The New York Times
If you look at the whole arc of this thing, it used to be easy in the beginning, but it was never easy. I remember, literally the first day, driving into Safwan, which is the first town on the border when you cross over. It’s where they signed the surrender in 1991. And I went in there thinking that this is probably going to be something like what I saw in Afghanistan, which was cheering crowds and people throwing their turbans off, and everybody happy to see the American forces. And that wasn’t the case at all. To me, it looked like we’d pried the doors off a mental institution, and there were a bunch of people standing around with their jaws hanging open. Some people were absolutely horrified, people were crying, some people were cheering, some people were — you could tell how afraid they were. Some people, you could sense that there was emotion that they didn’t want to express, so they didn’t. There was a lot of uncertainty.
But it was pretty scary, too. I remember that moment when I arrived in Safwan: the great concern of many of the people there — they were all Shiites — was that there were secret police all over the place, and as soon as the Americans left, the secret police were going to come in and arrest everybody and kill them. So everyone was totally horrified and really afraid to talk to us, and it was really, really dangerous because there were Iraqi Army people all over the place, and there were guys taking their uniforms off, there were tanks up the road and stuff going off, and it was really, really crazy, and it wasn’t anything like Afghanistan. I mean, Afghanistan was like a tea party compared to Iraq, just in terms of size and just insanity. Iraq was just orders of magnitude greater. Whatever expectations that I brought in across the border that day, I just chucked immediately because it was totally different. It was clear immediately that it was going to be a lot harder to work. It really was.
The New York Times Magazine
The Marines [on the way to Baghdad] took a bridge, and then took the other side of the bridge, and seized the road that went from Baghdad to the bridge, and they set up a perimeter. And unfortunately, because this road was actually an escape route for civilians who were trying to leave Baghdad, there were cars that came up the road to leave Baghdad by the bridge that the Marines had just taken. And, because the Marines had not been able to drive vehicles over the bridge, because the bridge was damaged, civilians who were driving up the road to flee Baghdad over the bridge did not see any American military vehicles and thought, “Fine, it’s safe,” because the Marines were dug in, into camouflage positions, setting up their new perimeter on this road. So what happened was, civilian vehicles drove up this road, and the Marines shot them up.
I was two hundred or three hundred meters back. The road bends just a little bit, and there are some small houses and stores on the side of the road. So I could not see what was happening down the road. I was with the commander. I knew that there were vehicles coming up and they were taken care of. We assumed they were all military vehicles. Or ordinary vehicles carrying Republican Guard or whatever, because, you know, we didn’t really know the situation. But the Marines, particularly the snipers who were on the front line, who were looking through scopes and could see faces in vehicles, knew what was going on. And the photographers were there. So, the photographers heard the sniper commanders saying, “Don’t shoot, don’t shoot.” The snipers would fire to disable the vehicles, hit the engine block, hit the tire so the vehicle can’t go forward. Even though the orders were, let the snipers handle it, when the Marines, the ordinary grunts, heard one or two shots from a sniper, they’d all open up. So, you had all these civilians, women and children, getting killed on that road.