When the Iraqi troops arrived that morning, three American servicemen lay dead at the bottom of the Isaki Canal.It is a long story of an accident multiplied by tragic efforts to recover the bodies. The effort of the Iraqis should send a message to Ted Kennedy. Unfortunately, he is probably not inclined to comprehend it. The Post deserves some props for publishing the story.
The body of a fourth, Sgt. Rene Knox Jr., 22, had been recovered from a submerged Humvee. Patrolling without headlights around 4:30 a.m., Knox had overshot a right turn. His vehicle tumbled down a concrete embankment and settled upside down in the frigid water.
During the harrowing day-long mission to recover the bodies of the Humvee's three occupants on Feb. 13, an Air Force firefighter also drowned. Five U.S. soldiers were treated for hypothermia. For five hours, three Navy SEAL divers searched the canal before their tanks ran out of oxygen.
What happened then, however, has transformed the relationship between the Iraqi soldiers and the skeptical Americans who train them. Using a tool they welded themselves that day at a cost of about $40, the Iraqis dredged the canal through the cold afternoon until the tan boot of Spec. Dakotah Gooding, 21, of Des Moines, appeared at the surface. The Iraqis then jumped into the water to pull him out, and went back again and again until they had recovered the last American. Then they stood atop the canal, shivering in the dark.
"When I saw those Iraqis in the water, fighting to save their American brothers, I saw a glimpse of the future of this country," said Col. Mark McKnight, commander of the 1st Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division, which had overall responsibility for the unit in the accident, his eyes tearing.
The dramatic events offer a counterpoint to the prevailing wisdom about the nascent Iraqi security forces -- the key to the Bush administration's strategy to withdraw U.S. troops from Iraq. U.S. commanders have said repeatedly that when the Iraqi troops are ready to stand and fight, American forces will pull out.
The Iraqis gathered atop the canal, smoking and shivering in the gathering darkness. The Americans helped cover the Iraqis with blankets and embraced them. A U.S. military truck pulled up with food for the rescuers. The Iraqis hadn't eaten all day. The U.S. soldiers lined up at the truck, heaping their plates with food. Instead of feeding themselves, they fanned out, distributing the plates to the Iraqis.