Iraq's Sharpshooting
Rebel Legend

By Hala Jaber in Baghdad
The Sunday Times of London in The Australian
With elbows bandaged and knees padded for comfort, Abu Othman lay face down on a Ramadi rooftop and cradled his Russian-made sniper rifle as he waited for the tall American soldier to appear.
The soldier's habit of urinating into the street from the top of his Bradley armoured vehicle had angered Sunni Muslim inhabitants of the tree-lined suburb he patrolled. It was not the urinating as such that offended them; it was the way he exposed himself regardless of whether any women were around.
Ramadi's insurgents twice tried to take out the Bradley, first with a rocket-propelled grenade and then with a Russian C5K missile. They missed both times - and that was when they sent for Abu Othman.
It was a long, hot wait that summer's day on the rooftop and Abu Othman, 30, was glad of his headphones. He played his favourite verses from the Koran and their soothing flow cleared his mind, infusing him with a determination to see through the assignmnt, come what may. He prayed for God to deliver his target.
"Then the call came on my mobile phone, informing me that the soldier and his vehicle were finally heading my way," he said.
"The moment arrived. The Bradley stopped and the soldier stood on it ready to relieve himself. He was relaxed. He put his hand on his trousers. I took aim and fired one shot and saw him drop dead."
Abu Othman punctuated the story with praise to Allah for his success. "It was the perfect situation for me," he said. "The soldier was standing and that made him such an easy target."
In the world of the Iraqi insurgents, Abu Othman, not his real name, is a celebrity. Known to all as The Sniper, he is acclaimed for the consistency with which he dispatches victims - US troops and Iraqi "collaborators" - from ranges of 1000m or more.
The tale of how a humble calligrapher became a renowned marksman by teaching himself from websites, honing his skills with computer games and studying Hollywood films such as The Deer Hunter is the stuff of legend in the Sunni triangle of militant towns to the north and west of Baghdad.
One commander after another had boasted to me of his prowess and when a meeting was arranged at a house in the capital's suburbs last week, the most striking thing about Abu Othman was his unadulterated pride in killing.
He claimed to have killed 29 men in all - 20 Americans and nine Iraqis. "I want to cry when I speak about my work," he said at one point during our interview. "I am so afraid that God will deprive me of this talent he bestowed upon me."
The son of a senior police officer, Abu Othman dropped out of school to join Saddam Hussein's army but, to his family's horror, went absent without leave and lived like a fugitive for years, eventually finding work as a shepherd in the desert that straddles Iraq's borders with Syria and Jordan.
When Saddam fell, he returned to his home town of Fallujah with his wife and four children. Soon afterwards came the first outpouring of hostility to US troops in the town. They opened fire on a crowd of demonstrators, killing 13. The incident stirred in Abu Othman a potent mix of nationalist fervour and religious zeal. "I decided to do something more with my life," he said.
Two passions persuaded him that he was destined to be a sniper. He loved to shoot birds and was also a skilled calligrapher, engraving glass with handwritten verses from the Koran. He was convinced that the precision and patience this entailed would serve him well in the insurgency. "Sniping was the most natural thing for me to progress to," he said.
He pushed himself hard to make up for what he lacked in education, reading manuals and grasping the rudiments of mathematics and physics required to calculate the range of a target, a bullet's drop over distance, the impact of wind speed and all the other technical intricacies of sharpshooting. He found lots of help on the internet.
For months his entertainment included shooting games on his PlayStation. He believes they sharpened his senses. His favourite films included Enemy at the Gates, starring Jude Law as a sniper, and JFK, Oliver Stone's recreation of the assassination of John F. Kennedy.
Borrowing a sniper rifle, he practised for hours in the desert, firing at wooden targets he had fashioned in the shape of men. "I practised various distances, from 300m to 1000m," he said. "I trained until I felt ready to go and try my skills in the field."
That moment came last April, as US forces prepared for an assault on the rebel bastion of Fallujah. Carrying another borrowed rifle, Abu Othman volunteered his services to the insurgents.
"A day or two later they sent me a note asking me to take care of an officer in an American convoy who was involved in negotiating ceasefire conditions with officials from Fallujah," he said.
The insurgents ordered him to a mosque. "I was scared as I made my way there. It was my first mission and my mind was racing: would I get the target or would I not?"
He climbed up to the minaret with a member of a surveillance team that had identified the US officer as a target and was able to point him out among a group of soldiers in the street below.
Before setting up his rifle, Abu Othman said takbeers - repeating "Allahu akbar (God is greatest)" over and over again. "I looked through the scope, worked out the calculations and fired. I saw him drop in the middle of the soldiers.
"The mood in the mosque was buoyant ... people and sheiks hugged me and congratulated me and there were more takbeers." Later, the sheiks treated him to a large lunch where Pepsi flowed like water. "The mood was beautiful and I returned home almost out of my mind with joy."
He received a visit from the fighters that night. "They came with a present," Abu Othman said excitedly. "They gave me my own personal sniper rifle as a token of their appreciation and a sign of their confidence in my abilities. It was still wrapped in its nylon."
The weapon was a semi-automatic SVD Dragunov sniper rifle, with a range of more than 1200m. The insurgents soon called for him again, this time to "take out" an American sniper on the roof of a house on one of Fallujah's front lines.
He was escorted to another house some distance away that gave him an uninterrupted view of the American's position. Abu Othman brought with him a home-made dummy head - a painted face on a stick topped off with a chequered headdress. His companion used it to create a diversion while Abu Othman made his calculations.
"I put my trust in God," he said. "My only feeling was that I must kill him. Everything was ready. I looked into my scope and saw movement from the hole in the wall. I fired and waited.
"There was silence from his side. I wasn't even sure whether I'd got him. Some other mujaheddin threw a few grenades at the house where he was positioned and when there was still no response they stormed the place. They found him dead on the rooftop wit a bullet in his face."
What drives him to keep killing? "When I snipe at my target and watch him drop, I feel elated - dizzy with ecstasy. I fall on the ground, shouting to God, calling 'Allahu akbar', for God is indeed great," he said. "When their snipers kill one of us, we go to heaven as martyrs, but when we kill them they go to hell."



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