“Tomorrow morning at dawn, we’re going after Zarqawi.”
Zarqawi! Everyone is abuzz. The most wanted man in Iraq, the very face of evil—no way. This is something big.
Much like life itself, many of my missions in Iraq didn’t turn out quite the way I’d expected or planned. Sent to capture Zarqawi, we missed him by mere hours…but we got his ice cream.
The following is an excerpt from Zarqawi’s Ice Cream, demonstrating how a book of Iraq war stories came to be called something so seemingly random…and how even the most dire of situations have a silver lining.
Two dozen men, women, and children remain in the house. We bring the prisoners outside, in front of the house, and watch them. Presumably, they’re friends, family, or associates of Zarqawi’s, but they look like typically wretched Iraqis to me. The men are bound and forced to squat. We sit the women and children on the ground, apart from the men. The infantry are tired and hungry. The adrenaline ebbs, and our stomachs growl ravenously. There is nothing to do. We take turns watching prisoners and wandering through the house. Although it looks as if it’s been hit by a missile, I can tell this was once a magnificent Iraqi estate. The spacious house is three stories tall, filled with art, and tastefully decorated. These people may or may not know Zarqawi, but they know somebody.
The bathroom is still a hole in the floor. They’re usually dirt, but this mansion has a porcelain-lined hole. I escort a little Iraqi boy to use his family’s hole in the floor. In a cracked mirror, I stare deep into my bloodshot eyes and find no answers. We bring the women blankets to lie on while scream at their men for struggling against their restraints. The women stare at us with cold, undying hatred, and I don’t blame them. Rangers destroyed their home, we shot at their men, and now I have to escort them to the bathroom. This is bullshit. Where’s Zarqawi?
“Sergeant D, do you know if the Rangers got Zarqawi?”
“No. They didn’t.” I don’t know how he knows these things, but Sergeant D is always right. “He was here, but we waited too long. Zarqawi left a few hours before we got here.
“How much longer are we going to be here?”
The hours limp by, and the troops are disgruntled. We’re bored, sleep deprived, and above all, hungry. Durk comes downstairs drinking a soda.
“Where’d you get that?”
“Found it in the mini-fridge in the parents’ room. I left a thank-you note.”
“Was there any food in there?”
“Don’t think so—just sodas and ice cream.”
“Ice cream!” Several infantrymen leap up.
Sure enough, there’s a box of chocolate ice-cream bars in the freezer, and Durk’s note: “Dear Zarqawi, thank you for the soda. I’ll get you back one day. Your friend, Durk.” We stuff our pockets full of ice cream and go back outside.
All of a sudden, life isn’t so bad. We’ve been standing in the heat for hours watching a bunch of women and children, that bastard Zarqawi is still free, but at least we have his ice cream. A piece of chocolate flakes off my ice-cream bar and lands on my machine gun, I don’t brush it off. Sergeant Todd looks angry.
“Hey! What the fuck you think you’re doing?”
“You can’t eat in front of the prisoners.”
Durk and I don’t say anything. We look sheepish and flash our best puppy-dog eyes.
“Ah, hell. Just go around the corner, take turns watching ’em . . . and can I have one?”
One of the elderly women looks at us with more hate than before. Durk figures it must be her ice cream. The children look at us with sad, hungry eyes until we give them some bars. Soon we’re all munching Zarqawi’s ice cream together.
The sun is high in the sky. We’ve been here since dawn. It’s been a long day already. Melted chocolate tastes milky sweet to our impoverished taste buds. The vanilla cream in the middle slides down our parched throats and is a balm to our empty stomachs. I suck the last bits of chocolate off the wooden stick as the Iraqi men look at us with despondent eyes. Not only are their legs on fire, but there isn’t enough ice cream for them. Did the Nazis eat ice cream while their prisoners watched? If they didn’t, they should have. Nothing satisfies like ice cream after destroying someone’s home and shooting at their loved ones.
Then it is time to go. There are only two things on my mind as I climb into the Two Truck for the ride home on Vanessa: a decent meal and a couple of hours’ sleep. Fifteen minutes from the FOB, in the middle of dream, an explosion rocks the right side of the Humvee. Shrapnel peppers the side and sends spider webs through my window. No one is hurt, but we’re awake again.
“God damn it, not another IED!” Sergeant D is incredulous.
“That makes number four.” Vanessa scores another hit on the Two Truck.
“Damn you, Zarqawi!” Bob shakes his fist in the air.
“Think he did it?”
“Of course he did,” Bob reasons. “We destroyed his house, shot at his family and friends—hell, we even ate his ice cream. This was his revenge.”
Durk just shakes his head. “But I left him a note.”
* * *