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The Lyons Press

Guilford, Connecticut

An imprint of The Globe Pequot Press

Copyright © 2006 by Jay Kopelman and Melinda Roth

First Lyons Press paperback edition, 2008

ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying and recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, except as may be expressly permitted in writing from the publisher. Requests for permission should be addressed to The Globe Pequot Press, Attn: Rights and Permissions Department, P.O. Box 480, Guilford, CT 06437.

The Lyons Press is an imprint of The Globe Pequot Press

E-ISBN 978-0-7627-9610-6

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication data is available on file.

To “Sam”

May you have freedom and peace.


“So he sent the man out; and at the east of the Garden of Eden he put winged ones and a flaming sword turning every way to keep the way to the tree of life.”

Genesis 3:24


First week of the US invasion of Fallujah, Iraq

In an abandoned house in the northeast section of Fallujah, members of the First Battalion, Third Marines—known as the Lava Dogs—froze when they heard a series of clicks coming from the one remaining room of the compound.

Grenade pins?

Most of the military deaths in Fallujah during that first week of the US invasion happened inside buildings like this, where insurgents hid in upper rooms and threw grenades down at the Marines as they moved upward. There were a lot of head and face injuries, and while the Lava Dogs considered themselves some of the toughest Marines around—they named themselves out of respect for the jagged pumice they trained on back in Hawaii—just being a Lava Dog didn’t shield you from a grenade’s fancy special effects. Being careful did. Being focused did. Having your weapon locked and loaded when you inched around every corner did.

Click. Click. Click . . . Click.

If a grenade did detach your face from your skull, at least you would check out in the GPS coordinate closest to Heaven. Iraq was considered by most biblical archaeologists to be the location of the Garden of Eden—God’s only hard copy of Heaven, his Paradise on earth. Not that you’d have adequate excuses prepared once you got there, because lines between good and evil here in the battle zone required more than reading glasses to see. But whether Abraham, Muhammad, or Jesus called your cadence, it’s where it officially all started and where it officially all went bad.

Good marketing potential for the region at first, though, because it trademarked the birthplace of Abraham, the Tower of Babel, and the construction of Babylon in addition to agriculture, writing, the wheel, the zodiac, legal theory, bureaucracy, and urbanization. From the beginning, everyone wanted a piece of the place that went from the Mesopotamians to the Sumerians to the Akkadians to the Empire of Ur to the Babylonians to the Assyrians to the Persians to the Greeks to the Arabs to the Mongols to the Turks to the British.

None of these were polite handovers, either. By the time Saddam Hussein got to the land of milk and honey, it had been captured, pillaged, beaten, and raped by so many cultures over such a long period of time, there was little left except a whole lot of desert covering a whole lot of oil. That, and claims by locals living near the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers that the Garden of Eden and its Tree of Life stood in the middle of their very town. They built a wall around the area, constructed the Garden of Eden Hotel, and tourism flourished for a short while. Then the Americans came, and because the folks living in the area supported the newest invasion, Hussein drained all their water. Soon the Tree of Life died, members of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq took over the Garden of Eden Hotel, and down with americans was painted all over the walls of Paradise.


Maybe timed explosives.

If this country was Paradise, then the Marines weren’t taking any bets on Hell. Outside the building they searched, gunships prowled the skies looking for hiding insurgents as pockmarked Humvees patrolled what was left of the streets. Every driving car in the city was targeted because of bomb risks. Every loose wire was suspect. Every building was searched, and jihad, jihad, jihad plastered every wall.

Throughout the first days of the invasion of Fallujah, the Marines discovered weapons caches, suicide vests, and large amounts of heroin, speed, and cocaine apparently used to bolster suicide bombers’ courage. They found dead bodies of fighters from Chechnya, Syria, Libya, Jordan, Afghanistan, and Saudi Arabia. They walked into human slaughterhouses with hooks hanging from the ceilings, black masks, knives, bloody straw mats, and videos of beheadings. They freed emaciated prisoners shackled and insane with fear.

Fallujah, near the center of where it all began, was now a city cordoned off from the rest of the world, inhabited only by invisible snipers and stray dogs feasting on the dead.

Click. Snuffle. Snuffle. Click.

The Lava Dogs tightened their jaws and clenched their weapons as they ran through the rules in their heads: Cover danger areas, stay low, move stealthily, be prepared to adapt, and eliminate threats.

Snuffle. Clickclickclick. Snufflesnuffle.

An insurgent strapping a bomb to his chest?

They should have prepped the room first with a grenade—tossed it in and just let it do all the dirty work. Instead, for reasons still obscured by war and fear and things just destined to be, they backed up to the walls on either side of the doorway and positioned their weapons to fire.

Then they thrust their rifles around the corner, squared off, and zeroed in on the clicks as their target rushed to the other

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