Iran-Iraq War: A Path To Nowhere (17)


Manoucher Avaznia
by Manoucher Avaznia

To the memory of the soldiers who fell before my eyes in the first Persian Gulf War. From my Iran-Iraq war memoirs that has been published in a book titled "A Path To Nowhere" >>> Part 1 -- Part 2 -- Part 3 -- Part 4 -- Part 5 -- Part 6 -- Part 7 -- Part 8 -- Part 9 -- Part 10 -- Part 11 -- Part 12 -- Part 13 -- Part 14 -- Part 15 -- Part 16 -- Part 17 -- Part 18 --

The Sunshine

Early spring heat and vegetation added a front of diseases to the battlefields. On second day of my arrival to Teppeh Razmi, I cropped my hair as a matter of habit. The same day I came down with a combination of headache, dizziness, fever, diarrhea, and vomiting; and I lost plenty of my body fluid. On the third and the fourth days, my situation so aggravated that I was sent to the regiment’s clinic somewhere in the middle of the road to Fakkeh Three Way where I received serum in my vein. After that I felt better. Though still feeble, I went back to Tappeh Razmi. Sharafzadeh insisted I stayed in his high and spacious commander’s tent despite my insistence that I wanted to be among my own soldiers in their low, small, and crowded tents.

Upon my return from the clinic Sharafzadeh fell sick with the same symptoms as he had to go to the same clinic the next morning and receive the same treatments that I had received. Few other soldiers came down with the same sickness as well, though the rest of the company was healthy and more or less happy.

In the evening of March 26, 1988, Shaaban had just returned from an emergency leave given to married soldiers. He had cropped his hair, clean-shaven his beard, and was happy that he had paid a New Year’s visit to his young family. That night it was my soldiers' turn to support the front line. Twenty of them had just left the tents in a truck under Ardasheeree’s command to be divided between two companies. Before they left, with a still weak body I stood in front of them asking them to take proper care of themselves. Shaaban was to go to the front line as well; but I asked him to stay with us, as he looked exhausted after his trip.

Five minutes to one o’clock in the morning of March 27, I had left Sharfzadeh’s tent and had gone to our own tent, awakened Ghaderee, Safee, and Fatemee and had started joking about everyday life. In the past several days I was so feeble that I had no energy to joke. Now that I had regained some energy I wanted to share a few happy moments with my men. Our merriment did not last long. A sentry called me out.

"There are more than one hundred illuminations in the air," he said.

The given number was so large that I surmised the sentry was either lying or he was greatly exaggerating. I did not move from my place while Ghaderee pulled the tent flap aside, went out, and called me with amazement.

“There are more than one hundred illuminations in the air,” Ghaderee exclaimed.

Two lairs could not avoid serious contradictions about one untrue claim. I got on my feet and walked out of the tent.

"Oh, my God,” I said, “Still, more are on their way. Everywhere is illuminated."

Ghaderee started to count the illuminations with jubilation. He had counted up to forty illuminations when a dozen cannons sparkled in the northwest corner of the Iraqi front and a torrent of shells hammered our front line and the area immediately behind it creating a frightening commotion. Disheartened, we took shelter in the tent knowing that the tent offered no resistance to shrapnel and only blocked our view of our surrounding. So, we thought before the enemy raised their weapons range to bomb our position, we should start looking for shelters. We got out of the tent to seek foxholes, but found all of them occupied. We had no choice except returning to the same tent and waiting for the shells to reach us.

Excited by the explosions and far from shrapnel, we started to release laughers mixed with horror.

"My dear, dear Wolf," I addressed Ghaderee in a loud voice, "This is the operations you were impatiently longing for. Now it is your turn to show valor," I howled, and all of us laughed.

"Poor Ardasheeree; Poor Ardasheeree," Ghaderee went on, "How is he going to handle this bombardment. Probably he is dead already. Nobody can stand this."

The barrage went beyond any firepower we had known of our backing weapons. We had no communication with our commanders. There was no shelter to take refuge in and our minds were blank to anything except a wild excitement. We left everything to the passage of time, uncertain if it would work in our favor either.

In the midst of all of these some changes in bombing pattern were recognizable. Sometimes, the fire was abruptly cut off in one place and directed to another place. A while later, it would suddenly stop there and pound somewhere else. In this way the enemy artillery was covering the entire front line: now pounding the south, now hammering the middle, and now striking the north.

Within minutes another change was added to the pattern. The range of the shells increased in depth. They came closer and closer to us and at the moment that we expected to be hit by a barrage, they passed over our head to a gully behind the tents and concentrated there. Certainly, the conductors of the fire had a clear knowledge of our presence behind Tappeh Razmi, but when they lowered the range they hit the front of the hill and when they raised it they hit the gully behind the hill.

Under the relentless barrage infantry forces expect their long-range weapons to support them by putting an end to the fire by firing upon enemy long-range weapons. Such a fire lifts the infantry spirits to better fight the forces that are to attack them on foot or in armored vehicles. Without such a support the infantry is paralyzed: they neither are able to resist the enemy in defense, nor they can capture their positions in offence.

Late in their response, our supporting weapons opened fire. Surprisingly, of all our backing weapons only three positions were engaged in the battle: one 155mm cannon position, a 120mm platoon of mortar before Tappeh Razmi, and a 107mm multiple rocket-launcher behind the gully. This weak support did not last long. After only one hour of shelling, the mortars stopped firing. Presumably they ran out of ammunitions. A short while later the cannons stopped, probably for the same reason. Eventually we were left with the multiple-rocket-launcher that was no match to the enemy torrential shelling. There was a tank position with three tanks to the left of our position. For an unknown reason they were not shooting. It appeared they had received no firing order.

In the meantime Sharafzadeh sent a soldier to our tent, ordering me to relay fire order to the tanks. Ghaderee and Shaaban volunteered for the mission and gallantly walked through the tumult of explosions. Fifteen minutes later, when I expected to hear of their death, both of them returned safe and the tanks commenced firing, though with no effect against cannons.

We anticipated the enemy barrage to end within minutes as we had been trained. Then, the infantry and armored forces would begin confront each other. Sharafzadeh started to send more troops to assist the companies that had the embankment under control. The commander of those soldiers was Hossein: a soldier nicknamed the Lion of Rasht as he was coming from the City of Rasht the Capital City of the Province of Gilan. An undisciplined soldier who once had been banished to Base Number Ten, Hossein dauntlessly led the crowd under fire to the front.

To get an order from Sharafzadeh, I began to walk to the hill where a heavy machine gun was stationed. Sharafzadeh had gone to the machine gun position with the sergeant in charge of communications and his wireless crew to supervise the scene of combat. Under heavy fire as I was falling and rising according to the explosions, I reached the summit where some thirty men had crammed into a ditch with a wireless, listening to a commanding voice.

"Kill them all; no prisoner; don't let anybody escape," a voice was barking on the receiver not known whose voice, at whom, or about whom.

In a few minutes the enemy’s coarse laughter scrambled the channel, overshadowing the commanding voice. Channel was changed and a few messages were exchanged, but in a minute the same laughter occupied the new channel as well. Channel was shifted again and the same story was repeated on the third channel. No choice was left except sticking to the same channel and repeating the codes aloud.

In the coming minutes the infantry launched their attack. Gunshots and red tracer bullets were clearly distinguishable among big explosions. Every once in a while, a red tracer jumped high to the air over the battlefield and diverted to the east, south, or north. In the headquarters of the battalion a few red tracer bullets were shot to the air. Another combat was under way there.

Gradually, a barely audible voice was heard among the explosions. It was too faint to be clearly distinguished what it was saying. Obviously, it belonged to the enemy and was saying something against the Iranian government, or telling our soldiers to surrender: a normal psychological warfare in all wars. On the Iranian side there were audible slogans of “Allah-o Akbar: Allah is Great”.

Meanwhile a machine gun showered the front of our hill with red tracers from the platoon of mortar. Hitting the hill, the tracers would swerve high over our head. The invading forces were advancing to our defense zone. Platoon of mortar had fallen and with its collapse the enemy were quite close to our positions on the hill. I was afraid they were keeping us busy with shooting at the front of the hill whereas their real intention was to besiege us from the rear. That way they could easily capture the hill, encircle the front, and take all soldiers prisoner.

To avert this, I recommended Sharafzadeh sent a group to make an ambush on the bank of the most vulnerable spot of the enemy infiltration: the gully. The enemy could easily encircle the hill by advancing in the gully. Sharafzadeh told me to do what I was recommending. I took Ghaderee, Shaaban, and Fatemee and set out to the gully where we lay on its right flank with eyes fixed to the course. With our meager number and few hundred cartridges we could engage only a small group of soldiers, but we could seriously impede their advance. With this aim we lingered there for half an hour while the heavy bombardment was going on and many illuminations were still burning in the sky.

At around five a cold breeze blew from the east. The sky grew red behind a few wisps of cloud that gradually changed to orange and gray. The morning had arrived. We had been under fire for four hours, long and intense enough to suffer formidable number of casualties for the enemy infantry to pursue their advance. The barrage should have ended to allow their infantry to advance further in our area. A simultaneous barrage and advance was suicide for attacking forces. But, bombardment continued with two slight changes in the battle scene. No more illuminations were being launched; and red tracers were no longer visible. Infantry forces were not reaching us through the gully and now it could be better observed and defended from the hill. We walked back to Sharafzadeh for new orders.

As we approached the summit a big bang went off in the vicinity of the platoon of mortar on the road to the front. A dark smoke with a big blaze leapt to the air and within it many big and small explosions continued to take place for a while.

At around eight, I was ordered to collect the remainder of my soldiers and march to the front line to assist the embattled companies. I climbed down the hill to the place of our tents to rally whatever of my soldiers had been left. There I saw a sergeant with a bandaged hand and two soldiers who were following him. They told me the attackers were Mojahedin. The name moved me. I had spent fifteen months at the front before that moment without facing the Mojahedin. Now, they were there and I was required to fight them, kill them, or to be killed by them to serve a war. I must have evaded the mission even if its price were facing the firing squad right there and then. Killing the time seemed to serve the aim the best.

To avoid getting in touch with the commander, I did not take the wireless operator. Gathering twelve demoralized soldiers, I climbed the hill and started walking towards the front with myself leading the group, not caring if they really followed me or not. In fact, I would rather they had left me and saved their own lives. If they did that, I would have been in a better position to avoid the order.

We had walked a couple of hundred of paces when two cannon shells hit the front of the hill again, raising dust and smoke and putting us in complete disarray. As the dust was blown away we saw a man in front of the hill beckoning to us. We stopped; but Ghaderee and Shaaban trod toward the beckoning man without my order. In a minute they returned with two soldiers of ours who were badly injured. It appeared the wounded men had been injured in the first hour of the combat and in the absence of an ambulance they had been inching their way backward since then. The one who was seriously wounded said the Mojahedin had pitched their flags on the embankment: an indication of a fallen embankment and imminent advance.

With this, all soldiers lost morale and helped the men to the ambulance behind the hill; and I was left with Fatemee: a soldier from my own hometown of Bojnord. Now, I had the excuse of lacking soldiers for not carrying out the mission. Nonetheless I did not want to follow the leaving soldiers; though I was eager to see what they were doing next. So, Fatemee and I went to a place close to the road that led to the headquarters of the battalion and sat in a ditch that could hide us in case the soldiers returned, protected us against shrapnel, and provided the best place to watch the movements of troops on the hill and behind it. Here, I decided to join Mojahedin if they came. If not, I would make up my mind later. For those moments I should have kept myself aloof the combat.

Within minutes of our tarrying in the ditch the ambulance drove off with the wounded and other soldiers followed it on foot. Sharafzadeh’s jeep drove after the soldiers. The 106mm jeep hauling the heavy machine gun retreated after the jeep. Finally, the tanks left their position, moving toward the northernmost road. They stopped at the juncture of the roads and launched a few shells to evaluate the situations.

Fatemee and I lingered in the ditch until the last tank disappeared; then we climbed down the hill to the road behind it. To avoid the shrapnel, we walked to the gully and followed its course toward the platoon of multiple rocket-launcher to assess the situations. There we found scores of run away soldiers and officers scrammed in a small area. Sharafzadeh was among them. I told him I had no soldier to carry out his order. He approved my decision adding the enemy was advancing and there was no use of going by myself.

I stayed in that place for over one hour tired, sick, and demoralized mostly laying against a mound of earth alongside my soldiers. As there was no progress in the situation, Ghaderee and Shaaban came to me saying they had made up their minds to abandon the area.

"It's all right with me," I told them, "If I survive, I won't report you. But you should not say I ordered you to leave. Tell others to follow suit. If I say so, it will be regarded a military order and I will be executed."

"Excuse us for leaving you behind," they said.

"Forget me," I returned, “I am dead before I die.”

"Just try to save yourselves. See you later."

"If we survive, Sir!" Shaaban said and they trotted away with some other soldiers, their guns hung from their shoulders.

The heavy cannonading had created an atmosphere of horror and commotion ripe for the spread of rumors. As usual, rumors plagued the troops.

"Iraqi soldiers are coming from the south," a soldier pointed out excitedly.

Borrowing his binoculars, I located some soldiers near Hill 85 and the curved rampart coming in disorder; however, they were too far to be recognized they were foe or friend. Another rumor claimed the commander of the battalion had ordered the troops to withdraw. Whatever the order, it did not seem the order included our unit. The radio operator was constantly asking: "What about Sharafzadeh’s chicks? What about Sharafzadeh's chicks?" I did not hear a clear response; and without awaiting a precise order, Sharafzadeh jumped in his jeep telling the soldiers to leave; asking me to accompany him in his jeep. I declined his offer, saying I wanted to be with my own men to the end. Four soldiers and I got on the 106mm gun jeep that Farajee from Ghom was driving and set out. On our way Ghaderee, Shaaban, Jalilee, Fatemee, and another soldier joined us, making ten men altogether: a heavy load that the vehicle barely could carry.

The road was not immune. A heavy fire had concentrated on it to stabilize the fleeing forces. Sometimes, shrapnel landed close to us and engine noise barred us from hearing whistling shells. We saw explosions relatively close to us without hearing any noise first. Driving was growing rather dangerous. To avoid being hit, I took a chance and decided to join the soldiers who were fondling their way on foot.

I told the soldiers on the jeep "shells are following us. The jeep is too slow and makes a loud noise. While we are driving in it, we won't hear shells' whistle to take protective actions. I recommend to get off the jeep and walk like others."

It was around eleven in the morning; the weather was growing warm. I got off the jeep; Ghaderee, Shaaban, Fatemee, and Jalilee joined me. The light jeep disappeared in a short while and we continued our trip on foot. We were trying to get as far from the front line as possible. To reduce casualties, we were walking in a line with several meters of distance between each. In this way we reached the regiment clinic, where I had been treated a few days earlier, alongside hundreds of soldiers who were retreating from the front lines. There was no one in the bunker. A big water tank was situated in the clinic yard.

Shaaban warned: "we are going to have no water until we reach the Karkheh River. We had better fill our canteens. I am afraid we die of thirst."

Water was the most needed substance in that warm day. I was the first in the queue to fill my canteen and walk toward a pit on the other end of the yard. As I reached the edge of the pit a cannon shell whistled right above my head, indicating it would land quite close to me. I instantly plunged into the pit. As soon as I hit the ground a powerful explosion occurred near the tank, shook me in the pit, and raised a cloud of dust to the air. Sitting up, I received a torrential rain of sand, dust, and shrapnel on my helmet while everything had disappeared in the cloud. A loathsome explosion smell was in the air mixed with a noise whizzing deep in my ears, mingled with a vague moaning from somewhere near the tank. Eager to know the moaning man, I walked toward the water tank with my mouth dried and feeling feeble in heart.

A few paces from me Fatemee was sitting on the ground, not moaning.

"Look at my back, Sir;" he asked me, his face distorted, "Am I wounded? Is it bleeding?"

Rolling up his blouse, I saw no blood.

"You are not wounded,” I replied, “Get up right away!"

I said reaching out my hand to help him to his feet.

"I can not move,” he said, “Don't touch me. You leave, Sir."

“You must get up,” I said, my hand still stretched.

“It is out of the question,” he responded still sitting up.

I left Fatemee in quest of the moaning man. A few paces before the tank, Shaaban was fallen dead on his side on a heap of earth; another soldier was killed beside him that I did not know. Shaaban’s motionless body was covered with a gray fine dust the explosion had left behind. His gun was still in his hand; his eyes were closed; and his helmet was on his head. A tiny stream of blood was running down his temple to his clean-shaven face. This brave soldier, good husband, beloved father, and loyal friend who had saved us in dire circumstances deserved my most grave lamentation and sorrow and a flood of my tears; but I had grown too dull and exhausted to weep. I passed by his cooling body cold, dried and dull murmuring: "This man is killed, too. Another blood, another widow, and new orphans!"

Diverting my face from Shaaban Alibeigee, I saw Ghaderee wounded in both thighs and his right armpit. His injuries were not deep and Jalilee was assisting him to his feet. He was the moaning man. Getting up, Ghaderee saw Shaaban’s dead body.

"This one has been martyred, too," Ghaderee wailed as a flood of tear started washing his face.

We had no time to waste. The place was deadly. I put Ghaderee’s arm over my shoulder and walked with Jalilee requesting the crowd of the soldiers who were passing by to help us with Ghaderee; but they toiled their way with no attention to our plight. I was exhausted and dead from sickness. We could not move Fatemee; I had to find a vehicle to take both of them out of the area.

"Ghaderee;” I said, "I am going to send a vehicle to take both of you. I am too dead to be of any use."

Ghaderee consented at first; but as I walked a number of paces away he begged me to take him with myself. I paid no attention at first; but his pleas were piercing my heart.

"Sir; please don't leave me behind,” he begged me, “They are coming; they will kill me!"

Looking back at the two men lagging behind among a crowd of indifferent faces, a challenge between heart and mind began. Fetching a vehicle would relieve all of us but Jalilee and I could only alleviate a little of Ghaderee’s suffering and would put all of us in danger. Finally, I could not resist Ghaderee's plea.

"You were intended to be with them to the end," I reminded myself of the pledge I had made a short while ago at the rocket platoon, "If you were not to suffer with them, you should have left in Sharafzadeh’s jeep."

I looked back.

"I'll be with you whatever the outcome," I called out and went back to them.

Ghaderee’s wounded arm on my shoulder, I helped him to limp as Jalilee had Ghaderee’s other arm on his shoulder. For safety considerations, we were walking off the road alongside many other men who were striving their ways back in teams of few men. Hurt by their indifference, I resolved to take Ghaderee as far as I had power of which not much had been left.

In that despair Ghobaddee and another soldier of mine who had escaped the battlefront appeared and enthusiastically came to our assistance, however Jalilee became aware he, also, had been wounded: in his heel. His injury was slight, but it was an obstacle to our free walking. We needed a vehicle to reach the injured, Fatemee included, to the hospital. The longer we lingered, the greater the probability of incurring more injuries.

I told the soldiers to walk Ghaderee along and left. After half an hour of walk I saw a sergeant beside a large military truck and asked him to help my men.

"Go over there," he pointed at a nearby embankment, "There is a parking lot with small vehicles. They can help you better."

Following the direction, I found Sharafzadeh among many run-away soldiers and told him what had happened to us. He ordered his driver to fetch the wounded men. Under fire Hossein: a tall man from Mazandaran about whose height we sometimes joked, drove to my soldiers and came back with Ghaderee and othe­rs. Ambulances had already evacuated Fatemee and Shaaban. It seemed it was better for us if we lingered near the clinic that was near the road where some vehicles could pick us up. Ghaderee and Jalilee were driven to the hospital and other two soldiers disappeared among the crowd.

The number of men in the parking lot was gradually shrinking. Some were crawling into nearby foxholes and others were abandoning the embankment for other places. Exhausted and demoralized, I sneaked into a ditch originally dug for a bunker and lay in the shade of its wall while artillery shelling gave way to tank shells that were following one another in such a fast pace that I felt my life was measured by minutes. I felt uneasy in the ditch and stood up to look for a safer shelter.

There were two men in the parking lot; one was a major in rank. I did not want him to see me, but when I sat down he caught sight of me.

"Come here soldier," he ordered.

Lack of shoulder strap and my cropped hair caused his mistake. It was a good luck not to be known as an officer in the moment of fiasco. I strode to him and saluted without introducing myself.

"Which unit do you belong to?” he asked.

I gave the name.

"Where's Sharafzadeh gone?" The major asked.

I knew that Sharafzadeh had crept into a foxhole right beside us; but I did not want to disclose his place.

"I don't know, Sir," I responded, “I haven’t seen him”.

The major did not give up. He called out Sharafzadeh’s name a few times; and Sharafzadeh crawled out of the foxhole.

"Yes, Sir," Sharafzadeh said.

At the sight of his diseased pale face and distressed appearance, the major asked if he felt all right.

"Yes, Sir," responded Sharafzadeh, obviously lying as he was still sick and exhausted.

"The enemy is withdrawing,” the major said, “Muster your soldiers and return to your position. Hurry up!"

The major ordered.

"Okay, Sir," said Sharafzadeh, raising his hand for salutation.

It was after two o’clock in the afternoon and the weather was hot. After twelve hours of heavy bombardment, the shelling had just stopped. We drove to a network of tunnels a few kilometers behind the parking lot. There were soldiers from all over the regiment in the tunnels. In a separate bunker we found Jalalee by himself, traumatized by the attack.

"What's new? What's new?" Jalalee hastily asked us.

Sharafzadeh answered the fire was too intense to know what was going on. Jalalee turned to me and repeated his question.

"Nothing, Sir." I responded in a faint tone.

"There is fighting, bombardment, and those killed out of this bunker, and you say nothing young lieutenant?" he showed his amazement.

"That's everyday life, Sir," I answered disgusted with the imperious manner of the boss.

He ignored me and told his story, widening our understanding of the scope of the operations.

"I was in the headquarters of a battalion with my friend," he gave the name of a commander, "At the beginning of the barrage all of us went on high alert, although we did not expect they so quickly pass the embankment under their own fire. All of a sudden, soldiers reported they were running towards the headquarters. I ordered the soldiers to make a circular defense line around the headquarters, but it was in vain. They had already reached the embankment around the headquarters. I fled without even having my boots on or having the chance to start my jeep. I just ran to the road.

Many vehicles were retreating. I called out for help and a soldier stopped his vehicle and I jumped on it and we drove away. My jeep was taken away. I almost got caught, Boy!"

He paused, staring at the wall.

"Avaznia,” he addressed me, “You kept that damned base for seven months without any harm to anybody. Just three months after you evacuated the place, we were attacked from that very spot."

This was strange to hear. A full-scale combat was raging at the foot of Tappeh Razmi some thirty kilometers to the north of the Hellish Base. It was an absolute madness to tire infantry forces by marching thirty kilometers from south to north in the middle of combat and bringing them to the foot of Tappeh Razmi. There must have been a few penetration axes; though, one of them could have been somewhere near Base Number Ten or the base itself. In any case the boss was quite wrong in his strategic assessment; but he must have been allowed to be right. On one point both Jalalee and I agreed: the base and its vicinities were definitely an axis of infiltration. If so, to whose mortar shell Neekvarz had fallen on the New Year’s Day of 1367? Has a Mojahed not launched the shell that killed him one week earlier? If Neekvarz had not fallen to Mojahedin’s shell, Shaaban Alibeigee definitely fell to their shell before my own eyes. In their everyday radio broadcast, the Mojahedin used to call Iranian army a mercenary army. When conscript soldiers, sergeants, and lieutenants to be called mercenaries, definitely a junior staff officer like Neekvarz was a mercenary in their vocabulary. Many barriers and demarcations had turned murky.

I said Jalalee’s wrong was right and begged his pardon and left for rest in another bunker among my company soldiers and took a short nap.

Half an hour later Sharafzadeh told me to embark two trucks with our soldiers and return to our positions. In a gloomy afternoon we moved out of the tunnels. Everybody was afraid, sleepy, exhausted, and demoralized. My own soldiers were in the worst conditions. From approximately three hundred soldiers our company had been left with only forty soldiers. Nevertheless, we started to move westward. Somewhere near the clinic two Iranian jet fighters passed over our head toward Iraqi positions in a very low altitude. Within minutes they bombed Iraqi positions and returned to their bases raising our forces’ spirits.

We drove some twenty-five kilometers back and settled the men in Tappeh Razmi and from there we drove to the front in Sharafzadeh’s jeep. All along the way corpses, burned vehicles, and ammunitions were scattered. Near the platoon of mortar three trucks full of munitions and forces had burned. Three partially burned bodies had fallen near the trucks.

All along the embankment, many bunkers had been hit by R.P.G.7-grenades right through the entrances. Some bunkers were still smoldering and a repulsive stench of burning woolen blankets had permeated the air. Jeeps loaded with guns, generators, and wireless sets had totally burned. Extraordinarily, nobody had been burned in the bunkers or in the vehicles. Soldiers told me the attackers used to call the residents out and hit the empty bunkers only.

A heavy machine gun with a long ramrod into its barrel lay in a trench. It had been seized from the army and had been used against its units. When it had jammed, they had tried to fix it and had failed.

In the north, near the spot that the reconnoitering Mojahed had fallen months ago, the most ferocious segment of the battle had been fought. That was the place that soldiers of my own platoon had fought the Mojahedin. Backpacks, machine guns, magazines, helmets, cartridges, papers, hand grenades, anti-armor grenades, and corpses lay side by side. Three Mojaheds with white sleeves had been killed there; I saw their bodies fallen in a ditch behind the rear embankment. A notebook had been found with one of them, apparently the commander of the group, with eighteen names in it. Eighteen men and women had fought more than three hundred soldiers. Their loudspeaker was left behind and was kept in the commander’s bunker; that was the device that broadcasted the slogans. Three soldiers had been killed there, as well. Two of my men, Mohammad included, had lost their lives south of that spot. Their bodies had been evacuated before I reach the front. There, I was told Lieutenant Khavarzameenee had been burned in a truck with his soldiers on his way to assist the Hellish Base. He was the first in our party of four to lose his life after fifteen months in the front.

A multitude of papers with anti-Khomeini and anti-war slogans had been dispersed around the embankment. Some believed the leaflets had been launched in long-range shells while others said Mojahedin had carried them in their backpacks. Slogans such as "Join the Liberation Army to set our most beautiful homeland free from Khomeini's disgrace", "Long live peace and liberty", and "Death to Khomeini the war-monger" had frequently been repeated in the papers.

By the end of our visit it was evening. I stayed with our soldiers in the front line; but Sharafzadeh went back to Tappeh Razmi. The host commander needed company. The whole time that I was eating supper he was praying to Allah. After, he was talking to me in whispers fearing to be overheard by the enemy. Everything in his bunker was dismal and frightening. His low tone sounded like ghostly whispers and his presence grew frighteningly annoying. Leaving him, I walked south to my own soldiers and found Farajee, the 106mm-gun jeep-driver who had tried to drive us out of the combat zone that morning. He knew Shaaban for a long time; we ruefully mentioned his name and memory.

A dead silence was ruling everywhere. The moon was glittering with a silvery light. At midnight I was awakened to distribute our returning soldiers amongst the host soldiers to further reinforce the line. That night I managed the southern part of the battlefront and the host commander managed the northern flank of the battalion.

The next day I was invited to breakfast with three soldiers. Their voices were still hoarse with chanting slogans. One of them showed me a big picture of Masood and Maryam Rajavi he had found among the papers.

"I am going to take it home as a souvenir,” he said, “I'll keep it as long as I live."

"If they find it with you, they will accuse you of sympathizing with the Mojahedin," I warned him, "Most probably, they will hang you as they do in these cases."

"Don't worry, Sir,” the young man said with confidence, “I know how to hide it."

A while later two Guards, Politico-Ideology agents, the Intelligence officer, and the commander of the regiment separately came to the front line. I did not introduce myself and they went around, talking to the company commander, preparing military reports, and gathering the anti-war papers. The Intelligence officer and Politico-Ideology agents were searching the area picking up the papers one by one. Slogans of peace were more threatening than the fought battle. The campaign against papers went on for a few days (27).

The next day we were ordered to occupy the southern side of the curved embankment in Fakkeh where a battalion had been routed and most of the POWs had been taken. Since Mojahedin’s withdrawal it had been left almost entirely defenseless. In practice, it was proven that the embankment was the weakest spot in the whole defense line; but we still had to keep it as it was.

The next afternoon Sharafzadeh and I went for a preliminary reconnaissance of the area. Under sporadic exchange of tank shells we transferred our troops and war equipments. By nightfall we had settled and had started our first guarding program while three of my soldiers had been killed, twenty-three were wounded, and three were missing in action. The size of my platoon had shrunk to less than half. I had received the heaviest blow in the whole company from Sunshine: the Mojahedin’s codename for the operations >>> Part 18

>>> Part 1 -- Part 2 -- Part 3 -- Part 4 -- Part 5 -- Part 6 -- Part 7 -- Part 8 -- Part 9 -- Part 10 -- Part 11 -- Part 12 -- Part 13 -- Part 14 -- Part 15 -- Part 16 -- Part 17 -- Part 18 --


Recently by Manoucher AvazniaCommentsDate
زیر و زبر
Nov 11, 2012
Nov 03, 2012
شیرین کار
Oct 21, 2012
more from Manoucher Avaznia