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BOOK EXCERPT: David Finkel's 'The Good Soldiers'

U.S. gunfire kills two Reuters employees in Baghdad

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A senior U.S. military official says video of a Baghdad firefight is authentic. The video shows U.S. troops firing on a group of men, some of whom were unarmed. A Reuters photographer is among those believed to have been killed in that attack.

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By David Finkel
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, April 6, 2010; 12:48 PM

On July 12, 2007, two employees of the Reuters news agency were killed by gunfire from American helicopters during battle operations in eastern Baghdad, Iraq. A leaked, classified video of those killings was posted yesterday on the web site WikiLeaks.org.

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A fuller account of that day appears in the book "The Good Soldiers," by Washington Post journalist David Finkel, published by Sarah Crichton Books/Farrar, Straus and Giroux. The book chronicles the experiences of the Army's 2-16 Infantry Battalion, commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Ralph Kauzlarich, during "the surge."

Finkel was present during the July 12 operation and wrote about that day in the following excerpt.

On July 12, Kauzlarich ate a Pop-Tart at 4:55 a.m., guzzled a can of Rip It Energy Fuel, belched loudly, and announced to his soldiers, "All right, boys. It's time to get some." On a day when in Washington, D.C., President Bush would be talking about "helping the Iraqis take back their neighborhoods from the extremists," Kauzlarich was about to do exactly that.

The neighborhood was Al-Amin, where a group of insurgents had been setting off a lot of IEDs, most recently targeting Alpha Company soldiers as they tried to get from their COP to Rustamiyah for Crow's memorial ser vice a few days before. Two IEDs exploded on the soldiers that day, leaving several of them on their hands and knees, alive but stunned with concussions, and now Kauzlarich was about to swarm into that area with 240 soldiers, 65 Humvees, several Bradley Fighting Vehicles, and, on loan to them for a few hours from another battalion, two AH-64 Apache helicopter gunships.

All together, it made for a massive and intimidating convoy that at 5:00 a.m. was lining up to leave Rustamiyah when the radar system picked up something flying through the still-dark sky. "Incoming! Incoming!" came the recorded warning as the alert horn sounded. It was a sound that, by now, after so many such warnings, seemed less scary than melancholy, and the soldiers reacted to it with shrugs. Some standing in the open reflexively hit the dirt. The gunners who were standing up in their turrets dropped down into their slings. But most did nothing, because the bullet had been fired, it was only a matter of time, and if they knew anything by now, it was that whatever happened in the next few seconds was the province of God, or luck, or whatever they believed in, rather than of them.

Really, how else to explain Stevens's split lip? Or what happened to a captain named Al Walsh when a mortar hit outside of his door early one morning as he slept? In came a piece of shrapnel, moving so swiftly that before he could wake up and take cover, it had sliced through his wooden door, sliced through the metal frame of his bed, sliced through a 280-page book called Learning to Eat Soup with a Knife, sliced through a 272-page book called Buddhism Is Not What You Think, sliced through a 128-page book called On Guerrilla Warfare, sliced through a 360-page book called Tactics of the Crescent Moon, sliced through a 176-page Calvin and Hobbes collection, sliced through the rear of a metal cabinet holding those books, and finally was stopped by a concrete wall. And the only reason that Walsh wasn't sliced was that he happened in that moment to be sleeping on his side rather than on his stomach or back, as he usually did, which meant that the shrapnel passed cleanly through the spot where his head usually rested, missing him by an inch. Dazed, ears ringing, unsure of what had just happened, and spotted with a little blood from being nicked by the exploding metal fragments of the ruined bed frame, he stumbled out to the smoking courtyard and said to another soldier, "Is anything sticking out of my head?" And the answer, thank whatever, was no.

Another example: How else to explain what had happened just the day before, in another mortar attack, when one of the mortars dropped down out of the sky and directly into the open turret of a parked Humvee? After the attack was over, soldiers gathered around the ruined Humvee to marvel--not at the destruction a mortar could cause, but at the odds. How much sky was up there? And how many landing spots were down here? So many possible paths for a mortar to follow, and never mind the fact that every one of them comes down in a particular place--the fact that this one followed the one path that brought it straight down through a turret without even touching the edges, a perfect swish, the impossible shot, made the soldiers realize how foolish they were to think that a mortar couldn't come straight down on them.

Resigned to the next few seconds, then, here they were, lined up at the gate, listening to the horn and the incessant, "Incoming! Incoming!" and waiting for whatever was up there to drop.

One second.

Two seconds.

A boom over there.


CONTINUED     1                 >

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