In October 2005, the 1st Battalion, 502nd Infantry Regiment (1/502) of the 101st Airborne Division deployed to Iraq to take their turn garrisoning the area south of Baghdad known as the ‘Triangle of Death’. This was the time when the Bush Administration’s scheme for ‘invasion lite’, followed by a self-funded reconstruction programme using Iraq’s oil revenue, was dramatically unravelling. Dangerously low Coalition troop numbers and implausible expectations of success had given armed factions in both the Shi’a and Sunni communities the time and space to organise themselves. At the same time, the Jordanian Abu Musab al Zarqawi’s ‘al-Qaeda in Iraq’ – in reality, a vicious Sunni faction with little real connection to Osama bin Laden’s organisation – had established a campaign of atrocity targeting the Shi’a community, with the presumed intention of provoking all-out sectarian conflict.
Spread desperately thinly and lacking a coherent tactical approach, the soldiers of 1/502 struggled to maintain security within their area of operations and quickly began to take casualties from snipers and the seemingly