July 2006. His time had come. All his life he’d waited for this day, to be a martyr. Today he would die for the cause and meet God in Paradise! It was the most honorable thing the son of a poor unemployed electrician could do for his family. His family name would be spoken of in high regard back home and he was told that his father would receive monetary compensation for his act of heroism. The thought comforted him. After all, even though honour was its own reward, being able to eat was certainly the will of God. He missed home and his family, but he tried very hard to push those thoughts out of his mind and focus on the task at hand. Two weeks ago he’d been surreptitiously brought into Iraq from Palestine via Syria. He didn’t think of his home as a refugee camp. To him, the state of Palestine was as real as the sweat presently dripping off his brow. It didn’t matter that the Zionists didn’t see it that way, one day they would. The thought of all the lives of his fellow Palestinians lost in their collective battle for freedom just made him angry. Good he thought. Anger was a good tool in times like these, it cleansed the body and the mind of useless thoughts and emotions and focused one on his mission. So he had been told. He’d been prepared extensively for what he was about to do and though he would have preferred to inflict his justice on Israelis, the battle was fought on many fronts and he was needed here. Besides, Americans were the apathetic keepers of his enemy, so in the end they were all the same.
“Are you ready habibi?” Tuffiq said as he put his hand on his shoulder.
“Yes,” was Tariq’s reply. He got up from his prayer mat and kissed the Holy Qur’an. He was ready. He took a deep breath and followed his friend out of the room.
They were alone now. Hamza, the one who’d brought them into Iraq and told them the details of their mission had left two days ago. They slowly made their way down the front steps of the duplex they’d called home for two weeks and to the van in the driveway. Hamza had parked it there the day that he left and told them that everything was ready. They were in no rush. Today things would happen at a time of their choosing. Tariq smiled at that.
William Baxter had been up before dawn as usual. As the newly appointed ambassador to Iraq, he felt the need to be on top of everything. He’d never dropped the ball in his entire career and he wasn’t going to start now. He was tasked with the very important job of helping to promote stability in the most unstable region on the planet. The thought stroked his ego as he reached for his coffee mug. It was his second cup of the morning. He liked to read his briefing papers while it was still quiet, before the phones began to ring and his aides kept interrupting him.
“Daddy?” his son asked peering into the den. He was five years old, one of two Baxter children. He was still in his pajamas and was up a little early, even for him.
“Yeah buddy, what’re you doing up so early?” Baxter said, putting down his papers.
“I had a bad dream,” his son replied.
“Come here,” Baxter smiled for his son. He picked him up onto his lap and held him. “Now, you’ve seen the Marines outside right?”
“And you know how big and strong they are right?”
“Then you know that they wouldn’t ever let anything bad happen to you. Not in a million years right?”
“Yes,” his son replied. Children didn’t feel the need elaborate much when communicating important things.
“Now why don’t you go back to bed for a little while then we can all have breakfast together when Mommy wakes up?”
Tuffiq was driving and he looked a little nervous. He probably didn’t want to make any mistakes. Tariq knew that he’d start to feel nervous if he dwelt on it so he decided to pray. He closed his eyes. Fifteen minutes later they were at US Army checkpoint Bravo. One of the few ways into the International Zone (formerly known as the Green Zone) where everyone from the fledgling Iraqi Parliament to the US Embassy called home. Tariq and Tuffiq were also chosen for their impeccable language skills. They both spoke American English effortlessly. Hamza had provided them with journalist accreditation passes which they presently handed over to the soldier standing next to their van.
“What’s your business?” the soldier asked?
“We’re American journalists from the Texas Herald Tribune,” Tuffiq said in his best southern drawl. “We came in through Kuwait a few days ago and would really like to get in touch with the new Ambassador for an interview. We called ahead and were told to come in for a pre-interview. Here are the appointment details,” Tuffiq handed over the papers that Hamza had given him. He hoped that the soldier wouldn’t notice the sweat from his hands. It was a hot climate after all.
The soldier inspected the passes and the documents. He walked over to his booth and picked up a phone to confirm the information. At the same time two of his colleagues inspected the van with mirrors and bomb sniffing dogs. They also asked to see in the back of the van, it contained camera equipment. After they were satisfied they gave the all clear to the soldier as he was walking back to the van. He handed Tuffiq the documents.
“Everything checks out. Do you need directions to the Embassy?” the soldier asked.
“That’d really help. Thanks.” Tuffiq replied. He marveled at how easy this was. Whatever Hamza had done, he’d done well. The documents were apparently backed up with a real request to interview the Ambassador and the van didn’t give any hint of its real cargo. He listened carefully to the instructions and after flashing a friendly smile, slowly pulled into the International Zone.
Due to an increase in insurgent activity, the US government has decided to increase its presence in Iraq. William Baxter went over the words he was going to deliver to the Iraqi Prime Minister and subsequently to the world at large over the network news later that day. He’d just finished breakfast with his family and was now getting ready to leave the official residence of the US ambassador. With one final check in the mirror hanging in the foyer, he walked out the front door. He hardly noticed the van pulling up the street.
Tuffiq prided himself for having found their destination without any complications. Stopping to ask for directions would have been embarrassing, if not a security threat to their mission. Already he saw a Marine sentry walking toward his slowing van. No doubt wary of the unannounced visitor. After all, they were expected at the embassy, but were pulling up to the ambassador’s residence. The reason for this of course was quite simple. Everybody knew that the embassy was a hard target—fortified to withstand ten times what he was able to deliver with his van. The residence however was considered a soft target. Relatively unfortified and vulnerable to attack. These lessons had been learned in the past when attacks on embassies in other countries resulted in the deaths of bystanders on the street rather than the occupants of their target. Someone had later come up with the idea of targeting the home of the ambassador and was rewarded to find out that the physical security arrangements over there were at best lacking. Presently the Marine was making his way over to the driver’s side window.
Tariq slipped his hand down under his seat and found the plastic button he’d been told would be there. Just as the van came to a stop in front of their target he noticed a man on the front step of the house. It must be the ambassador he thought to himself with a smile. God was with them. His last conscious thought was how cheap the button felt to the touch.
A bomb is nothing more than a very large release of energy in a relatively short period of time. The reason for the destruction that’s normally caused by an explosion is due to most material’s inability to absorb the shock of so much pressure inflicted in such a short time span—normally measured in milliseconds. Were the same energy applied far slower, a lot of materials would prove to be remarkably resilient to the force. It’s just that most everything proved to be too brittle when it came to thousands of pounds of pressure exerted in a couple of milliseconds worth of time. Once depressed, the button completed a circuit which transmitted a small amount of energy from a pair of AA batteries to a triggering device. This in turn catalyzed the explosive material—several hundred pounds of which were currently hidden in various places throughout the van (including in the camera equipment). The resulting release of energy searched for the path of least resistance which turned out to be outward towards the skin of the van. Tariq and Tuffiq were one of the first to meet the shock-wave of super compressed air travelling at several times the speed of sound. Not only were objects—and people—being slammed with the shock-wave, but they were also being slammed against each other. The result was predictable. Most everything involved shattered, including the bodies of the two occupants in the front of the van. This all proved to be very little resistance to the pressure wave now making its way past the Marine and the front lawn of the residence. The ambassador had scarcely a few milliseconds to notice that he was being lifted off his feet and slammed into—and through—the door of his house. Brick isn’t very flexible, and though wood is, it tends to splinter into a million pieces when hit with too much force too quickly. The result was the complete and utter destruction of the front of the ambassador’s house a third of the way in. In all, the ambassador, his family, several Marines and housekeeping staff were killed in the blast. Most by the initial explosion, and some by falling debris.
The sound of the explosion carried throughout the International Zone mocking the belief that they were safe in this relatively tiny plot of real-estate surrounded by tanks, barbed wire and armed soldiers. The men at checkpoint Bravo froze when they heard it and instantly a ball of lead materialized in their stomachs. There was no doubting it, they knew instantly that they’d let suicide bombers into the International Zone. There was going to be hell to pay, but first they needed to do their jobs. In fact, within a matter of seconds there were tens—if not hundreds— of people rushing towards the affected area. All professionals of some sort. Mostly soldiers. All trained to run toward danger rather than away as instinct would have us do. It wasn’t hard to find the location of the blast as there was a giant black plume of smoke coming from where two men recently went to meet their maker. Perversely, some of the first on the scene were journalists. Like the blood of a wounded baby seal in water attracts sharks, so does death and carnage attract reporters. By the time the area was cordoned off, the media had shot enough film to make a Hollywood director proud. The mangled remains of what can only be guessed to have been a vehicle sat in the bottom of a large crater. Firemen were dousing the remains of the house while a brave few of their number ventured into the wreckage in the hopes of finding survivors.
Within an hour of its happening, nearly everyone around the world who’d been tuned into a 24 hour news channel saw the gruesome aftermath unfold before their eyes. What started out as a relatively isolated terrorist incident was catapulted into the world scene by an all too willing news media. Thereby aiding and abetting the terrorism which they ostensibly loathed, but secretly loved because after all, it made for good journalism.
Several time-zones away, on the other side of the globe, one more set of eyes tried to focus on the scene playing out on the television hanging over the bar. He had trouble making out the details of what was going on as his eyes couldn’t decide how many televisions were actually there. And why is the picture so fuzzy? he asked himself. Giving up, he returned to his drink. In another lifetime, the events going on in Iraq’s International Zone would have mattered a great deal to Mark Hannigan. For once upon a time Mark was a proud CIA officer with a long and distinguished career. Were it not for his recently acquired drinking problem, some would say that he still had many years of useful service left to give. But none of that mattered anymore because there were memories to slay and emotions to numb and all that hard work made a man thirsty. He would have ordered another drink but last call was twenty minutes in the past and he was sufficiently inebriated for it not to matter. He slowly got up and made his way out of the bar having already forgotten about the blurry television sets hanging over the bar.
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