In the last terrible minutes of his life, the world Chris Ahmelman and his buddies thought they knew so well collapsed in confusion, chaos and - for three of them - death.
The Australian security contractor was pinned down with seven others near Baghdad International Airport. They did not even know where the insurgency fire was coming from - and they made too many mistakes as skill and instinct deserted them.
Ordinarily, the war in Iraq moves so fast that back-tracking to ask "how?" and "why?" can be difficult. But James Yeager, an American colleague of Ahmelman who survived the attack, has written a chilling seven-page account that is being passed around in Baghdad.
As they set out for the airport from the Edinburgh Risk and Security Management bunker on May 20 it would have been difficult to disguise their convoy - a bullet-proof Mercedes and two soft-skin BMWs. But their 20-plus weapons were out of sight and they hoped their Arab dress would let them blend in among the locals.
However, seeming to be local backfired when they came to a US-manned barrier at the scene of yet another roadside bombing. They looked so local that they risked drawing friendly fire if they attempted to move up to shelter under the American guns.
So they sat in no man's land, chit-chatting by radio as they willed on the Americans to reopen the road before their cover was blown.
As Yeager explains it, every member of a private security detail has his assigned tasks and his AOR (area of responsibility) which is allocated as though the convoy is at the centre of the clock. Yeager was driving Car 1 and his AOR was 8 to 12 o'clock, roughly the top-left quarter of the dial.
Ahmelman, 34, was the driver of Car 3. With him were Jay Hunt, his rear gunner, whose AOR was 3 to 9 o'clock; and the overall team leader Al Johnson, whose AOR was 12 to 3 o'clock.
But then, as Yeager tells it, Johnson suddenly and quite bizarrely alighted from Car 3, firing bursts from his MP5 submachine-gun into the air. Yeager suggests that, subsequently, Johnson told him he had been trying to warn off Iraqi motorists banking up behind them. But apart from neglecting his own AOR, Johnson had pretty well blown any cover they had left; every Iraqi and any insurgency "dicker" - or lookout - on a nearby slip road, now had to know a Western private security detail was stranded on the highway.
Frightened that the Americans at the bomb site up the road would look in their direction and see what they thought was an Iraqi firing into the air, Yeager decided it was best to whip off his Arab disguise - thereby revealing his identity to the Iraqis around him in the traffic.
They had been directly under a highway overpass, but after 10 minutes they edged the cars forward about 100 metres.
The engines were still running and, in Yeager's case, Car 1 was in neutral and the emergency brake was on.
Ian Harris, the marksman in Car 2, was the first to notice the small white sedan on a slip road running parallel to the highway and about 75 metres away from it.
Yeager writes: "He asked that someone look at it - Mark (in Car 1) had a telescopic sight. He said it was parked; the sole occupant was talking on the phone; wasn't paying attention to us, wasn't a threat. I said aloud: 'He's a f---ing dicker!"'
The shooting erupted in less than five minutes. Yeager writes: "I thought to myself, what the f--- is Johno (Johnson, the team leader) shooting at now? [But] then I felt rounds hitting the car and I heard the distinctive supersonic crack of a round as it passed right through the car. It was inches from my face. Stef Surette yelled 'I'm hit'."
Yeager says that in the minutes before the attack, the other two in his car - medic and vehicle commander Surette and rear gunner and medic Mark Collen - saw what appeared to be classic insurgency pre-positioning for a drive-by shooting: a big white SUV with tinted windows rolled down the slip-road, did a U-turn and returned to face the security team.
Collen saw the passenger window was down, but he dismissed it as a potential threat as he concentrated on his own AOR. Yeager was becoming exasperated: "There were two other people with AORs in which the attack came from. They were in Cars 2 and 3, and nobody reported anything."
But then Yeager slipped up himself, which he admits with disarming honesty. Deciding it was time to get out of the area, he hit the accelerator, but the car would not move.
Thinking the engine had taken a hit, he immediately did what he was supposed to do in such circumstances - abandon the vehicle. It was only as he hit the dirt that he remembered: he was not in an automatic. He had put the BMW in neutral and engaged the emergency brake.
Yeager does not use the word panic, but readers might draw their own conclusion. "I moved to the right wheel. I wanted to kill the terrorists but nobody had told me direction, description or distance. If I couldn't make hits I was sure going to make noise."
Then Yeager saw that Collen had followed his lead and he too had abandoned Car 1. Yeager decided to become a smaller target by getting right away from the vehicle.
He ran and sprawled on the edge of the median strip, shooting at the houses beyond the slip road but "feeling useless" because he still did not know where the shooting came from.
Sporadic gunfire from Cars 2 and 3 caused him to believe that his other five colleagues were still in this fight against an unseen enemy, but then: "I looked at Car 3 and I saw Jay Hunt [the rear gunner] with blood all over his crotch. I heard him calmly telling [the team leader] Johno: 'I'm hit in the femoral, buddy'.
"Jay slid towards the front of the car so that Johno could apply first aid from behind the safety of the engine block. I looked at Chris [Ahmelman] - he was still in the driver's seat, slumped lifelessly towards the door. Car 2 was OK. Stef was out of Car 1. I didn't realise the extent of his injuries, but he was going down."
At this stage Yeager says he got no reply when he yelled: "Who are we shooting at?"
They tried to move Car 2 to cover the medic Mark Collen as he treated Stef Surette's wounds. But unlike Car 1, it was knocked out of action. Yeager, who describes himself as a "12-year cop" without military experience, went to Car 3. "Johno was working frantically on Jay's injuries - calling for help. He was trying to cover 360 degrees and work on Jay at the same time. Jay was still breathing, but his respirations were becoming laboured."
It was over in a flash - most of the noise had been their own chaotic response to the carefully placed shots of an insurgency marksman who had long fled the scene.
The Americans arrived and took control of the mop-up, ordering Yeager to retrieve Ahmelman's body from the white BMW.
"He began to fall out as I opened the door. I caught him, but as I pulled him out, the car started to roll forward - it was going to crush Jay. I had to drop Chris's body, and run around the opposite side of the car, to get in.
"Chris was wounded through the leg first. But instead of [trying to get away from the cars], he spent the last seconds of his life telling Johno about it [until] he took another round through the throat and another through his head."
Jay Hunt and Stef Surette died from their injuries in a US combat hospital.
- 174 War & Disaster Profiteers Campaign