PART IV – Babylon Will Rise
Dukan Lake & Camp Unity, Iraq
Two black Mercedes SUV’s pulled up to the chain-link fence. No Trespassing signs peppered the slightly rusty barrier every few feet in Arabic.
Sam looked to Troy, “You sure we’re at the right place?”
Troy nodded, “GPS, don’t lie,” he said as he touched the digital screen on the dashboard with his index finger.
“But there’s nothing here,” she said.
“You’ve just described most of this Godforsaken country in four words,” retorted Troy with a smirk.
In the direct center of the fenced land, several trees partially obstructed a slab of concrete in the shape of a right triangle that jutted out eight feet high from the dry, parched earth. The drab tan painted concrete started to peel off after years of exposure to the brutal rays of the Mideast sun.
All eight members of the Omega Group climbed from the two SUV’s. The area was desolate, no dwelling or building within eyesight, but none of them took any chances. As they slowly made their way forward, each of them scanned every direction for hidden threats. They all cradled HK416’s as they moved away from the vehicles and towards the perimeter fence.
Gun up no matter what.
That’s how one stays alive longer in Iraq.
Before them, an old, long since abandoned guard shack still stood. The weathered roof partially collapsed as time and nature displayed her awesome power. The chain-link fence was still closed, secured by a thick padlock.
Troy looked towards Terrence, “Mind grabbing the bolt cutters from the vehicle Sarge?” he asked.
“Sure thing,” replied Terrance as he walked back towards the Mercedes.
“Grab a pry bar while you’re at it,” added Troy.
“You got it, Cap.”
Terrence returned a minute later and with one fluid motion with his enormous forearms, he squeezed the cutter handles together and the heavy lock snapped easily as it fell to the ground.
Once through the gate, the team approached the 90-degree vertical side of the concrete structure. A heavy steel door greeted them. The door was seven feet tall and five feet wide and although they had no way of knowing it, the thickness of the door was eighteen inches. It was essentially a blast door. To the right of the door was a metal panel twelve inches’ square. It was smooth except for a keyhole directly in the center.
“You got the first key?” asked Troy as he looked back at the Colonel.
“I do,” responded Colonel Marshall as he stepped forward with a single, oversized brass key in his right hand. He inserted the key and turned it clockwise until a distinct click sound occurred. The panel opened to reveal a ten-digit electronic keypad. Next, he entered the eight-digit code provided by the CO at Camp Unity. As he entered the final digit and pressed the pound key a hissing sound occurred on the right side of the door followed by the unmistakable sound of three locking rods sliding out from the inside of the door. A dull thud occurred when the process concluded to indicate the door’s locking mechanism disengaged.
Troy pulled on the handle and slowly with an elongated creaking sound the heavy door gave way and opened. They could only see the first few steps down and below that nothing but utter darkness. On the left-hand wall above the top step, several switches were in the downward position. Troy flicked the switches up and the fluorescent lights above the stairs turned on after several brief flickers.
“Let there be light,” deadpanned Jesús.
The light fixtures made a humming sound as they illuminated. Troy smiled and looked towards Sam. He gestured with his right hand towards the descending stairs, “Ladies first.”
“On no,” she replied as she stuck her index finger up and waved it back and forth, “No need to be gallant Cap. I’ll stay back and let one of you upstanding gents go down the creepy stairs first into the abyss below.”
“Wuss,” replied Troy as he took the first step downward and nudged her with his elbow as he passed.
The team followed Troy as he descended the narrow concrete stairs with the Jackal taking up the rear. It was a steep descent down into the bowels of the facility. A steel I-beam used to transport the two nukes underground in 1984 lined the roof. As they reached the bottom of the stairs, it was another twenty feet through a dimly lit tunnel before they reached the second door. This one was the same size of the first and appeared to be blast resistant as well. Again the Colonel used another key to reveal a keypad and entered the unique code. The door opened in a similar manner as the one above ground. Another flight of stairs led them even further underground.
The air smelled stale as they reached the bottom. The only sounds were the hum of the ballasts that regulated the lighting and the sound of their own footfalls on the smooth concrete. Troy guessed they were almost fifty feet underground before they reached the last step.
The stairway led to a vast, dark room. With most of the lights burnt out, the team used their EDC Ultimate 60 flashlights to illuminate their way as they explored the bowels of the bunker. On the left side of the complex, they located a heavy vault door which stood ajar.
The empty vault only contained two empty cradles. Shortly after the 2003 invasion, DOD workers filled in the hole in the corner of the room. No evidence remained of the tunnel used to sneak the weapons out of the facility. The metal cradles a stark reminder that at one point two American nuclear weapons lay inside the vault. As the team walked around the vault, they sensed an eerie feeling of the room being like a crypt, minus any bodies.
On the other side of the subterranean complex, a series of rooms served as living quarters for the staff tasked with guarding the facility. There were also several other rooms used as offices according to the schematics provided to them.
For the next thirty minutes, the team scoured each room, no one quite certain what they hoped to find.
Digger and the Jackal were with each other much of the time. About ten minutes into the search the Jackal leaned over and whispered, “What exactly does Cap hope to find?”
Digger shrugged in response and shook his head.
“This place was long ago abandoned,” continued the Jackal, “Seems like an awfully dangerous trip all the way out here to Buttville for nada if you ask me.”
With a nod of his head, Digger didn’t disagree.
Finally, they searched the offices. One of them belonged to Naseefa al-Majid which was the office Troy showed the most interest in examining. Papers strewn across the floor revealed Naseefa had left in a hurry back in 2003. An eyewitness confirmed the nukes were on site the day before the invasion. Their removal from the vault occurred only a few hours before the team of US military soldiers arrived that fateful day.
Troy walked around the sparse office. In his right hand, he had a long piece of rebar he had found outside the vault door. As he paced the office, he kept taking the three feet piece of steel and striking it on the wooden floor as he thought. To give the office a less drab feel Naseefa installed wood flooring on top of the concrete. The steel striking the wood made a dull thud sound each time Troy repeated the motion.
After searching the office for a while, examining every drawer and crevice doubt started to creep into his mind. They had found nothing. What did I expect to find? He asked himself. As he turned to leave he saw a photo in the far corner of the room that caught his eye. He approached the photo and saw it was a personalized picture of Naseefa with his cousin Saddam Hussein. Troy picked up the photo with his left hand and stared at it. He decided it would serve as an interesting memento of this trip. His right hand once again struck the rebar onto the wooden floor as it had countless other times.
But, a curious thing happened.
There was no dull thud sound like every other time. What greeted his motion was a hollow echo sound. His ears perked up, and he slammed the rebar down again, the same hollow echo reverberated. He stepped a few feet away from the corner towards the center of the room slammed down the rebar and the dull thud sound occurred again. His mind raced, his heartbeat increased, and he knew at that moment his trip had not been in vain.
“Sarge,” Troy yelled.
Terrance had stepped out of the office and walked back to the steel doorframe, “What is it, Cap?”
“Where’s that pry bar?”
“Near the bottom of the stairs. Why?”
“Grab it for me please,” instructed Troy.
“You got it,” said Terrance who left and returned a minute later with the angled piece of steel.
Troy went to the corner of the room and tore at the boards that ran horizontally across the floor. It took a couple minutes but once he pulled up enough of them he saw the hidden chamber. By now the whole team crammed into the room curious to see what he had found. Troy shined his flashlight down the dark hole and something shiny glared back from the bottom. He crouched down to the ground on all fours and reached into the black hole. As he pulled out a dusty, silver box about the length and width of a legal file with a depth of about eight inches a wide grin covered his face.
“You clever dog,” remarked the Colonel as he patted Troy on his broad shoulder.
“Or just plain lucky,” said Digger.
“A man makes his own luck,” replied Troy.
All eyes were on the box. Troy walked it over to the desk, placed it down in a delicate fashion and opened the lid very slowly.
The Jackal took a step backward, “Just in case it blows,” he quipped.
“Grow a set,” retorted Sam as she glanced back at him.
“Oh I have a pair, and I intend to keep um’ right where they are! In one piece!”
Troy was right, Sam fit right in with the boys.
Inside was an assortment of items. Over twenty stacks of Iraqi Dinar in various denominations lined the top of the container. As Troy removed them he found several passports. When he opened them he noticed all the pictures were Naseefa al-Majid yet the names differed on each document. There was even an Untied States passport within the stack. A small caliber handgun was also among the contents. Troy removed all the items and found several documents in the bottom. He flipped through each one and handed them off to various members of the team so they could inspect each page.
Then he found it. The most curious piece of paper in the collection. He looked it over with a keen eye, even spun it around several ways. His mind wondered what it could be at first.
Troy handed it to Digger, “What do you think this is?”
Digger took the piece of paper and looked at it, “A blueprint of some sort.”
“But it’s clearly not this facility.”
Digger shook his head, “No chance, the dimensions are all wrong. Who knows where it could be.”
Troy pointed to the item in the center of the diagram, “And what does that look like?”
Digger scrutinized the drawing. His eyebrows raised as he looked up to Troy and they made eye contact, “It looks like a cradle that would hold a nuclear warhead, Cap,” he said with a concerned look on his face. “Two side-by-side which leads me to believe it’s for the pair of nukes we gave them.”
“Exactly,” replied Troy.
“Maybe it’s where Naseefa planned to keep the weapons after he removed them from this facility,” said Harry who held the diagram.
“It’s very possible,” said Troy.
“We have no way of knowing how many facilities the Iraqi’s designed to house the weapons,” interjected Sarge. “I’m sure moving them from this place was no last minute decision. Plans must have been in the works for a while. Think how long it took to dig the tunnel they used to sneak the two weapons out. That took lots of foresight and planning.”
“True,” acknowledged Troy.
The team discussed the diagram for a few minutes before the Colonel interrupted. He looked down at his watch, “Great find Cap, and we can analyze it all we want but it’s about time we head topside. Almost nightfall and I don’t want to be stuck coming out of here in the pitch black. Anyway, our ride to Camp Unity should have arrived by now.”
“Not taking the Mercedes back?” asked Harry.
“No, not after the attack earlier. I arranged for two Blackhawks to escort us back to Kirkuk.”
“And the vehicles?”
“That’s the agencies problem,” remarked the Colonel with a raised eyebrow.
Troy carefully put the items back into the box and left the diagram on the top as he closed the lid. With the box tucked under his left arm, he headed towards the door. The team followed behind as Troy led the way. Ten minutes later with the facility doors sealed shut the eight members were safe aboard the helo heading southwest toward Kirkuk.
Two hours later the scene was remarkably different.
The walls were a dull gray while the floors and ceiling were off-white. A stainless steel table adorned the center of the room with two metal chairs on either side. An overhead round light swayed back and forth above the table. The air conditioning blew hard enough to move the light fixture. Security cameras in each corner pointed towards the center. A two-way mirror on the far wall displayed two men’s reflection as they glared at each other.
After several minutes of complete silence, the olive-skinned man spoke, “So you must be with the Central Intelligence Agency. Am I right?”
The man across from him shook his head back and forth.
A curious expression formed on the olive skinned man’s face, “If you’re not with the agency who are you? What do you want?” The man’s tone divulged he was clearly tired. Sleep had eluded him for quite a while courtesy of the people in the facility which held him.
Troy cleared his throat, “I’m a Captain win the United States Army. Part of the US Special Forces group.”
Interrogation is considered an art form. The training can vary and the techniques not always consistent. The job is to extract information while the approach on how that occurs enters a gray area from time-to-time. Everyone takes their training and puts their own unique spin on what methodologies they administer on detainees. Certain ones work while other don’t. Troy had only been through basic classes on the art of interrogation during his stint with the Army. He had even experienced limited training while at The Farm in Virginia but he was mainly on the receiving end of that experience. It was not pleasant, but it was necessary for him to know what to expect. He had experienced many interrogations while in the field and even on occasion conducted his own. Sometimes they occurred in facilities like where he sat but most took place during missions where rules and procedures vary immensely. The situation determines the lines needed and when those lines became blurred and must be crossed.
Troy needed intel. He wanted to connect the dots and discover information the interrogators had not retrieved. It was not always the case, but he decided before stepping into the room with Jalal that an honest discourse would be the best approach.
Jalal al-Majid feigned surprise, “Special Ops? So you’re not a trained interrogator?”
“No, I’m not.”
“What do you want from me?” asked Jalal.
“Answers,” countered Troy.
“I’m just a businessman, no more, no less.”
“So I heard.”
“I’ve told these men who’ve held me against my will for the past week everything I know.”
“That may be the case, but I have other questions they may not have asked.”
“I doubt that. The sadistic people who run this facility are detail oriented. They’ve asked everything.”
“We’ll see,” answered Troy.
“Do you have a name?” asked Jalal.
Most interrogators lie, standard procedure dictates that real names shouldn’t be used when questioning foreign detainees. But Troy couldn’t give two squirts of piss for the standard procedure. He answered honest and direct, “Captain Troy Evans,” he replied.
Jalal stared at him. An icy glare, full of contempt. After several tense seconds passed Jalal spoke, “Can I ask you a couple questions, Captain Evans?” He paused before he added, “Before you start to question me.”
It started as an unorthodox interrogation and Troy decided to let it continue in that manner, “Go for it,” was his reply as he nodded his head.
“Do you think the Iraqi people want you here?”
“Like me here right now, or Americans in general?” answered Troy with a hint of sarcasm in his tone.
“Period. Do they want you and your people here in their country?”
“It’s a little too late for that right?”
“Is it? You could leave. Most your army has already tucked tail and left.”
Jalal was clearly attempting to get under Troy’s skin, but he saw through the question and played along.
“You want the insurgency to tear apart what’s left of your nation?” asked Troy.
“They will anyway,” replied Jalal as he threw his head back. “I highly doubt your government and especially don’t believe your weak President will do much to stop them. He wants to wash his hands of what the last President started.”
“We have a quote in the United States. ‘The only thing necessary for evil to triumph, is for good men to do nothing,’” said Troy.
“Edmund Burke,” answered Jalal, “I know him well.”
“Sure you do,” answered Troy.
“We’re not all uneducated Haji in my country,” uttered Jalal in a tone punctured with scorn. “No matter what you Americans believe.”
“You really don’t have a clue what I think about Iraqi’s Jalal. Do you?”
Jalal said nothing.
“I’ve spent years of my life here. Along the way, I’ve met brave men and women and witnessed heroic acts as average citizens stood up for what’s right. I believe your people are survivors and wish for a better future. Not unlike what American’s want.”
“We don’t want a ‘little America’ here in Iraq,” countered Jalal with a scornful retort.
“I never said you did. What I’m saying is we are not so different, your people and mine. Deep down humanity has the same innate desires, no matter what plot of earth they call home.”
“We were safer under Saddam. All of us.”
“All of you may be a bit of a stretch. Some may have been but certainly not all. Members of the Ba’ath party were. I’m sure the al-Majid family did quite under Saddam, you being family and all. Then again, he cut off the tongue of his own family members and threw people off rooftops for sport.”
Jalal shook his head vigorously, “Saddam provided stability.”
“Saddam was a lunatic and mentally unstable. He was nothing more than a dictator who led by fear.”
If Troy was trying to win Jalal over, his approach sucked. But, there was a method to his madness, even if the others on the opposite side of the glass couldn’t tell.
“And yet your nation supported him during the 1980’s no?” countered Jalal.
“The enemy of my enemy is my friend,” retorted Troy.
“Ahh Pyreglide,” remarked Jalal. “See, Saddam served his purpose, and America discarded him when they no longer needed him. You people have a history of doing that to various leaders worldwide.”
“I’m pretty sure we won’t see eye to eye on politics or the Hussein family,” said Troy in a slightly perturbed tone. “Any more questions?”
Jalal’s eyes narrowed, “Are Iraqi’s better off now than they were under Saddam before your country’s invasion?” he paused. “That is what I really want to know Captain Evans. Answer me that please.” He was clearly goading him.
Troy had to admit to himself it was a good question, and more than likely the answer was no. But he wouldn’t admit that, not to Jalal. But, he also knew no answer would suffice. The question was a trap.
After a pause, he said, “I’m not an Iraqi so I really can’t answer that. But I do know the Iraqi citizens can now choose their own destiny. That wasn’t an option they had under Saddam’s rule. If your people want to be led by another tyrant, go ahead take a step backward. But, if you want a relatively free and open society to move past the infighting and violence that has engulfed your nation. We’ve provided an amazing gift, and it’s up to your people what they choose to do with it.”
“You know nothing of my people,” said Jalal with contempt in his voice.
“I’ve bled with your people. Cared for them and wept with them. They are a remarkable people. But, I’ve also seen firsthand some are hell-bent on killing each other and have been for a long time. The Kurds, Sunni, and Shia tolerate each other but deep down hatred and animosity boils below the surface.”
“And Saddam kept the internal destruction from occurring,” interrupted Jalal, “He brought peace and stability to the nation.”
“Through fear,” countered Troy. “Do you think most Iraqis want to go back to that?”
A sudden smile formed at the corner of Jalal’s lips, “Our conversation is getting nowhere.”
“And like I told you before, I know nothing. Your visit was a waste I’m afraid.”
Troy wondered for a moment if Jalal was right. Did he risk the lives of his team for nothing? Was his gut wrong? The questions washed over him like a towering wave.
“My father didn’t tell me where he hid the weapon,” said Jalal sensing what Troy would ask. “I’ve told your interrogators that in countless ways, and it’s the truth.”
Troy looked into the features of the man across from him. Jalal’s eyes convinced him of the truth. His father had not provided the location. But maybe he told him something that would help? Troy thought to himself.
“Do you love your father?” asked Troy.
The question threw off Jalal who responded, “Excuse me?”
“It’s a simple question. Do you love your father?”
Without hesitation, Jalal replied, “Of course.”
“You would do anything to protect him?”
“Yes,” answered Jalal, “Even die for him if Allah wills it.”
Troy was honest, “My mission is to secure the weapons your father sold to Sulzer at all costs and make sure we leave no living witnesses,” Troy paused for a moment before he continued. “Get my drift? My directive is to kill your father after I recover the nukes.”
Jalal glared at Troy while the revelation took hold. His face displayed his intentions. However, the shackles upon his wrists and ankles kept him at bay.
Troy knew that passion. It was something he held within himself for many, many years.
“But I can show him mercy,” continued Troy. “I can do my best to protect your father.”
Jalal, filled with rage responded with a hiss, “And why would you do that?”
“I’m well versed in loss and understand all too well how it feels to lose those you hold most dear.”
Jalal controlled his anger and took a moment before he responded. “You can’t guarantee his safety! If the United States government wants my father eliminated, then he’s a dead man.”
“I’m not sure of my own survival,” replied Troy. “But I can promise you I’ll do everything in my power to protect your father and reunite the two of you.”
“Why? Why would you do such a thing? Especially if it contradicts your orders.”
Troy held out his hand and extended it towards Jalal who looked at it like it was a foreign object. Jalal doubted his gesture. “Why should I trust you?”
With his arm hanging in mid-air Troy said, “Because my word is my bond. And I have never, ever broken that bond my entire life.” As he spoke the words Troy looked directly at Jalal. “If I say I’ll do my best to spare your father, you can be assured come hell or high-water I’ll do just that.”
Jalal stared into Troy’s deep blue eyes. If the eyes are truly the window to the soul Jalal could see the man before him was honest and trustworthy. A fierceness burned within Troy’s eyes but there was also a compassion not far from the surface.
Not fully realizing at the time why he did so Jalal reached across the table and firmly grasped Troy’s hand. The men shook hands for a moment before Jalal withdrew his hand.
“So you do your best to spare my father, what’s next?”
“He comes back to Iraq.”
Jalal immediately shook his head, “No! The Iraqi High Tribunal will put him on trial for his ties to the Ba’ath Party. Do you think they will treat him fair? That he’ll be provided a legitimate and impartial form of justice? Corruption is rife in the United States, but here in Iraq fraud is almost second nature. I don’t have the financial means to ensure his trial is not a sham.”
“Like I told you the United States government wants your father dead. So your choice is quite simple. If you tell me nothing your father dies, or you can trust me and tell me what I need to know and your father may live to stand trial in Iraq. But make no mistake, the choice is yours to make. His life is in your hands.”
“He never told me where he took them after they left the Dukan Lake facility,” reiterated Jalal. “He didn’t wish for that burden or target be upon my brow.”
“But he told you something,” replied Troy as he spoke in a softer tone. “And whatever that is it will allow me to find the weapons. I can sense that to be true.”
In that instant, Jalal believed Captain Evans was the only person on earth that might have the ability to save his father. He was certain deep down he could not let that chance slip away. If he did, he would regret it for the rest of his life. The fight left him, and Troy could see it.
Jalal let out a long breath. It almost sounded like the last exhale of air as a person perishes. He looked down then up once more and locked eyes with Troy.
“My father’s last words to me Captain Evans before he fled Iraq in 2003 were Babylon will rise!”
The phrase sunk in and it clicked almost immediately, it was the clue Troy hoped to receive.
Up Next ... Part V