BRAVE AND CARING: Reflections on the Iraqi Army
February 22, 2017
Dear friends, I thank God for the opportunity to serve here in Iraq. I did not know much about the Iraqi people or Iraqi Army but I have been humbled, instructed and blessed. We have been bringing FBR teams from Burma to help in Kurdistan, northern Iraq and Syria since February 2015, but have only been working alongside Iraqis since we were invited to help with food distribution in Mosul in November 2016. As I write this we have crossed over the Tigris River and are on the operation to liberate western Mosul. Yesterday we advanced with the Iraqi Army and treated eight badly wounded soldiers while four died around us in the fighting. Before that, our FBR team, Karen and the kids did GLC and food programs for villagers liberated from ISIS oppression.
We were with the Kurds when they drove ISIS out of Kurdistan in late 2016 and after that prayed to God what we should do. The same day we prayed, we were invited to deliver food to Mosul as it was considered too dangerous by the organizations who normally deliver relief supplies. On our way into Mosul that first day we were attacked by ISIS but were able to get through and start delivery of relief supplies to people in need. General Mustafa, the commander of the Iraqi Army’s 36th Brigade in this sector, was surprised to see us but after we got to know him he opened his heart to share with us the suffering of his people – first at Saddam’s hands and then ISIS. Also, during the American occupation, his people suffered from mistakes the U.S. made. I apologized for the wrong things America had done to his people and told him many Americans do care about the Iraqis and do not just want to help them for their oil or for our own security. Many Americans died for freedom for Iraqi people and deeply care about them.
He softened and day by day we became closer. At first when I prayed with him he was not sure of my intentions but soon he joined me, and if I forgot to pray he would remind me and ask me to pray. We worked together with him, his troops and the local civilian leaders to give out food, blankets, water, kerosene and medicine. We were surprised by the number of civilians who had remained in a city under fire but when we asked them why they stayed they replied, “If we go, our homes will be looted and maybe destroyed, we do not know when we could come back and our men would be in danger of arbitrary arrest as ISIS suspects in the refugee camps.”
During the past four months of relief missions and front line medical support of the Iraqi Army, from southeast Mosul to the extreme northeast corner of the city, I have learned two things about the Iraqi Army: first is how brave they are and second is how much they care about their people.
On my first night with the Iraqi Army in southeast Mosul, I experienced firsthand their bravery and care. An Iraqi Army resupply truck had driven into an ISIS ambush on the same route we had used earlier, and the four crew members were wounded and calling for help. The Iraqi troops we were with responded immediately and drove straight to the ambush site two kilometers away. We drove with our headlights on as the troops did not have night vision and also so that the wounded troops could see us. As we got close to the ambush site, we began taking fire from a group of ISIS which had a heavy machine-gun set up 700 meters on our left. Another ISIS force with a light machine-gun fired on us from 300 yards to our front while another group of ISIS with assault rifles advanced on our right to a berm 50 meters away. The wounded Iraqi troops were hiding in a ditch just below this berm and fighting for their lives. We drove straight up to the ditch with bullets bouncing off the humvees and rescued the four Iraqi soldiers. All were wounded multiple times and one ran to the vehicle bloody, wild-eyed, and carrying two M16s. Both his arms were broken but he managed somehow to hold on to both his and his badly-wounded buddy’s rifles, shooting one of them at ISIS. Once all four were in the humvees, we raced out in a hail of bullets.
I was impressed with how fast the Iraqi Army reacted and how they put their own lives on the line to save their friends. I was reminded of Jesus’ words, “Greater love has no man than this, than he lay down his life for his friends.” The Iraqi Army demonstrated this then, and have done so again and again as we have been with them from east to west Mosul.
A few days later with these same troops we went deeper into Mosul to distribute food to people in desperate need. Some of these people had been ISIS supporters but the Iraqi Army treated them with care and respect. As we gave out food ISIS attacked us with mortars, machine-guns and rifles. They also sent drones to attack us. As bullets flew and shells landed, the Iraqi Army counter-attacked and pushed ISIS back. Once it was safe, the distribution continued.
We were attacked on seven of the 10 food distributions we did in east Mosul between 20 Nov – 6 Dec, but the Iraqi Army stood firm and completed all distributions. After one distribution when a woman was caught trying to cheat and take two sets of rations, she became angry and told the Iraqi commander, “ISIS is better than you!”
Even though this commander had lost over 50 men to ISIS and risked his life for two years in fighting them, he showed great restraint and answered calmly, “If you want to go to ISIS you are welcome, they are just over there less than 1,000 meters away.” This same Iraqi commander took us to meet a bed-bound widow and asked us to help her. We prayed with her, and our Karen medic, Joseph, treated her the best he could.
During the siege of Al Salam Hospital, an element of the 36th Brigade was surrounded for two days and nights by ISIS. They withstood human wave attacks, suicide bombers, hundreds of RPGs, VBEDS (Vehicle Borne Explosive Devices- armored suicide cars with 2,000 lbs of explosives each), mortars and rockets. They were trapped. We went to try to help but we became separated. Our vehicle was shot up and we found ourselves surrounded in a small house with 10 Iraqi soldiers about 800 meters from the hospital. At night we listened to the sound of ISIS mullahs chanting and calling, “All faithful come to and slaughter the infidels…We will make this a second Black Hawk Down, a second Mogadishu.” More ISIS fighters poured in from other parts of Mosul in response to the mullahs’ calls. They shot at our position with machine-guns and mortars but mostly bypassed us in their primary focus to destroy the Iraqi force at the hospital. The call for help went out to all Iraqi units and they came. They came in humvees, tanks, armored cars and bulldozers, many of them destroyed on the way in ambushes ISIS set or by land mines and VBEDs. Still the Iraqi Army pressed forward until they rescued their brothers. Coalition aircraft also came to help with air power, destroying and suppressing ISIS, and the Iraqi relief convoy blasted their way through to rescue the men in the hospital. There were over 70 wounded and 11 killed but no man was left behind and none were captured.
Dear reader, I want you to know how brave these people are and how much they care for others, even those who were their enemies. And I am grateful for all that America and the coalition is doing to help. Our U.S. troops and their leadership here are outstanding in helping to defeat ISIS and heal many old wounds. My prayer is that we will do all we can to help for the sake of the Iraqis and the world.
Thank you and God bless you,
Dave, family and teams