1 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 2 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 3 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 4 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… 5 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 6 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 7 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 8 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.