Stories by Rod Nordland

  • Q&Amp;A: Mark Barger

    In a normal war, 25-year-old Second Lt. Mark Barger of Houston, two years out of Texas A&M and fresh out of Officer Candidate School, would be far behind the front lines. But in Iraq, the Army's truckers are the front lines--especially in the notorious Sunni Triangle. Rod Nordland talked with Barger aboard his Humvee during a convoy.How's your war going?Oh, OK. We've been hit 22 times in seven months, but our company's been lucky: only two wounded bad enough to evacuate, no dead. Every one of our big trucks has had the windshield replaced, blown up or shot out.So what's the worst thing about it here?We have to be politicians and policemen and occupiers, and it's hard to know which to be at any moment. It's gone through stages. The first couple months, they were afraid of us. We have all this battle-rattle on and we're always wearing shades. They thought we were cold-hearted robots. Then they figured out we were just human and they could hurt us, and they got bolder the last few...
  • 'We Didn't Realize We Were At War'

    The trio of suicide bombers were determined to reach their target--the Italian military compound in the southern Iraqi city of Nasiriya. They were in two vehicles--a car loaded with explosives and a tanker truck apparently full of gaso-line. For once, though, the terrorists didn't catch their prey off guard. As the bombers crashed through the compound's front gate, carabinieri guards immediately opened fire. Their quick action probably saved scores of lives. After a brief fire fight, the attackers detonated their vehicles in the compound's parking lot. As it was, 19 Italians died--the country's biggest military loss since World War II, and the worst single loss the American-led Coalition has yet suffered. Fourteen Iraqis were also killed. Back home, Italians were stunned by the news; most hadn't even known their troops were in harm's way. Said Fabrizio Cicchitto, an adviser to prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, "Until today, many of us did not realize we were a country at war."That...
  • The $87 Billion Money Pit

    Helmut Doll waits. And waits. Doll, the German site manager for Babcock Power, a subcontractor of Siemens, is hoping for the arrival of Bechtel engineers at the Daura power plant, Baghdad's largest. U.S. construction giant Bechtel has the prime contract, now worth about $1 billion, for restoring Iraq's infrastructure. That includes Daura, which should supply one third of the city's generating capacity but today, six months into the U.S. occupation, is producing only 10 percent. "Nobody is working on the turbine," explains Doll. "Bechtel only came and took photos. We can't judge Bechtel's work progress because they're not here." Questioned, Bechtel spokesman Howard Menaker says Iraq's power has to be viewed as "a holistic system"--generation doesn't have to come from a particular plant--and in recent weeks Bechtel has sent engineers to the site. He also blames the delay on more stringent--or finicky, depending on your point of view--American standards. Menaker said the Daura turbine...
  • The World's Most Dangerous Place

    A lot of Americans in Baghdad now are desperately reviewing their personal security, especially after Sunday's attacks on the al Rashid Hotel and Monday's half-hour rampage of six suicide car bombings around the city. If even Paul Wolfowitz isn't safe (his room was only one floor away from taking a direct hit from a rocket), then who is? Here's a primer for those who really must go.GETTING THEREIf you don't have a military flight, or a seat on a military convoy, then there are four main ways in to Iraq, all of them bad.You can drive up from Kuwait, the safest route. There are downsides, though. For one, you need a visa from Kuwait, which is hard to get. Then you need permission to cross the border from Kuwait's Ministry of Interior, which is even harder to get. If you have a car you can take into Iraq, fine; otherwise you'll have to walk across the border at Safwan, where mobs will greet you as you try to fight your way into a car-for-hire waiting for you on the Iraqi side....
  • Corkscrew Over Baghdad

    U.S. army Sgt. Kenneth Kratman from Fredericksburg, Va., is giving the security brief as his convoy gets ready for the 20-minute run to Baghdad International Airport (BIAP). It's bad enough, he tells his men, that guerrillas are "daisy-chaining" explosive devices along the highway. Now there's a new tactic: they follow up the explosions with small-arms fire. "If the first vehicle is hit," he says, "I'm in the second vehicle and I'll ram you and push you 100 meters ahead. Take cover and wait for the Quick Reaction Force."Minutes later the convoy barrels down the Airport Expressway in midmorning at 90 miles an hour, weaving through traffic. Kratman drives his Ford Explorer SUV with one hand and keeps his .45 automatic pointed out the window with the other, leveling it at any Iraqi he sees. A Latvian soldier is riding shotgun with an AK-47 poking out. This time the convoy clears the main checkpoint before the airport without incident. But Kratman makes no excuses for his precautions:...
  • The Lebanon Scenario

    Iraq under occupation is starting to look uncomfortably similar to Lebanon during its long civil war. The central government exists only in name, and neither police nor occupying troops are able to keep the peace. In response, militias organized along ethnic and religious lines are taking up arms. Neighboring countries patronize friendly groups, or try to undermine rival ones. Arms smuggling over the borders is rife. Massive but anonymous car bombs assassinate opponents, terrorize civilians and intimidate foreigners. Even kidnapping has returned as a political tactic.It's dangerous to overemphasize historical parallels, but also useful to examine similarities--particularly at a time when senior U.S. officials, like Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, are arguing that Iraqis should take a greater role in securing their country. Many leading Iraqis want the Americans to hand over power altogether; they just don't agree on who or what should replace them. Rival groups don't trust one...
  • A Mighty Fall

    The wife of Tariq Aziz says he gave himself up in a "civilized" way. When American soldiers and CIA agents showed up at the Baghdad home of Iraq's former spokesman in April, the first question they asked was about the whereabouts of Saddam Hussein.Aziz told them he hadn't seen the dictator for several weeks. Then the troops took Aziz off to captivity in a bare, stifling room at Camp Cropper, the U.S. internment camp at the Baghdad International Airport.Now Aziz's family is outraged about the conditions of his imprisonment--and what they say is the more favorable treatment for the top Iraqi officials who are cooperating with U.S. forces by telling all they know about weapons programs and Saddam's possible hideouts. "The Americans told us when they took him that they will treat him well and give him extra good care and that he can call once a week or once every two weeks maximum," Aziz's wife, Violet, told NEWSWEEK in an exclusive interview. "And none of this happened."Violet Aziz,...
  • Rough Justice

    Shed No Tears For Saddam's Captured Cronies. But American Generals Know That Hardball In Iraq Could Backfire
  • Excessive Force?

    It was much-needed tangible proof that America was making progress in the war in Iraq. After several weeks of drooping morale and a daily, if single-digit body count, the U.S. military on Tuesday announced its soldiers had killed Saddam Hussein's sons in a ferocious firefight in their Mosul hideout.American officials crowed about it, troops around Iraq high-fived each other, friendly Iraqis fired their guns in the air in celebration. Even the stock markets rose on the news.Certainly only a few diehards mourned the passing of Uday and Qusay Hussein; the regime's Caligula and its Heir Apparent were if anything despised and feared even more than their dad. But as details became clearer of the raid that eliminated what the U.S. military calls High Value Targets (HVTs) Nos. 2 and 3, a lot of people in the intelligence community were left wondering: why weren't they just taken alive?At a news briefing today, Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, the commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, squirmed his way...
  • Iraq: What Happened To Jessica Lynch?

    Details are surfacing that give insight into what happened to Pfc. Jessica Lynch and her comrades when their convoy made a wrong turn that resulted in the single greatest loss of American soldiers in the Iraq war. The U.S. Army last week released a long-awaited report on the 507th Maintenance Company, which suffered 11 killed and six taken prisoner on March 23 in An Nasiriya, Iraq. The unit's captain made a "single navigational error," the report says. Deep inside enemy territory, he retraced his route but was ambushed. When the 507th tried to fight off the attackers, many of its weapons jammed because of poor maintenance in the sandy conditions.But the report avoids the details of the plight of Private Lynch, who's still undergoing rehabilitation after suffering multiple broken bones and spinal and head injuries. She's said she has no recollection of the event. The report seems to suggest Lynch was injured after her Humvee was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade and crashed into a...
  • Wmds For The Taking?

    From the very start, one of the top U.S. priorities in Iraq has been the search for weapons of mass destruction. Weren't WMDs supposed to be what the war was about? Even so, no one has yet produced conclusive evidence that Iraq was maintaining a nuclear, biological or chemical (NBC) arsenal. Two very suspicious trailer rigs turned up last week in Mosul. The Pentagon called them mobile bio-labs. Maybe, but although they "looked like a duck and walked like a duck," as one U.S. officer put it, they didn't quack. The first of the huge, truck-drawn labs, intercepted at a roadblock, had been swabbed clean. The other, discovered Friday, was stripped by looters before U.S. troops found it. So far there's a lot more belli than casus.Looters outran the WMD hunters almost every time. "Once a site has been hit with a 2,000-pound bomb, then looted, there's not a lot left," says Maj. Paul Haldeman, the 101st Airborne Division's top NBC officer. In the rush to Baghdad, Coalition forces raced past...
  • 1,001 Iraqi Jokes

    For the first couple weeks after the war started, it was hard to get people to share their Saddam Hussein jokes. This land between the two rivers is the home turf of one of the oldest classics of comic literature, "A Thousand and One Arabian Nights." Scheherezade has to tell a new story every night to keep the tyrant from beheading her, and many of them are off-color, ribald and funny. ...
  • Of Hotheads And Dead Horses

    Baghdad under American occupation is like a devoted wife who is nonetheless carrying on a happy affair. She feels terrible about it, but she just can't help herself."There's an Iraqi proverb," says actor Risan Mohammed, "Whoever is sleeping with my mother, we'll call him Uncle." Iraqis are angry at Uncle Sam's troops over the continued disorder and are convinced the Americans are here to stay to pillage their vast oil wealth. At the same time they're thrilled to see the back of Saddam Hussein and enraptured by their first taste of freedom in 30 years. Former general Jay Garner, head of the Americans' reconstruction authority, keeps trotting out the same metaphor to explain the conundrum. These are people who had been locked up for years in a dark cell, and suddenly allowed out in the sun. "Now they're blinded by the light of freedom," he says. But while their eyes adjust, you can't help but feel some of them should be locked up again 'til they get over it. Or at least put their...
  • War Without End

    Yesterday, George W. Bush alighted on the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln and all but declared that the war in Iraq had ended. Today, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld showed up in Kabul and pronounced the Afghan war all but over, too.No one doubts that the United States has won both of those wars, by any reasonable reckoning. But as both the statements acknowledge, winning a war and ending it are very different matters.Bush's speech on the carrier, just before it reached its home port in California after operations in the Persian Gulf, had been widely anticipated as a formal declaration that the war was over. Instead, the farthest he could go was to say that, "Major combat operations in Iraq have ended," a fact which should have been apparent to any casual observer any time over the past two weeks. And half a world away, Rumsfeld appeared with President Hamid Karzai and had a similarly couched hedge. "We clearly have moved from major combat activity to a period of stability...
  • The Last Epitaph

    Ali Mohammed Yassim held a small scrap of brown paper torn from the corner of a paper bag in one hand, and a long-handled shovel in the other. With seven of his brothers and cousins, he had come to a rutted field just outside the yellow watchtower of what had been Iraq's most notorious prison.Another brother had a brush, one had a broom, others had shovels, too. At their feet here in the Abu Ghurayb suburb of Baghdad lay what looked like a trash pit, about 10 by 30 feet. Scraps of corrugated roofing, twisted bits of machinery, window frames, garbage, paper trash were tangled together with torn bits of clothing. "We've finally found my brother," said Yassim. "I'm 100 percent sure he's here." And with that, the men pulled scarves over their faces and began gingerly digging in hopes of finding Yassim Mohammed Yassim, who may well have been Saddam Hussein's last victim.Ali, 44, never let go of that little scrap of paper as they took turns digging; nor would he put it in his pocket. His...
  • Slow Progress

    When clocks in Iraq were moved ahead one hour on April 1, the people of Basra didn't get the message. They were too busy coping with invading British troops, a loss of power and, later, looters to make the change. Most residents barricaded themselves in their homes for a couple of weeks and hoped to survive the mayhem. Last week they started to move around Iraq's second-largest city again, but nobody was quite sure of the time.The confusion was so bad that the Brits finally declared that Basra, like Baghdad, would be on what the military calls Delta time--four hours ahead of GMT. Few people got the message, however; the clock on the minaret of the Abassayid Mosque remained an hour behind the olive-green wristwatches worn by the Desert Rats. Some Iraqis hewed to Baghdad time, others to Kuwaiti time, an hour behind. Most people kept their own time, especially workers who could leave for lunch on Baghdad time and return on "Basra time" two hours later.With the shooting now mostly over,...
  • Saddam's Victims: A Child Waits To Die

    In December, 13-year-old Ahmed Awayid suffered a relapse of his leukemia and his parents once again began making the monthly trek from An Nasiriya to Baghdad for chemotherapy. But drugs were in such short supply that Ahmed was allowed only half the usual dose.Even that didn't last long; his last scheduled visit was March 18, but with war about to begin, no one would take him and his parents on the long journey from this southern city. Throughout the war, his parents kept a vigil by his bedside, taking turns sleeping on a mat on the floor in his fourth-floor room at Saddam General Hospital in An Nasiriya. They were there through the heavy fighting that engulfed the city in the first two weeks, there when local Baath Party officials and 150 soldiers used the hospital as a hideout and there when American Delta commandos blew in the doors to rescue Pfc. Jessica Lynch. "We were scared," said his father, Mahawis Awayid, 52, "but we hardly noticed."They're still there now, waiting for...
  • The 'Abu Earless' Brigade

    They're among the saddest of the sad, in a land full of sadness. They push forward from the crowd of beggars and supplicants that gathers wherever they find foreigners, whether soldiers or journalists or aid workers.Most, like Ahmed Hussein, have no words in English, but they don't need them. Outside the HQ of the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit in An Nasiriya yesterday, Hussein only had to turn his head to show his profile, and utter a single word, "Saddam," as he pointed to the stump where his right ear used to be. He wasn't begging for money, though he had none, or asking for a bottle of water or a telephone call abroad, like so many others in a place where the water doesn't run and the phones don't work. He just wanted to tell his story.The story of Iraqi men with amputated ears is becoming a depressingly familiar one as people grow more convinced that Saddam Hussein and the Baathists will never come back. Finally, they can talk freely. This will probably not be the greatest...
  • On The Ground,'They Are Getting Their Own Back'

    At the Basra Teaching Hospital, the flow of patients spikes after dark. They come mostly in tattered orange-and-white taxis. Guards stop even the emergency cases at the gates, well away from the building. Doctors run out to meet them--to make sure they're really patients. From the roof of the ninth floor, British snipers watch through night-vision scopes, ready to shoot. Sometimes there's a sharp crack from one of their long, heavy carbines, and the pavement explodes near the feet of looters. The soldiers are trying not to kill anyone, but gangs have already rampaged through two of the --city's hospitals, including the main maternity ward.Upstairs, the medical staff beds down on cots meant for patients' families. They run to the windows every time a new fire fight breaks the quiet of a city mostly without electricity. The Iraqis aren't shooting at Coalition troops any longer; they're shooting each other, in self-defense, or to loot choice homes or businesses. More taxis show up at...
  • Basra Melee

    The crowd gathered outside the house of Muzahim Mustafa Kanan al Tamimi, the sheikh the British are appointing to take over civil administration of Basra. He's better known as Gen. Al Tamimi, a former brigadier in Saddam's army who more recently taught at the military school. When the shouting began, we thought at first the crowd was just chanting slogans against Saddam Hussein's Baathists, but they were also chanting against Sheikh Muzahim. "No no Baathists, no Muzahim."Sheik Muzahim's supporters inside the house, including some 42 tribal leaders, said the crowd were all members of a rival tribe, the al Sadouni. That's a strongly Baathist tribe, whose leader, Sadeq al Sadouni, was the top Baathist official in Basra. But were they really Sadouni? It was hard to tell. Said the sheik's cousin, Sheik Mansour Kanan, "To take a metaphorical example, when a person dies the family start fighting over his property." It was, he noted, "because of the coming of the death of our dictator."The...
  • Shaking Off Saddam

    Adnan Shaker has a tiny passport picture of himself that he's somehow managed to save during his three years in one of Saddam Hussein's prisons. It shows a handsome man in his 20s, lean and fit, with a luxurious mustache and thick black hair. Today his own three children would probably not recognize him as the same person.His hair is cropped short. Half his teeth have been knocked out, his face is battered and the eyes sunken and haunted-looking. His chest is covered with 50 separate cuts from a knife, his back has even more marks, which he says are cigarette burns. Two of his fingers were broken and deliberately bent into a permanent, contorted position and there's a hole in the middle of his palm where his torturers stabbed him and twisted the blade.Today, though, Adnan was a happy man, so happy that he could barely restrain his excitement. He was finally freed from a prison in downtown Basra, after British troops entered the city and drove the remaining defenders away. And as he...
  • The Lessons Of Basra

    As American troops roll into Baghdad this weekend, the experience of U.S. Marines and British Desert Rats and Royal Marines in Basra and vicinity may well be instructive. Even without taking Basra, they've had a good taste of what in effect amounts to urban warfare--and the results are not pretty. They've done it in a way designed to keep casualties low, encourage internal revolt and win over the locals. But it has been slow going.On Friday, British troops advanced into the actual suburbs of Basra, blasting their way into the sprawling Basra Technical Institute along a highway from the west where for the past week residents have been streaming out from and back into the city--they are not actually refugees, but rather commuters, looking for food and water. An armored battalion of Irish Guards took that bridge and forced Iraqis back deeper into the city, uncovering huge arms caches in private homes along the way. Iraqi troops, many of them in civilian clothes and others in unusual...
  • The Long Reach Of Saddam

    Welcome to the Republic of Umm Qasr. Water comes out the end of a jerry-built pipeline from Kuwait. Security is provided by the British Royal Marines. There's a deep-water port, one of the finest in the Middle East, but only one ship has called so far--and no others seem on the horizon.Electricity is nonexistent. The nights are dark and dangerous. The town's 40,000 residents are scared and angry. And this is what free Iraq consists of so far, after two weeks of war.U.S. forces are deep inside Iraq, on the verge of taking Baghdad's international airport only a dozen miles from downtown. But in their race forward, they haven't paused to pacify any territory. That task has fallen to the British commandos and other units, some 26,000 in all, along with a smattering of U.S. Marines, who control the southeastern corner of the country and the area around Basra, Iraq's second-largest city.The gateway to that area, and in a practical sense to Iraq, is the city of Umm Qasr. Officially, it's...
  • 'We're Fighting Two Wars Here'

    They began as what analysts at the time dismissed as a "toy army," a pet project of Saddam's volatile eldest son, Uday. He recruited the Saddam Fedayeen ("Martyrs for Saddam") as a special bodyguard for his father. At first, according to experts on Iraq and defectors from Saddam's inner circle, they did little more than Uday's twisted bidding---picking up girls for him to rape, beating Olympic athletes for losing games, cutting out the tongues of critics of the regime. Meanwhile Uday's younger and more reliable brother Qusay took charge of his father's most important paramilitary organizations, especially the feared Special Security Office and the elite Special Republican Guard.Uday recruited the fedayeen in orphanages and prisons, where candidates for his unique blend of psychopathy and filial devotion were plentiful. The militia grew so large that in September, 1996, Qusay took control, ostensibly after a scandal in which the Fedayeen were caught siphoning off hi-tech military...
  • Trapped In Southern Iraq

    It's Sunday and we've been spending the day trying to find where we can go safely. We're a small group of "unilaterals"--journalists not embedded with any U.S. forces--well behind the American advance, well behind the front lines. And we've discovered that anywhere we go is quite unsafe.Our morning began at Safwan, where we had camped out the night before with a detachment of British military police. We went on the road to Basra, which had been reported taken two days before, but discovered that it was blocked. In fact, one of our colleagues turned down a side road and came to an Iraqi army position. As we were heading back, we saw the usual--quite common--scenes of Iraqi prisoners being taken, surrendering to the nearest soldiers that they could find. Suddenly, a short time later, we all came under fire at one of those positions. We hid behind the vehicles while they brought their Warrior armored personnel carriers out and chased whoever it was who fired at us.A little later we...
  • A Pact With The Devil

    Zoran Djindjic showed a lot of courage, climbing alone into the armored Mercedes jeep on Admiral Geprat Street that cold October night in 2000. He was meeting the man Serbs know as Legija, "The Legionnaire" in Serbian, commander of the feared Special Operations Unit, a secret-police squad that had murdered its way from Croatia and Bosnia to Kosovo on behalf of Slobodan Milosevic. It was the eve of huge demonstrations that would bring down the hated dictator, which Djindjic was instrumental in organizing.As they drove around Belgrade's darkened streets, Legija told him a secret. Milosevic had ordered the Red Berets to crack down, he said. "Huge s--t," he called it. "The orders are extreme." Legija had decided to disobey, he said. His police would not help Milosevic stay in power. All he asked in return, as Djindjic later told it, was that the protesters refrain from attacking the police. "I promise," said Djindjic.It turned out to be a pact with the Devil, and last week it seems to...
  • Back To The Future

    It was a tumultuous decade that saw five bloody wars, the death of a nation, and the disgrace, arrest and trial of the man who was chiefly the cause of it all. Hence it was fitting, last week, that the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia came to an end not with a bang or even much of a whimper. The last act of the country's national Parliament was simply to vote through a constitutional charter dissolving the state. Many lawmakers didn't bother to attend.There were compensations. Yugoslavia's last president, Vojislav Kostunica, the popular hero who led the democratic uprising that ousted Slobodan Milosevic, found himself without a job. He's unlikely to be missed, considering that fewer than a third of his countrymen support him. Apathy runs so deep, in fact, that last December's Serbian presidential elections had to be annulled (for the second time) because a required majority of the electorate didn't turn out to vote. Not that it much mattered, since the post had become almost purely...
  • Life Abroad: You Can't Run From Terror

    Mad dogs and Englishmen aren't the only ones out in the midday sun. In hot countries the world over, if you spot a jogger on the street, you can bet he or she is almost certainly an American or a Brit. That's particularly the case in the terror belt: North and East Africa, the Mideast, South and Southeast Asia. But now, for many joggers, our steps are numbered--if not our days.Many Americans abroad have given up running--or been told they should. In Jordan recently, the authorities pre-emptively busted the Abdoun gang, a trio of terrorists who had set their sights on Americans running through their neighborhood every morning. Expats in friendly, Western-oriented Amman scoffed at first, but then terrorists killed U.S. diplomat Laurence Foley at the door of his Amman house. Now U.S. embassies have even banned their employees from running on the streets of cities well outside the terror belt. Joggers in places like Saudi Arabia and Pakistan have always had to be tough, if only to take...
  • An Old Terrorist In Iraq

    To hear Abu Abbas tell it, terrorists like Osama bin Laden give terrorists like him a bad name. Abbas, leader of a fringe Palestinian faction, has lived on the run since the 1985 hijacking of the Italian cruise ship Achille Lauro. When the latest intifada began, he quit his hiding place in Gaza for what he calls his "second homeland"--Iraq, where Saddam Hussein has made him feel welcome. NEWSWEEK interviewed him in Baghdad recently. "They say I am a terrorist. And Osama bin Laden is a terrorist. But terrorist is a very bad name to use." Abbas has now renounced violence against civilians outside of Israel. "Al Qaeda's point of view is universal violence. They want universal war; they are against everything. That is terrorism."Abbas's Palestine National Front staged a beachfront raid in Tel Aviv using inflatable boats, wrecking the peace process in 1990, and invaded Israel by hang gliders. But Abbas's followers usually took more casualties than they inflicted, and neither he nor other...