafeek if Tarek had even noticed
that they had changed the blown out wheel. Shafeek sneered back at the rifleman as if telling him
to shun his pride in a time of war. Tarek heard a faint engine sound to the west; the two
American Humvees had returned and were roaring down to Tarek’s position. The five rifleman
armed with the Kalashnikovs attempted to engage the Humvee, but to no avail. They were
mowed down instantly by the .50 caliber machine guns. Shafeek still with the RPG threw
himself into a prone position aiming the rocket towards one of the Humvees. Tarek saw Shafeek
firing the RPG. The rocket sang its awful tune and hit the frontal armor of the first Humvee,
making it catch fire from the oil in the engine. Tarek went for the additional rocket. He turned in
an effort to bring Shafeek with him; instead, the second Humvee continued to Tarek’s position.
It stopped short of 90 ft from Tarek and opened all four doors simultaneously. Shafeek had no
other weapon, he was fresh out of rockets and Tarek had left his rifle in the truck and dropped his
m9 while searching the American boy. Five American soldiers, one of them a sergeant ran out
with M16’s in hand aiming at their heads saying something in English. Tarek understood
nothing. Shafeek smiled sheepishly at Tarek, “Where’s my souvenir?” Tarek released a glum
laugh. “At least we completed our mission… here… you can have mine.” Tarek felt into his
breast pocket where he had put away the little black book. The American Sergeant yelled
something, but Tarek looked up and yelled “Surrender” to no avail. The American did not
understand; he aimed his rifle to Tarek. Tarek reached nonetheless for the book and held his
arms high for the American to see he was unarmed. The American sergeant fired one round to
his head, and it was the end of Tarek. Shafeek stared at his leader fall backwards, reminded of
the earlier scene with the American boy, except, this time the little book had not stopped a bullet,
instead it had caused one. The hands of Tarek lay limp with the holed book on his right hand.
The American sergeant came and took Shafeek. He stared at him. He was confounded by his
physical appearance, but he checked him throughout finding nothing, nothing useful to him at
least. One of the American soldiers began to check on Tarek’s garments and looked at the black
book. The American’s name was James, and he called another American named Chris to look at
the book with a hole in it. They seemed fascinated by something. The book lay open; it lay open
by the limp dead finger of Tarek, who was pointing to a sentence with a number and some
American name on it, possibly some diary Shafeek thought, it read Luke 23:33-34. The bullet
whole ripped the first part of the sentence, however Tarek’s finger pointed to its ending “Father,
forgive them for they know not what they do…” Shafeek looked up to James. The American
seemed infuriated, without warning James aimed and his fire was true.