NEAR FALLUJAH, Iraq, Nov 6 (AFP) - With US forces massing outside Fallujah, 35 marines swayed to Christian rock music and asked Jesus Christ to protect them in what could be the biggest battle since American troops invaded Iraq last year.
Men with buzzcuts and clad in their camouflage waved their hands in the air, M-16 assault rifles laying beside them, and chanted heavy metal-flavoured lyrics in praise of Christ late Friday in a yellow-brick chapel.
"You are the sovereign. You're name is holy. You are the pure spotless lamb," a female voice cried out on the loudspeakers as the marines clapped their hands and closed their eyes, reflecting on what lay ahead for them.
"Sometimes, all you've got is God."
Between the service's electric guitar religious tunes, marines stepped up on the chapel's small stage and recited a verse of scripture, meant to fortify them for war.
One spoke of their Old Testament hero, a shepherd who would become Israel's king, battling the Philistines some 3,000 years ago.
"Thus David prevailed over the Philistines," the marine said, reading from scripture, and the marines shouted back "Hoorah, King David," using their signature grunt of approval.
The marines drew parallels from the verse with their present situation, where they perceive themselves as warriors fighting barbaric men opposed to all that is good in the world.
"Victory belongs to the Lord," another young marine read.
And then, upon the Christian soldiers, the Real Thing did descend:
For a time, this frightening urban battlefield became a pulsing cacophony of strange and deadly sounds. The mosques in the city broadcast calls to jihad through their speakers. F-18's fired 3,000 rounds a minute in bursts that sounded oddly like burps. AC-130 gunships droned overhead, their big cannons going thunk, thunk as they found targets.
Perhaps strangest of all, the American troops brought in their own "psyops" trucks - for psychological operations - and blared sounds that created a nightmarish duet with the mosques: old AC/DC songs, something that sounded like a sonar ping, the cavalry charge.
Captain Omohundro did not like sitting still in this theater of doom, and for good reason. "My biggest fear is staying in the same place for too long," he said. "Then they'll pinpoint us and start firing."
Brilliant (and expensive) strategery in action. The punishment continues. Iraq Coalition Casualties links to some less than rosy reports from Baquba (as well as Fallujah). For a more personal account, see 'Watching tragedy engulf my city' (by phone to the BBC). Also of note are the recent pieces by Dilip Hiro and Chalmers Johnson at Tomdispatch.com.
Update: Click to learn more about the FORCE MINISTRIES.