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   Kelly the Hawk Meets the Old Iraqi Warrior

Requiem for Two:

Kelly the Hawk Meets the Old Iraqi Warrior

by William Hughes

”An Iraqi soldier died alone and unsung near his village on a bridge over the Euphrates--his bridge, his Euphrates, his village, and his Iraq.”
Michael Kelly’s last column from Iraq, was entitled, “Pushing On: How the troops are making the war plan work” (NY Post 03/26/03). It was about death and destruction. It struck a very strong pro-Pentagon propaganda tone. Ironically, by Friday, April 4, Kelly, age 46, was dead as the result of a freak motor vehicle accident. The Humvee vehicle in which Kelly was a passenger overturned near the Baghdad airport. It fell into a canal, and Kelly drowned. The US Army is investigating the matter.

It all seems so bizarre, like one of those tales of the absurd told by the great Algerian French-born philosopher/novelist, Albert Camus. Kelly was “embedded” with the 1st Brigade of the 3rd Infantry. He was the first US journalist to die in the conflict that the Bush-Cheney administration is waging to make Iraq “safe for democracy.” Kelly had bragged about his hawkish persona. Covering the first Gulf War and Bosnia had convinced him of the “moral imperative, sometimes, for war.”

On Oct. 30, 2002, he boasted, “I am myself not technically a chicken hawk, as I was, thank God, a few years too young to serve during the Vietnam War and too old and too untrained to be of any military use during the next significant war, the Gulf War of 1991. But I suppose I fit the spirit if not the letter of the slur. I am certainly now a hawk.”

Kelly’s last article, set in the war zone near the Euphrates River, extolled the exploits of the 3rd Infantry. He told how they had taken a critical bridge over the waterway, near the village of Karbala. They had destroyed “two battalions worth of infantry, one of irregulars and one [they thought] might have been Republican Guard--very well armed, very well groomed.”

The Lt. Col. in charge told Kelly, “The fight only lasted several hours but was intense. We took no prisoners. They fought until they died.” The victory over the Iraqi battalions gave Kelly a chance to crow about the Pentagon’s war plan.

On hearing of Kelly’s tragic death, the Baltimore Sun editorialized, on April 6, that he had died “engaged in work essential to this democracy, highly hazardous work being carried on by hundreds of others.”

Well, there is no doubt it is “hazardous work,” but the idea that what Kelly did in Iraq, including his last puff piece column, was “essential to this democracy,” rings very hollow. How is democracy advanced by a journalist acting as a p.r. flack for the Pentagon and for failing to question his own government’s dubious legal, moral and factual reasons for going to war against a country that posed no real risk to its national security?

Just before crossing the bridge on the Euphrates, Kelly noticed the limp body of one of Saddam’s irregular troops. He wrote of him, “Near the crest of the bridge across the Euphrates River that Task Force 3-69 Armor of the lst Brigade of the 3rd Infantry Division seized Wednesday afternoon was a body, which lay twisted from its fall.”

The Iraqi fighter, Kelly continued, “had been an old man, judging from his blood-matted gray hair, and he was poor and not a regular soldier, judging from his clothes. He was lying on his back, not far from one of the several burning skeletons of the small trucks that Saddam Hussein’s willing and unwilling irregulars employed. The tanks and Bradleys and Humvees and bulldozers and rocket launchers and all the rest of the massive stuff that makes up the American Army on the march, rumbled past him--pushing on.”

Kelly had to push on to Baghdad, too. Yet, he should have told us more. Who was that old man that fought and gave his life against such overwhelming odds? We know he was defending his village from invading foreign troops. The founders of our Republic would have seen him, like a Horatius of old, as a truly heroic figure. He may have been someone’s grandfather. He won’t see his grandchildren grow up. He won’t be able to tell them tales about his village and their ancestors. He died alone and unsung, on that bridge, near his village, on the Euphrates--his bridge, his Euphrates, his village and his Iraq.

American soldiers were just following orders when they killed the old man. The US Congress had granted the soldiers a green light to do the killing by unlawfully delegating its constitutional authority to make war into the hands of a gung-ho president. He, in turn, ignored the UN and international law to let loose the dogs of war. Kelly, a hawk, came to cover the war for a controlled media, that is itself mostly complicit in all of this warmongering evil. And then the final insanity: the Baltimore Sun insisting that Kelly’s war reporting was “essential to democracy.”

Only a Camus-like writer could do justice to the enormous horror that is the misnomer labeled, “Operation Iraqi Freedom.” Michael Kelly’s unfortunate death, like that of the old Iraqi warrior, making his final and gallant stand at the Euphrates bridge, put a human face on it.

And, here is the greatest tragedy of all: None of this had to be!

© William Hughes 2003. William Hughes is the author of Baltimore Iconoclast (Writer’s Showcase), which is available online. He can be reached at

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This story was published on May 7, 2003.
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