The sound of deafening gunfire rang in Jack Dooley’s ears. Fear of capture, serious injury or death, penetrated his mind. A divine right to live the way he had been brought up burnt into his soul and drove him to survive. Yet around him missiles exploded with a ferocity that galvanised his body when they burst into tumbling clouds of death and destruction. Rocket propelled grenades found their target and blew into a dozen pieces of white hot steel maiming and killing. Machine gun bullets lethally pierced the air. A knife swirled. A dagger plunged. A sword took a life. And another young warrior fell to the ground never to rise again; never to feel the heat of the desert sun touch their skin, never again to caress a loved one.
It mattered not which side they were on or which uniform they wore. Some were women, some were men, and too many were children never truly taught the difference between war and peace, or right and wrong. A limb broke, a vessel bled, an organ failed.
Life was precious, lived for a lifetime that was all too short. A treasured ‘once only’ moment that can never be repeated.
Mighty walls of an ancient city crumbled during the onslaught, flattened, and then sunk into the desert sands when the evil hordes advanced. No trumpets echoed from without. There was no marching army chanting noisily for the walls to fall.
This wasn’t Jericho.
This is Tikrīt: the birthplace of Saddam Hussein, a city 87 miles northwest of Baghdad and 140 miles southeast of Mosul on the River Tigris. Numbering 260,000, the population of Tikrit were devastated by a war brought about religion, greed, and power.
Those who wanted peace needed someone to stand and fight their corner. They needed crusaders, not Knights of yesteryear with their shields and banners flying above them. Not sword swirling, lance-bearing men on horseback wearing chainmail armour charging wildly into the fray. Not superheroes direct from a Hollywood movie. No, they needed men like Jack Dooley.
Master Sergeant Jack Dooley wanted prisoners. That was his brief following the Iraqi government declaration of a ‘magnificent victory’ over Islamic State militants in the city of Tikrit. The United States-Iranian backed Shia militia and elements of Iraq’s government forces were still fighting to clear the last remaining Islamic State warriors holding out in Tikrit. It had been a month-long battle given fresh impetus only when a US-led coalition began air strikes in the region. Now the enemy was on the run and Jack and his men, from Coalition Special Forces, were keen to push the militants as far as possible into the desert and away from Tikrit. A victory here would see the Shia militia turn its attention to Mosul – Iraq’s second city – in an attempt to drive the predominant Sunni forces of Islamic State from the country.
The region, as far as Jack was concerned, was a cauldron of hate, violence, and depravity the like of which had not been seen since the Third Reich and the Second World War. Jack borrowed a term from German jurisprudence to describe to his friends back home Iraq, Syria and various parts of the Middle East. He argued a ‘Rechtsstaat’ was needed: a state based on the rule of law where people of both genders share legally based civil liberties and constitutional rights that enable them to use a properly established legal system via the courts. Yet the desert was a thousand miles from any form of western liberal democracy that Jack’s friends had experienced. The desert here was hell on earth!
Scanning the ground below Jack clung by an umbilical cord to the framework of an AH-60 Blackhawk helicopter. The attack aircraft was fitted with a variety of 7.62mm mini-guns, 70mm impact-detonating rocket pods, a couple of .50 calibre machine guns, and four Hellfire air-to-ground missiles. On its own merit the helicopter was awesome but when in the hands of Coalition Special Forces it was quite simply formidable.
The aircraft was part of the illustrious 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment, also known as ‘The Nightstalkers’.
It was twilight and the master sergeant had his orders.
Flying low and fast the co-pilot shouted, ‘Jack, we got a loner on the road out of Tikrit towards Mosul. It’s a pick up and they’re making a run for it.’
The helicopter swooped down and Jack glimpsed a view of a Nissan travelling flat out towards Mosul with two males on board. Even from above he could clearly make out two men dressed in black combat fatigues. The rear of the pick-up carried a heavy machine gun mounting which was unmanned.
‘I got them,’ bellowed Jack. ‘Let’s take them out.’