Four days later, we had to take another key river town, Samawah, on the West bank of the Euphrates a few miles closer to Baghdad. The battle went differently here: it came down to street fighting starring the Bradleys. This was another case where we proved that for urban fighting, a vehicle with lower-caliber, rapid-firing turret weapon is better than an MBT. Like I said in a previous column, that's what the Lebanese militias found out back in the 70s.
And what they also found was that in close corners where you can't use artillery, you need that oldest, best weapon the Soviets ever made: the RPG. Which brings us to....
Special Lifetime Award: the RPG
This one goes to a classic modern weapon that's probably a lot older than you are, and is still going strong. I'm talking, of course, about the RPG, the Soviet-designed rocket-propelled grenade launcher. It was kicking ass in the A Shau valley in 1970, and it's still kicking ass on the streets of Baghdad today. Unfortunately, it's our asses that got kicked by this magnificent weapon, but you can't blame the RPG for that. Vato's just trying to do his pinchy job.
The RPG is plain and unbreakable, like the really good Soviet designs always were. It's a simple firing tube that looks kind of like a bassoon with a trigger. The grenades are just as simple: two cones joined at the base. You just stick the grenade into the tube, aim and fire. This is a classic line-of-sight weapon, which is one of the reasons the US military gives for not trying to counter it or reverse-engineer our own version of it. We've stuck to bigger, heavier antitank weapons or disposable launchers like the LAW. But the rest of the world has voted for the RPG. And it keeps finding new ways to hurt the enemy. For example, nobody ever thought of it as an anti-aircraft weapon...until they needed something to knock down Blackhawks, which are pretty much invulnerable to small-arms fire. That's when the Somalis, who were getting annoyed with the Blackhawks ferrying US troops across Mog without having the simple politeness to come down and fight on the ground, heard from some ex-Afghan Jihadis that if you hit the tail rotor with an RPG, even a Blackhawk would come down. Since then, everybody's been doing it.
The US military's line is to snub the RPG, just pretend it doesn't exist. This never worked too well, and it's still not working. For example, what's the record on RPG attacks on Bradleys in Iraq? I've had some scary emails from guys serving there who say that they've seen APCs blown wide open by a single RPG hit.
So this weapon has been holding its own 40 years, and if anything it's getting more powerful, more effective. That deserves a huge Claymore.
Biggest Fizzle: Syria
Remember when everybody was saying "Once we finish with Iraq, Syria's next"? It was back in the Spring of 2003, when we were rolling up Saddam's army like a motel carpet. It was like people were getting off on the war so much they didn't want the party to stop, and the obvious move was to barge in next door, to Syria.
Well, a funny thing happened on the way to Damascus (as a guy named Saul once said): we didn't finish with Iraq, and it doesn't look like we will anytime soon. So the big build-up for an attack on Syria fizzled out. If people had any sense, it'd stay that way. We're already going to spend I-don't-know-how-many zillion bucks making the Iraqis love us at gunpoint, so maybe it's not the time to take on a new fucked-up foster child. But there's a presidential election coming up, and maybe one of the head spinners thinks it's time to grab some more desert. If we ever do take on Syria, it'll be a different kind of fizzle, sort of like Iraq squared. The Syrians are lousy soldiers but real good spies and assassins, which means their army will just dissolve when the M-1s roll in, but then the locals will start timing our street patrols, digging up their buried AKs, and picking off humvees. The only difference is that where Saddam didn't actually have any international terrorist friends, the Syrians do. They're tight with some of the craziest guerrilla armies in Lebanon, and those guys were scary enough to make the Israelis leave town in a hurry.