Haditha is a large, peaceful farming town situated in western Iraq. It is saturated with primitive, concrete buildings that lace the sandy, debris-ridden roads. They are all painted a sickly shade of yellow which has flaked away from their exteriors over time and now reveals a depressing grey colour. The gigantic palm trees dwarf the grimy, one-floored houses. Most of the shops display smashed or boarded windows. The interiors are eminently dark. The wallpaper is badly torn and peeling away from the walls where it meets the ceiling.
Scorch marks from grenades heavily stained the floor and deep bullet holes scarred the walls. No furniture is present – just small, sharp pieces of broken glass and devastated shrapnel. Corrugated iron awnings hang over the pavement at the front of the shops, dismally shadowing the people that walk beneath them. There is a small, crumbling petrol station at the end of the long road that looks like it hasn’t operated for years. The attached shop also has smashed windows and vacant interiors.
The sign on the roof of the building is badly corroded and rusting; some of the red, Arabic letters have fallen off completely. The pumps are severely damaged and submerged in litter and other large pieces of wreckage; the charred remains of a hatch-back lay next to them. Narrow, gloomy back alleys weave between the buildings of the town like a snake, creating a huge maze separated from the hustle and bustle of the streets. An M1 Abrams tank and a Stryker lie dormant on the road.
They are both surrounded by a group of intimidating soldiers, with one of them lazily manning the mounted turrets. They wear baggy, yellow and green camouflage clothes; their chests buried in bags of ammunition and various other items. The rucksacks on their backs look huge in comparison to their bodies. A powerfully built soldier leans against the tank. He sweats under the intense sun and numerous layers of clothing he is wearing. He looks extremely athletic; his huge muscles stretch the fibres of his clothes to their limits.
His head seems miniscule in comparison to his enormous, broad shoulders. He has a rugged, pasty complexion; his appearance seems paler still compared to the dark skin tones of the Arabs that nervously rush past. Rough stubble covers his jaw – it looks like he hasn’t shaved in weeks! A small boom microphone is swung down the side of his face and hovers before his colourless lips. He is wearing dark sport shades, leaving the concealed part of his face to the imagination. His helmet isn’t clipped together under his chin; it is slumped on the top of his head.
The badly stitched insignia of the United States Marine Corps (a golden eagle, globe and anchor) on his left sleeve is ripped and torn, due to fall off at any minute. In his hands, he grips a scratched, matt black M16A4 assault rifle that is covered with attachments: a small sight, a cylinder-shaped laser distance finder and a grenade launcher. He is far from under-protected; he wears thick, deep grey padded gloves that look ten sizes too small for the soldier’s shovel-like hands; along with camouflage pads that are loosely fastened to his bulging knee and elbow joints.
The sun drearily hangs on the horizon, casting large, oblong shadows across the town. It slowly creeps down and out of sight, allowing the town to descend into darkness. The distant sound of repetitive gun fire that rattles through the air is rather soothing. The noise of large metal rotors from several Apache helicopters fills the air as they fly overhead, deafening everyone for miles around. Their chiselled, futuristic exteriors reflect something from a sci-fi movie. In a back alley, a dark-skinned insurgent stands facing a feeble-looking man, who anxiously holds a large, black leather briefcase.
The insurgent’s head is covered with a red, patterned table-cloth type material that falls below his neck; with only one small gap across his face that reveals his hard, piercing eyes. The rest of his body is draped in a brilliant white, silk robe. A grubby AK-47 with no stock is loosely strapped to his back. The man holding the briefcase has scars running across his face, the most prominent stretching from his ear right down to his lips; it looks like he has tried shaving with a cheese grater. Standing next to each other, the insurgent is almost a head taller than the man.
Sweat pours down the man’s face as he nervously hands the briefcase over to the insurgent, who eagerly stands awaiting the delivery. Their meeting is interrupted by two soldiers shouting loudly and running towards them. The insurgent and the man quickly scurry off into the embracing darkness of the back-alley. The town sinks in to darkness for another night. The cool, crisp air replaces the sweltering heat. A light breeze whistles over the empty town as people start heading for their homes; eventually the density of people in the streets declines into nothing.
The few street lamps that braid the road faintly flicker. Bright green tracer from the direction of the distant gun-fire spontaneously shoots off into the night sky at various angles and then disappears from view. The lonesome soldiers huddle together around the grumbling vehicles, desperately trying to share the little body heat they have. In place of dark sports shades, they now wear huge, black bulky night vision goggles. All the lights are off, except for the moon that dimly lights up the night sky. The town is asleep.