TWILIGHT OF EMPIRE
“Paul…Paul, wake up.” Paul Henry flashed awake, sweat stinging eyes in confusion of the unfamiliar room, the bed sheets clammy in his sweat and adrenaline washing from his body. His mind easing in the warm comfort of Leila Freyan’s ice-blue eyes, bringing him back to this world. The nightmare, he thought, only the nightmare. Freyan, grabbed a handful of tissues, mopping his brow. “Iraq again,” she asked soothingly.
“Yeah,” he replied, swinging his legs to the floor. “Always.”
“Do you want to talk about it?” He shook his head as he went to the bathroom. Turning on the light, the pristine cleanliness of the Four Seasons Hotel with its neatly folded towels and little bottles of toiletries seemed alien, as if he had arrived from another world. “If I’m going to be awake at 3:00 am at least let me know how I can help,” Freyan softly called.
With a splash of cold water, he returned to the bed, pulling her to him cradled in his arm. “It’s not a pretty tale, Le.” They had been sharing her bed for the last few days and this was the first time he had responded to her probe. She knew she’d have to step carefully if he was going to open up. She gently cupped his face, forcing him to look at her.
“It never is,” Freyan replied. “Just know I’m here for you.” He pulled her closer.
“I lost half my platoon on a mission I shouldn’t have been on, in a country we should never have entered, in a war that should never have been.”
“It wasn’t your fault. The…” Freyan saw the cold snap of his head, eyes merciless.
“You think that matters! They were my responsibility. I failed them…” he said, voice breaking, turning away. Freyan remained still, absorbing his outburst, waiting. “The SecDef boys were passing the same bogus intel to us on the ground they passed to the American people about WMD,” he began. “They told the ground forces the Iraqis would surrender when we arrived. They were passing that bullshit so that they could award contracts to the private sector for the nation building program and make billions carving up Iraq after the invasion. My unit was the first in and we were directed to the Highway 1 Bridge over the Euphrates at Nasiriyah to pickup a special-ops team that had been dropped in two days before. Supposedly they would be leading the Iraqi forces to surrender to us. When they didn’t show, we were ordered to cross.”
“What happened to them?”
“The military geniuses in the Pentagon gave us the wrong time. They tried running the war from the Pentagon instead of giving control to their field commanders. The military uses Greenwich Meridian Time, Zulu-time, for coordinating operations. They gave the Special Forces local time. We were three hours late. They waited until it got too hot then moved back out into the desert to wait for us to break through.”
“So the Iraqis didn’t give up.”
“The Iraqi senior officers were cutting deals with the Pentagon for afterwards. But the soldiers gave weapons to ignorant peasants, stripped off their uniforms and joined the Syrians.”
“The Syrians? They were in Iraq?”
“They were cadres funded by Iran. That’s who they called al Qaeda before they became ISIS. It’s all the same out there. The region is inundated with tribal warlords who’ve been fighting each other for the last 2,000 years. Religious fundamentalism is just the excuse, like the wars between the Protestants and Catholics in 15th Century Europe. Now the Iranian backed Shia factions in the predominantly Sunni Iraqi government we created work for the Iranians against the US as we pour billions into the pockets of corrupt Iraqi officials. No wonder the Iraqi Sunni and Kurds are fighting the central government.”
“Is that why you left the Army?” Freyan asked. Henry snorted.
“Not quite,” he said. “After the bridge, I was medevac’d to base camp. I was standing next to the body bags of my troops coming in and a couple of contractors started asking me about the comm. When I told them the Pentagon hadn’t given us any way to contact the SOF team and we didn’t have the frequency spectrum, they started laughing and said ‘We’re sure to get the Defense Appropriations for our electronic network now. Congress can’t say no after this snafu.’
“You can’t be serious. What did you do?”
“I gave one of them a concussion and the other a broken jaw. My commanding officer had to pull me off them. I’d have killed them if I hadn’t had an arm in a sling.”
“Oh my God. What did they do?”