A British Royal Logistic Corps captain shares his experiences of front-line service in Iraq.
Trained in IRA and Colombian FARC tactics of bomb construction, 31-year-old Hunter shipped out to Iraq in 2004 for a 101-day tour disposing of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and rooting out bomber teams. Despite his disgruntled wife (she wanted him back home in Oxfordshire) and two small daughters, Hunter admits that after 13 years on the job he still found its dangers and risks exhilarating. That may not be the adjective that comes to readers’ minds as they peruse his narrative, written as a present-tense diary of his tour of duty. IEDs created havoc for the troops in some 2,000 attacks a month, and sniffing out insurgents and their homemade bombs in a country where Westerners were angrily resented was perilous and extremely dicey work. Soldiers were both witting and unwitting provokers of disaster. Hunter saw a husband give his pregnant wife a severe beating after her burqa slipped and the British gazed at her face. He did nothing, he later explained to his men, because he’d heard about what happened when some fellow soldiers retaliated against a man who had beaten his 11-year-old daughter—the father cut her throat “to save his honor.” Neutralizing banks of explosives was a punishing, thankless task, and Hunter was frequently plagued by guilt and sadness about the violence he and the Americans inflicted. Eventually, he had to say goodbye to the other blokes (lots of jocular Briticisms here); he was promoted to major and got a desk job as a staff officer, leaving the situation in Iraq much the same as when he arrived. Ponderous platitudes from Gandhi to Gilda Radner form epigraphs to each chapter but don’t add much gravitas.
Hunter’s prose is wooden, his experiences rather formulaic, but he offers singular glimpses of the Iraqis’ harsh, hardscrabble lives.