Anonymous Iraqi Army Lieutenant
Anonymous Iraqi Army Lieutenant
Excerpt from his diary during the coalition bombing of Operation Desert Storm
January 15–February 17, 1991
Available on Historical Text Archives, Mississippi State University (Web site).
On August 2, 1990, Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein launched a military invasion of Kuwait. Iraqi troops occupied the tiny country on the Persian Gulf for the next six months. Most nations around the world condemned Iraq's actions, and more than thirty-five countries joined the U.S.-led coalition that sent military forces to the region. The United Nations (UN) Security Council established a deadline of January 15, 1991, for the Iraqi army to withdraw from Kuwait or risk an attack by coalition forces. When Hussein failed to withdraw his troops by the deadline, the coalition launched a series of intensive air attacks against military targets in Iraq and Kuwait.
The diary excerpt that follows begins on the day of the UN Security Council deadline. It was written by a young lieutenant in the Iraqi army who was part of a unit assigned to defend al-Salman air field in southern Iraq. This air field became a key military target of the coalition bombing raids that began on January 17. The Iraqi lieutenant describes his experiences during a month of coalition air attacks.
The Iraqi soldier talks about his feelings of fear and frustration during the coalition bombing raids. He witnesses the deaths of fellow soldiers on several occasions. He is nearly killed himself when low-flying coalition planes fire missiles and machine guns at Iraqi troops and tanks. He eventually becomes angry at his inability to fight back against the constant attacks.
The young soldier also expresses concern about his family and how the war will affect them. He worries about his parents and his wife and children somewhere in Iraq, as well as his brothers who are stationed in Kuwait with the Iraqi army. The lieutenant also is troubled by the fact that his younger brother has recently become eligible to be drafted into the army. He tries to send a letter to his loved ones and becomes upset when it is returned to him.
The writer of the diary is a practicing Muslim (a person who follows the religion of Islam). He appears to be a deeply religious man. He quotes from the Koran (the holy book of the Islamic religion) on several occasions, and he often calls upon God to protect him and his family. But the experiences he endures in the war eventually cause him to question his faith. By the end of the diary, the young soldier has grown very ill and has trouble performing his duties.
Things to remember while reading the excerpt from the Iraqi Army Lieutenant's diary:
- In the first diary entry, the young soldier says that he supports Hussein's decision to invade Kuwait. He believes that Iraq has a "historic right" to Kuwaiti territory. He is referring to the fact that Kuwait was a part of Iraq during the late 1800s, when most of the Middle East region was controlled by the Ottoman Empire. When Great Britain took charge of the area following World War II (1939–45), British authorities established new borders that made Iraq and Kuwait separate nations. Some Iraqis argued that Kuwait should have been included as part of Iraq. They felt that the British government had taken away land that lawfully belonged to them.
- Iraqi soldiers were not always treated well by Saddam's government. During the Persian Gulf War, many Iraqi troops received little pay, suffered shortages of food and water, and were forced to fight against their will by threats of violence against them and their families. The Iraqi lieutenant who wrote this diary admits being hungry, thirsty, exhausted, depressed, and ill. He also recalls an incident in which some Iraqi soldiers were executed for leaving their posts without permission.
- • The young soldier discusses an episode in which a flock of sheep wander into his army camp. He decides that coalition bombing raids must have killed the shepherd who was guarding the flock. He expresses outrage that the coalition bombs hit Iraqi civilians (people not involved in the war, including women and children). Although the coalition air strikes were aimed at military targets, such as air bases and nuclear and chemical weapons facilities, they sometimes missed or were mistakenly aimed at civilian targets.
Excerpt from an Anonymous Iraqi Army Lieutenant's diary
Tuesday 15 January 1991
Leave wassuspended today for officers and men because of the end of theperiod [granted] by theSecurity Council for Iraq to withdraw from Kuwait. We are there and it is a historic right that was stolen from us when we could do nothing. The army is in a state of total alert to prepare itself against allied and American aggression expected against our well-loved territory. I am very worried for my parents because I know what these conditions represent for them. But God is good. We wish the war had not happened, but so it has, so combat would be welcome.
Thursday 17 January 1991
"Say this: all that happens is what God has decided for us" [a quotation from the Koran, the holy book of the Islamic religion]. This morning at 2:45 A.M. I heard military aircraft. A few seconds later, the guard came in and told me in a voicetinged with caution, fear, andconsternation, "Lieutenant, lieutenant, there may be bombing." I dressed quickly and then realized that the American andAtlantic attack against our country was starting and that the war had begun. This is war, with all that word implies. Afterwards, the enemy planes began their intensive bombing on the airfield that we have been assigned to defend, at Al-Salman in Al-Matna province.
I am very worried. Rather I am very worried for my relatives. They are all alone out there. And I know how afraid they are.
O God! Protect.
O God! Patience.
O God! Save us all.
Leave: Time off from military duty.
Suspended: Temporarily stopped.
Period: The United Nations gave Iraq six weeks to withdraw from Kuwait; the deadline expired on January 15, 1991.
Security Council: The division of the United Nations charged with maintaining international peace and security. It consists of five permanent member nations (the United States, Russia, Great Britain, France, and China) and ten elected members that serve two-year terms.
Tinged: Slightly changed or affected by.
Consternation: Shock or confusion.
Atlantic: Western European.
Friday 18 January 1991
Heavy enemy bombing continues. The bombing and raids kept up all last night....
Monday 21 January 1991
Few enemy raids today. Our militarycommuniqués say that the enemy had bombed most of the regions and provinces of Iraq with planes and missiles. I am constantly gripped byanxiety.
Tuesday 22 January 1991
Thanks be to God. Many thanks be given him. Dawn has come and no raids have taken place, at least not so far.... Now heavy raids have begun again. God protect us! [He recalls going to a bunker to tell some troops to move to a safer place.] When I got there, I found four [unexploded] bombs. The situation was very difficult, because we had to pass close by them. But God protects. What an awful sight: one of the soldiers [disturbed] one of the bombs and suddenly it exploded and the soldier disappeared and I saw two pieces of his flesh on the second storey of the bunker.Allah aqbar. What a horrible thing to see. I went back to theregiment and found the first section [of troops] at another place. They had moved to safety.
Wednesday 23 January 1991
Threatening weather. Time drags. We wait and watch. I am very afraid for my brothers [stationed in Kuwait]. "We have builtbulwarks around and behind them and they see nothing" [a verse from the Koran]. O God, protect! O God, save us! The planes come back to bomb again. They were close and we could see them. "If only I had wings."
Thursday 24 January 1991
The raids began early. They began at about 2:30 A.M. today and have continued heavily without a let-up. I heard news thatBassorah has been bombed heavily. May God have come to help my relatives; I am very worried about them. How I want to see them and find out how they are! God isbeneficent. Where are they now? God only knows. Ahhhhhh!
Anxiety: Overwhelming fear or nervousness.
Allah aqbar: A common expression meaning "God is great."
Regiment: Organized group of soldiers.
Bulwarks: Solid walls of defense.
Bassorah: A city in Iraq.
Friday 25 January 1991
The raids stopped today and then started up again after sunset. Leaves had been suspended but were granted again. But thatdoesn't help me because only 5 percent are given leave. The important thing is that they've begun again. I sent a letter to my relatives and was so worried I forgot to ask about my children ... but I said hello to everybody. I ask God to protect them all.
Saturday 26 January 1991
Enemy air strikes continue, and I'm very worried, depressed, and bored. I think about my children.
Sunday 27 January 1991
The air strikes began this morning. I learned before noon today that I have been promoted to the rank of lieutenant and that the decision reached brigade headquarters after a delay of ... weeks. This afternoon I got back the letter I had sent to my relatives. It was returned to me because the soldier who was going to mail it didn't go on leave. I was very upset at this turn of events. My mind and my heart are with my relatives, and only my body is with the army. I very much need to see my relatives. I had a dream yesterday and it was not a goodomen at all.
Monday 28 January 1991
The enemy air raids continue and I am in a [shelter]. The top of it is only tent canvas. God protect us all. After sunset, a flock of sheep came up to us. Apparently the owner of the flock had been killed in the air raids. The enemy with modern planes has launched air strikes on a shepherd. Maybe the enemy took the sheep for nuclear or chemical orpetroleum sheep. For shame....
Omen: Prediction of a future event.
Indescribable: Impossible to describe.
Shrapnel: Fragments of bombs or missiles.
Allah: The name of God in the religion of Islam.
Saturday 2 February 1991
I was awakened this morning by the noise of an enemy air raid. I ran and hid in the nearby trench. I had breakfast and afterwards somethingindescribable happened. Two enemy planes came toward us and began firing at us, in turn, with missiles, machine guns, and rockets. I was almost killed. Death was a yard away from me. The missiles, machine guns, and rockets didn't let up. One of the rockets hit and pierced our shelter, which was penetrated byshrapnel. Over and over we said, "Allah, Allah, Allah." One tankburned and three other tanks belonging to 3rd Company, which we were with, were destroyed. That was a very bad experience.
Time passed and we waited to die. Themunitions dump of the 68th Tank Battalion exploded. A cannon shell fell on one side of the soldiers' positions, but, thank God, no one was there. The soldiers were somewhere else. The attack lasted about 15 minutes, but it seemed like a year to me. I read chapters in the Koran. How hard it is to be killed by someone you don't know, you've never seen, and can't confront. He is in the sky and you're on the ground. Our ground resistance is magnificent. After the air raid, I gave great thanks to God and joined some soldiers to ask how each of them was. While I was doing that, another air attack began....
Munitions dump: Place for storing old ammunition.
Dates: A type of fruit.
Lentils: Dried beans.
Sunday 3 February 1991
Few air raids today. The pain I've been having all the past 6 months has returned. I am sad. In the last 5 days I've eaten only a fewdates and boiledlentils. What have we done to God to endurethat? I have no news of my relatives. How can I, since I don't know what is happening to me.
What will become of me? What is happening to them? I don't know. I don't know. God protect them. How I miss my children....
Monday 11 February 1991
Enemy planes have come back and bombed heavily. We went to the trenches or, rather, the graves. I was very upset when I heard that people born in 1973 are being drafted. That means that my brother ... will have to go into the army. He isnaive. He can't manage by himself. He'll make a fool of himself. He's too picky about his food. Where will he find room for that in the army? And especially this army! How I wish I were with him so I could help him.
Tuesday 12 February 1991
I have been here for more than 35 days because leaves were canceled. I am bored and sad. This morning, I learned that 26 soldiers from our division were condemned to death fordeserting thefront. They wereapprehended nearSamawa and executed at 2nd Division headquarters. Two of them were from the 68th Tank Battalion that we were with. They were unlucky. Their shame is very great. God is good. God protects.
Thursday 14 February 1991
I woke up at 8 A.M. this morning and said my prayers. I couldn't make myablutions with water before praying, so I had to use the sand that had fallen on me and covered me from head to foot in an enemy air raid that had been going on continuously since midnight.
The planes launched missiles at our positions and the tanks that were with us, believing that the tanks were missile-launching sites. Smoke and dust rose into the sky and mingled with the smell ofpowder. None of us thought we could get out of this bombardment safely. But thanks be to God. I stood because I couldn't get into the trench on account of my illness. But, thank God, I wasn't hit.
Naive: Innocent; lacking experience, wisdom, or judgment.
Deserting: Leaving military service illegally.
Front: Forward battle lines where combat takes place.
Samawa: A city in Iraq.
Ablutions: Washing the body as part of a religious rite.
Powder: Explosive powder used in bombs and ammunition.
Friday 15 February 1991
I went to field hospital ... because I was very ill. I heard that Iraq has decided to withdraw from Kuwait.
Saturday 16 February 1991
I feel sofatigued that I can't breathe, and I think I am going to faint at any moment from my illness. The only thing that you can find everywhere in the world is air, and yet I can't breathe it. I can't breathe, eat, drink, or talk. I have been here for 39 days and have not yet gone on leave. The planes came and bombed Battalion headquarters. Most of the positions were destroyed and three soldiers were killed. When the planes came to bomb us, I remained standing because I can't go into the trench.
Sunday 17 February 1991
My illness is getting worse. I am short of breath. I hurt. I have begun taking medicine; I don't know what it is for, but the main thing is to take it because I know the medicine can't cause me any more pain than I'm already enduring. The air raids have started up again.
What happened next...
The diary ends on February 17, 1991. It is unclear what happened to the Iraqi army lieutenant who wrote it. He may have been killed or captured by coalition forces, or he may have been transferred to a hospital to recover from his illness.
A week later, on February 24, the U.S.-led coalition launched a dramatic ground assault to force the Iraqi troops to withdraw from Kuwait. By this time, the six-week air war had taken a devastating toll on the Iraqi forces and broken their will to fight. Like the writer of this diary, many Iraqi troops were hungry, thirsty, exhausted, ill, or suffering from wounds.
Coalition leaders expected the ground war to meet with tough resistance from Hussein's army, but they encountered very little. In fact, thousands of desperate Iraqi soldiers surrendered to the advancing coalition forces. Al-Salman air field, which this lieutenant's unit was defending, was captured by U.S. Marines early in the ground war and turned into a base for allied planes. The Iraqi army suffered a terrible defeat in the ground war, as coalition forces successfully liberated Kuwait after only one hundred hours of combat.
Did you know...
- By the end of the Persian Gulf War, coalition planes had flown 110,000 sorties (one plane flying one mission) and dropped more than 140,000 tons of bombs on targets in Iraq and Kuwait.
- Many Iraqi soldiers left diaries, letters, and other personal possessions behind when they were forced to surrender or abandon their defensive positions during the war. Some of these materials were later found by coalition troops. The diary excerpted here was discovered by a French soldier named Jacques Godelfrein, who donated it to the Historical Text Archives at Mississippi State University.
For More Information
"Diary of an Iraqi Army Lieutenant." Historical Text Archives, Mississippi State University. Available online at http://historicaltextarchive.com/sections.php?op=viewarticle8artid=85(accessed on February 27, 2004).
Lewis, Jon E., ed. The Mammoth Book of War Diaries and Letters: Life on the Battlefield in the Words of the Ordinary Soldier, 1775–1991. New York: Carroll and Graf, 1999.