Arabian Nights

As we approached the one-month mark in Baghdad we often passed the evenings on the roof of our quarters, it offered a grand view of Baghdad and a small respite from the long hot days. We tuned the radio to a Iraqi propaganda broadcast called “Flashes in the Gulf”, we recognized it for what it was, but it did offer some news of the home front complete with contemporary music. The rooftop evenings also gave us insights on the local Iraqis living nearby. We knew the Iraqi secret police had moved into the house across the street and we often saw them watching us with binoculars. In the pre dawn hours, we would observe them picking up our trash. We began a deception game of placing crudely drawn maps with military symbols on them in an attempt to deceive the Iraqis on the nature of the US forces buildup. After several mornings of the neighbor coming over to pick up our trash, Dewight Durmon a Hawk Missile Warrant decided to make his job a little easier and began carrying the trash across the street and depositing it at his doorstep. We would also occasionally talk with the Iraqi guards who were young men that appeared very nervous about their job. Sometimes we would approached a guard, pause and begin looking up to the sky and pointing, in our poor Arabic we would say “Shoof-Look” and the guard would ask what are we looking at? We'd respond “Stealth Plane”. After a few episodes of this, we would occasionally see the guards walking their post and pausing every now and then, to look skyward. We also knew that the phone calls we were permitted to make were monitored and we all exercised utmost caution and OPSEC when talking with our families. We knew if they discovered we were military personnel with diplomatic passports they would take us into custody.
By mid September, President Bush and Saddam Hussein had exchanged videotaped addresses to be aired on television. The US tape arrived via diplomatic pouch courier and the Charge delivered to the Iraqi Foreign Minister Tarqi Aziz. We watched it the following evening on Iraqi television. They first introduced the tape with a commentary, and then broadcasted it in its entirety. They followed up with a closing commentary about how the tape was not supported by any brotherly Arab nations which were now being forced by the US to allow infidel soldiers to enter holy Islamic sites and mosques. The day following the videotape broadcast, Iraqi demonstrators showed up outside the embassy compound for our routine demonstration. The situation appeared to be in complete stalemate. Iraq was determined to stop any coalition building and began offering free oil to any nation that would stand with them against the US. King Hussein of Jordan arrived in Baghdad and attempted to gain freedom for the hostages as a personal favor to President Bush, his efforts failed. The King of Jordan, with a huge Palestinian population to contend with, reluctantly gave weak support to Saddam Hussein and departed Baghdad. With prospects of release growing dimmer every day we continued our programs of evacuating American citizens, tracking the Americans who were brought to Baghdad for movement to Iraqi Strategic sites, devising plans for escape and continuous building of our food stocks. Iraq announced on 18 September that any foreigners caught violating food rationing would be hung. Our Charge was enraged at this pronouncement and immediately prepared and delivered a demarche to the Iraqi Foreign Ministry. Since the Iraqis were not providing their guest with any food, the only alternative they had was to use the black-market to obtain supplies. For us this meant it would become much more dangerous to obtain food on the local economy.
On 21 September, Iraq declared persona non-gratis all western Defense attaches. Our COS and COL. Richie, the DAO, had two days to get out of town. We helped them pack out their quarters and took all their food stocks. They also carried with them a wealth of knowledge on our contingency plans and the situation around Baghdad. We would attempt to fill the gap and continue efforts to collect HUMINT. CENTCOM was not happy with any plans of escape and had told us to wait out the situation, for fear that an escape plan that went wrong would cost lives and impact any diplomatic efforts. We ceased official plans but continued to explore options in the event war did break out. Things also got a little shaky after Iraq had violated the sovereignty of several western embassies in Kuwait. We prepared for the possibility that they might attempt to enter the embassy compound in Baghdad. Again the Iraqis pressed the Charge for another listing with occupation of all Kuwait embassy personnel whom were now being housed in the American embassy Baghdad. We quickly devised a plan to go to other western embassy compounds in Baghdad if they decided to take us into custody. We still could not understand why the Iraqis had not figured out that 11 of us were active duty military, our cover continued to hold but we became increasingly concerned that they would eventually figure it out and take us into custody. Our President had already declared us "Hostages" and the Iraqis called us "guests". All we knew was our situation was tenuous as best, and we were not being treated like guests, so our best option was to do our duty and look for a way out should the inevitable occur.

By early October 1990, approximately seven UN Resolutions were in place against Iraq. As always, there are ways around embargoes, and sanctions. The Iraqis were very resourceful and showing no signs of weakening. As much as we could observe, the spoils being brought from Kuwait and the open highway with Jordan were mitigating the effects of the embargo. We could see some impact on the economy by the rapid rise in inflation and the quality of food products. For example, fresh beef and poultry was becoming harder to find but were still available, although the quality was somewhat questionable. Many shop keepers told us that Iraqi diary farms were slaughtering off their herds due to lack grain and poultry farmers were also slaughtering off their laying hens for the same reason.
We began sensing nervousness throughout the city. The US buildup to "Desert Shield" was well underway and the GOI knew US troop strength and the coalition was rapidly growing. Hence the Iraqis began preparing the populace for air attacks by in placing antiaircraft guns on many of the city's government buildings and occasionally sounding the air raid sirens. The GOI efforts were not new to the populace, they were quick to inform us they had been through air, and missile attacks during the war with Iran. The locals that we spoke with just would not believe that attacks by the US would be far more devastating. They had a real mindset that they would survive and somehow Saddam would protect them.
  The GOI also began publicizing how their "Human Shields" would help protect key strategic sites and ensure peace. Military checkpoints already present began showing up randomly throughout the city. Gasoline rationing went into effect, although there was no shortage of gas, many felt it was a measure to keep the populace from traveling very far from Baghdad. Often during the evening hours, while on our rooftop, we would observe antiaircraft fire and tracers arching upward in the night skies. It was becoming more difficult to move about Baghdad and we could tell the Iraqi secret police had doubled their efforts in surveillance, and stepped up efforts to follow us around.
While performing watch officer duties on 12 October, I took a call from the Iraqi Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA). They requested the Charge immediately come down for a meeting. I notified the Charge and he proceeded to the Iraqi MFA to inquire as to why he was being summoned. He was informed by the MFA that the Government of Iraqi (GOI) took exception to a Voice of America broadcast which quoted a US diplomatic stating that Saddam Hussein was insane and they wanted to know what the US government was going to do about it. The Charge informed them that he would inquire with DOS to see if the U.S. would issue a demarche or position on Saddam's sanity. The Charge departed and we heard nothing else from the GOI or the MFA.
On the diplomatic front pressure was mounting on the GOI to release all hostages and all diplomats that were brought from Kuwait and detained in Baghdad. Baghdad's responses was a demand for all foreigners in Iraq and the 19th Providence (Kuwait) to immediately come forward and register with the Iraqi MFA. Our embassy in Baghdad was again requested to provide by diplomatic note a listing of all personnel being housed in the embassy and the resident quarters. They claimed a complete listing was needed to properly process personnel for future release. The Charge refused to comply, because a note had been previously provided in September and he knew the Iraqis were attempting to identify military personnel. Since the crisis began the GOI never really appeared concern with UN Resolution until the diplomatic community starting talking about "war crimes". Once word was leaked to the GOI that UN Resolution 674, "war crimes" was in the works and would soon be passed, they finally began to talk about possible release of hostages. This started another round of "Bargaining for Bodies", as former British Prime Minister Heath came to Baghdad and other notables from Ramsey Clark to Cat Stevens. We began working a releasable list of diplomats/US citizens with medical problems or over age sixty. Finally by 23 October, the Charge was successful in obtaining release of 12 people from our group and two from the American citizen's safehavened at Amb. Glaspie's residence.
As mid October approached, a decision was made at the national level to implement a plan to get some members of our group out before hostilities began. I was told in early October that I was being considered for participation in an exfiltration operation out of Baghdad. I was concerned because the plan was only for a handful of people and I did not want to leave my comrades. I approached COL Mooneyham and asked him why I was selected, he side stepped the question, but made it clear to me that I must volunteer and go along with the plan.
Our Kuwait COS devised and coordinate the operation. The mission was risky and dangerous but offered the first plan with a reasonable high chance of success. I learned later that an Escape Committee formed in Washington to review possible escape plans, rescues, and other methods for retrieving the trapped diplomats and key personnel. The committee approved our plan after several meetings and detail reviews. The decision was finally made to execute the planned escape.
We conducted hurried training and recons of the pick-up location. The plan was simple, we would have papers, and documents that indicated we had valid exit visas and had been released to return home. This was not too irregular, since exit visas were being granted on case by case bias.
Everything seemed in place. We would be permitted one small type gym bag to carry a change of clothes, shaving kit, toothpaste, etc. We also placed in each bag ample cigarettes, and a few bottles of liquor to be used as pay off to any checkpoint guards who became too suspicious. After a few trial runs, we finally got the signal to go. We had setup a system to cover our absence by staying in the embassy compound for several days running. I was working a night shift so my absences from our living quarters would be less obvious to the Iraqi secret police. The embassy also implemented strict OPSEC and no other members of our group knew who or when any of us would be leaving. They would be told a few days after we left. COL Mooneyham had also prohibited phone calls and DOS messages to be sent until we had safely made it out of Iraq.
We departed on a cloudy evening with a slight drizzle coming down. The first leg was our pick-up and trip to a safe house. Pick-up went without a problem and we headed to a secure area. Once there we met the people who would assist with our escape. That night we were given our documents, discussed the route, possible danger areas, and actions to be taken if we ran into trouble. About 0500hrs the next morning, we refueled the car from a 55 gal drum that was stored at secure area. Once out of Baghdad, we hit our first military checkpoint. Our driver showed our papers and we were waved through, one down and many more to go. A lead vehicle had gone ahead of us by several hours to recon checkpoints and position our refuel point on a barren stretch of road. We made it to the refuel point by late afternoon and pulled off the road several kilometers to make our final refuel. While refueling, an Iraqi Bedouin walked up to our refuel operation. We quickly began offering him cigarettes and liquor. After a few minutes of small talk, he wondered off. We had to move quickly out of fear that he would inform any Iraqi patrols about our activities or our presence in the area. We headed down the road for several more miles when our lead vehicle came back and signaled us to pull over. He had observed the next checkpoint and noted that the Iraqis were being very tough on vehicles coming through the checkpoint. We made the decision that everyone would pretend to be asleep as we went through the checkpoint and let our guide do all the talking if question. We took some of the liquor and poured it on our clothes and around the car’s interior. Our driver would explain that we had all passed out from drinking too much in celebration of returning home. When we reach the checkpoint, the guards took our papers. After five minutes they returned and instructed our driver to get out of the car. He broke out some cigarettes and started small talk in Arabic with the guards, after a few laughs they told him he could leave, but he should not allow drinking and driving. He thanked them in the profusely Arabic manner and we quickly departed.
As we closed on the crossing area, our lead vehicle appeared again. We pulled over and were told that the Iraqi customs agent were being very thorough and confirming all exit visas with Baghdad. This was a huge disappointment. Our friends had already patterned the crossing area, but as always "Murphy" hits when least expected. We had now gone too far to turn back. We knew our papers and documentation were good and had worked through many checkpoints, but this crossing area would be much tougher. We all discussed the options and decided again to try pretending to have drunk too much and let our escort do the all the talking. We would act somewhat intoxicated and not respond if questioned. We would wait for our escort to intervene and handle the situation.
As we pulled into the checkpoint area, we were instructed to get out of the car and submit our bags for inspection. Since the custom officials spoke little English, we pretended not to understand them when they spoke to us. As expected they confiscated what cigarettes and liquor we had left and then moved us to a building. As suspected, they wanted to confirm with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) in Baghdad that our exit visas were still valid. The Iraqis all through this crisis would sometimes issue exit visa and then revoke them at the last minute. This perhaps was one of the most dangerous periods of our journey, had the Iraqis decided to interrogate us we would have been exposed and imprisoned. Furthermore, traveling under this cover would probably have gotten us all a death sentence. Our luck held and we endured the wait with extreme high anxiety. Our guide handled all the talking and after almost an hour of waiting they finally agreed to allow us to pass. We would have to walk across no man's land. Our guide would have to leave and since he was not allowed to escort us across. We picked up our bags and headed across. About a fourth of the way into the no man's land, an Iraqi guard called out for us to halt. We were not sure if they had changed their minds. We thought about making a dash for it, but we quickly realized we could not outrun their automatic weapons. We halted and the Iraqi guard approached me and asked for a cigarette, I more that willingly handed him a fresh pack and gestured for him to keep it, he nodded and motioned us on.
We stepped into freedom after some 80 days of detention. Two more guides linked up with us and would transport us to another location. We would retain our cover and travel incognito. The escape would not be publicized or revealed at anytime, so as not to expose anyone that assisted us, and not spoil any other planned exfiltrations.
Our next leg would be a journey to link-up with US officials. After a three-days of travel, we finally left for the United States aboard an USAF Gulf stream II jetliner. Once in the US we were taken to Camp Peary near Williamsburg, Va. Upon arrival there, our wives or family members were present to greet us. After a few days at Camp Peary for debriefings, we were released to go home.
I finally returned home without fanfare and just glad the ordeal was done. I still had great apprehension over leaving behind my friends and comrades. Nevertheless, our test of this potential pipeline to get folks out had proved viable. Before any others could be brought out via the same method, the GOI had a change of heart and allowed all western hostages to begin departing Iraq and Kuwait in early December. By mid December, the embassies in Kuwait, and Baghdad closed and all remaining hostages were freed by the GOI. The Baghdad embassy remains closed to this day and the American Embassy Kuwait was reopened in early March 1991 shortly after the ground war ended.
As a military officer caught up in an invasion and hostage situation the most difficult task was ensuring my family's safety while duty bound to perform the task I had been trained to do. Once family members were allowed to leave that conflict was resolved. All that I served with during this crisis performed with dedication, professionalism, and distinction, even when caught between two masters, DOS, and DoD. It is my belief that the military group serving at the U.S. Embassy Kuwait and subsequently at the embassy in Baghdad had a direct and positive influence in sustaining and maintaining the operations of those compounds, perhaps more so than any other group detained within those compounds. Our contributions to morale, welfare, logistics, and day to day operations help to ensure the national goals and objectives were meet in regards to operating a diplomatic post during a time of crisis.
After everyone returned, we all faced the task of putting our lives back together and dealing the total loss of our household goods. The Army required that we go through the standard claims procedure to account for our losses, this was a daunting task and took us nearly a year to complete the paper work, only to realize that almost everything we had was depreciated on the average of 40%. Most of us got duty stations of our choice and nearly 30 days of administrative leave to get our families and lives back in order.
By January 1991, some of us were asked to return to Desert Shield. Of the original group of 11 military 5 of us returned to help the Kuwaitis reconstitute their Armed Forces, but that's another story. Prior to my return, my local hometown paper interviewed me. During the interview I was asked how long a ground war with Iraqi would last, I ponder the question for a few seconds and then respond based on my first hand observations of the vaunted Republican Guards. I first told the reporter that I had no respect for the Iraqi Army, then provided this response:
 "If war breaks out, I expect it to last about two weeks, I think our Air power would be decisive enough to turn the Iraqis around and convince them it's a hopeless cause. His Air Force would be gone in a day or two…I think after our Air power finished, they would largely begin to capitulate, to surrender, or withdraw their forces. Our ground forces would then be in a mop-up operation, not heavy combat actions. Either now or later Saddam must be dealt with, I would think he would heed the lesson for a while, but continue either clandestinely or however obtaining nuclear, biological and chemical weapons…if he remains in power… You will see him raise his ugly head again". (6 January 1991).
This was what all of us had summarized after witnessing the invasion and conduct of the Republican Guards. When we all returned no one in the military intelligence community wanted to hear that or believe that was true. We knew better from direct observation and interaction with Iraqi military. Lastly, if anyone had bothered to do any superficial research of the performance of the Republican Guards during the Iran/Iraq war they would quickly summarize that they were a large fourth rate Army that was poorly led and trained.
I hope that some useful insights can be gained from this document and serve as a history of a small military organization caught-up in a world crisis.

2 August - 10 December 1990
Col John Mooneyham
LTC Tom Funk
LTC Rhoi Maney
Maj Fred Hart
CPT Bill Schultz
CW4 Dave Forties
CW3 Dwight Durmon
CW3 Gene Lord
MSG Alfred Allen
SFC Laruen Vellekoop
CPO Ray Galles
USMC Embassy Detachment
GYSGT Jim Smith
SGT Gerald Andre
CPL Dan Hudson
CPL Paul Rodriguez
CPL Mark Royer
CPL Mark Ward
Civilians (DoD)
Veron Nored
Wayne Coyne
Bobby Higgins

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Colonel Fred Hart