Our correspondent has not been in touch much recently. From incomplete news media reports, we know there have been assaults in his area. When there are assaults, standard procedure at military bases is to shut down all non-essential communications, which means no phone calls or Internet access. This prevents the news media/families/others from receiving thousands of bits of very possibly incorrect information from personnel who speak from hearsay, gossip, emotion, etc. Sometimes the shut down lasts several days while the facts are sorted out and then distributed. No news is the best news.
So we wait, and….
Our correspondent reports that falafel sandwich shops are everywhere. The other day he and a patrol of 30 soldiers walked past one, and it being lunch time, and their MRE-jaded palats yearning for something exotic, decided to spread some foreign economic assistance around. They placed an order for 30 sandwiches– the sandwiches consist of 3-4 little fried bean meal balls with onions, tomato, parsley and secret sauce in a pita pocket– the Big Mac of Iraq. The shop owner was delighted.
As reported here before, soldiers regularly spend money in shops buying drinks, sandwiches, sweets, etc. as a practical matter and to promote good international relations. Our correspondent has never gotten sick from this road food, and reports the shops are quite health conscious, with the preparers wearing latex gloves when handling the food. Maybe the local chamber of commerce runs classes in how to appeal to soldiers.
Sometimes the order is so large that the owners have to slip out the back to buy supplies at the corner grocer. But the troops are patient and grateful for the rest. It would be impolite to complain or leave because of having to wait a few minutes longer.
Our correspondent telephoned Saturday. Indeed, there were troubles at his base. A recent blog entry from a journalist embedded at the base said one soldier had been killed and 24 rockets hit the base. Our correspondent expressed surprise that so many rockets had hit. Didn’t seem like it at the time. You never know for sure, but it’s amazing how little gets into the mainstream media.
Meanwhile his work continues as he travels outside the wire every day. It’s not terribly interesting because most of the time is spent waiting for the Iraqi police or army to decide to do something. It gives pause to wonder why so many troops will be needed over the next 12 months. The Iraqi police/military are happy the U.S. troops remain, but probably because the U.S. military is so generous with funds. Brand new Ford and Chevy pickups are sprouting like crocuses in the spring. Iraqi chop shops weld machine gun mounts to the bed and they become the poor man’s Bradley fighting vehicle. In true U.S. fashion, they even argue about which is best, Chevy or Ford. The consensus seems to be Chevy. “Ford no good,” he hears a lot. Poor Ford.
Our correspondent feels that if U.S. troops are sent home, but the money keeps flowing, the peace process would accelerate, save the U.S. billions and lower casualties and violence on all sides. Sounds like this should be a new pillar of our foreign policy. Send money, not troops. This is how Saudi Arabia and other Middle East oil barons work, and they’ve managed to tie the U.S. into a pretzel knot in both Afghanistan and Iraq for a miniscule fraction of the U.S. military costs in both of these ventures.
Our correspondent phoned from Iraq this week to let us know things are going well for him, despite recent heart-breaking news. We had been concerned because of the terrible loss of soldiers and Iraqis in the homicidal bombing last week. The victims were in the same large battalion as our correspondent, but not personally known by him.
Generally he’s finding Iraq to be a much more peaceful place than when he left it a little more than a year ago. He said the primary troublemakers are not Iraqis, but foreigners whose goal is to destabilize Iraq and thwart progressive democratic initiatives by Iraqis. These insurgents come from other Middle Eastern countries like Saudi Arabia and Iran—even though they are not “officially” recognized by those governments. They are well-organized and well-funded, with high-tech military gear and lots of money to bribe the poorest and most gullible Iraqis into committing desperate acts like suicide truck bombings. These funders are the real terrorists, and the root of the problem.
According to our correspondent, Iraqis see these people as a plague unleashed by the American invasion of Iraq—just as many wise Americans warned back in 2003 when George W. Bush was pushed by ill-informed neo-cons like Dick Cheney, Don Rumsfeld, Richard Perl, and Paul Wolfowitz to dismantle the Iraqi government and created a fertile field for criminal and totalitarian elements to take root and grow with little resistance—and sometimes inadvertent assistance, as in Guantanamo and Abu Gharib.
Our correspondent works closely with the Iraqi Police and Army providing training and back-up assistance as the Iraqis track down and dismantle the insurgent leadership and infrastructure developed since the invasion. The Iraqis have become a competent force, handling intelligence, planning, and execution of raids against suspected bomb factories, weapons caches, and insurgent foreigners.
In such a role, most Iraqis are happy the U.S. forces remain, for now, but they want full control of their country returned as soon as possible. The forces agreement signed late last year between the U.S. and Iraq stipulates that the U.S. military not work independently of the Iraqis. Therefore, much of our correspondent’s work is done from Iraqi police stations. If no missions are planned on a particular day, the soldiers remain at the station until the Iraqis ask for specific support. Our correspondent is impressed by their bravery in facing violent situations alone.
The missions are usually planned jointly, but the Iraqis carry them out. The U.S. forces hang back, with air support and other options on alert, in case immediate assistance is requested by the Iraqis. His sector is a fairly upscale neighborhood of professionals, teachers, and students living in large, well-taken care of homes with clean streets and parks, so it is generally safer. The insurgents infiltrate the poorest, densely populated neighborhoods, where they can easily hide, threaten, cajole and bribe distressed, angry, and even mentally ill people into planting roadside bombs or performing suicide attacks.
A surprising amount of time is spent drinking tea and munching from trays of sweets provided by the Iraqi hosts, while they discuss situations and strategies at the police station. Our correspondent asks that we think of this cooperative situation, when the news is full of dire events.
When asked if he was getting soft from the tea and sweets, our correspondent reminded me there was still plenty of walking with 80 lb backpacks, both day and night. In downtime at the barracks, he’s been going to the exercise room, where a body-builder buddy gives him free professional-level personal training, and is turning him into an Arnold Schwarzenegger look-alike (painfully, he added).
Much time is spent walking through the community, establishing a presence. Streets are busy, shops are open, and people crowd the sidewalks. The soldiers stop in cafes and restaurants for snacks and drinks. They have a budget to buy stuff in shops, which keeps the shopkeepers happy. They’ll always and chat (through interpreters) with people on the street.
We sent a tiny helmet-mounted video camera to our correspondent who reports he has taken several hours of video during these patrols, and will send a few DVDs soon. He says we’ll enjoy the lively street scenes in this newly relaxing Iraqi culture.
Our correspondent relayed the following example of the improving cultural interaction when he was on foot patrol in a residential neighborhood.
During regular breaks, squad members bend down on one knee, a good, alert resting position (and practically a smaller target). One soldier stationed himself next to an iron gate, and soon an old man opened the gate to peer out at the commotion of a dozen soldiers on his doorstep. His surprised eyes met the kneeling soldier’s at his feet, and he said “Salaam.” The soldier dutifully replied with the proper “Asalaam allaykum.” The old man perused the soldier a moment then went back into the house. He returned with an old plastic chair which he placed on the street and offered to the soldier with a brief comment. The translator yelled out, “He said– ‘As long as you’re relaxing, you should be comfortable.’” The soldier, again mindful of his cultural sensitivity training, didn’t dare refuse, so nodded with thanks, smiled, and sheepishly took the seat. The rest of the squad, still on their knees, stared wide-eyed, barely controlling their laughter. Regrettably, our correspondent’s camera was not on at the time.
It’s a relief to hear of the improving conditions in Iraq. Stories like this, which rarely get into the big media, give us hope and a measure of comfort.
As far as we know now, most likely, our correspondent is OK. We haven’t had any official news from the military on this as of 6:14 pm EST today (Monday, Feb 9), but reports started coming in on AP, Reuters, CNN, BBC and others today around noon that four U.S. soldiers and their Iraqi interpreter, as well as several civilians were killed when a suicide bomber drove a car into a Humvee riding in a convoy in Mosul, and detonated the explosive, destroying the Humvee.
Naturally we are terribly concerned, but our sources close to command of our correspondent’s unit have not been informed of casualties, so the assumption is that they were in a different unit.
The horror of this is huge, no matter what. We will post any news here as soon as we hear anything.
Our correspondent sent this email describing his typical day. Times are intentionally blocked out. IP means Iraqi Police. You can probably google all other acronyms.
A POEM FOR IRAQ
well, lights on was at ****
i kicked off my sleeping bag, put my shower shoes on and grabbed my toiletry bag, my towel and a bottle of water
walked out to the shower trailer, only 20m from our building
air was very chilly in bare feet and PTs, so i hurried over to it
water was nice and piping hot because it was early, and because most everyone is living elsewhere
shaved, and brushed my teeth with the bottled water because i dont trust the water
walked back to my room and changed into ACU’s, i noticed they have a tear in them, so i make a mental note to take them over to a “tailoring” place run by a quartermaster company that will repair them
head outside and chat with my buddies joe, nick, and the LT while they have their morning cigarettes
i sling my weapon over my shoulder and we walk over to the chow hall
its cool and crisp, probably in the low fifties, our breath puffs in the air
talk a little about the mission that day, the LT is upset that he didnt get anymore planning time, if we had more time to plan we could split into multiple teams and arrange for air cover, as it is, we’ll “keep it simple, stupid” and manuever as one element
we all show our ID’s and that our weapons are on “safe” to the chow-hall guards
i wash my hands thouroughly, with lots of soap
chow hall is nice, i think about getting a made-to order omelet, but decide on scrambled eggs, a biscuit, and fruit juice
we head back, its almost **** now, and i make sure my team has started getting the MRAP ready, i remind Burnett to get the rhino warmed up, and Barth that we got some lubricant in, so he should make sure to apply some to the machine-guns bolt today, they say “roger, sergeant”
burnett tells me that the vehicle is ready at around ****, i spot check the vehicle, checking radio frequencies and that there is fresh oil on the 240B, the guys have a couple of battery-powered speakers and are listening to hip-hop and joking around by the trucks
the LT and Ski come out a little after ***** and give us the mission brief, go over the “SIGACTS” (significant actions of the last 24 hours), current “BOLO” (be on the look out) for vehicles and personnel.
**things are expected to heat up before election day**
one of our interpreters is going on vacation for two weeks, so we take a few minutes to strap his suitcases in the trucks, (we strive to have nothing loose in the trucks, in case of a rollover or IED strike)
we all pile in the vehicles and perform final radio checks and head out
we drive out the gate and take turns firing the heavy machine guns into the test fire pit, i smile as our 240B chatters happily with its fresh lubrication. a few small iraqi boys scramble to scoop up the brass from the expended catrigdes
we drive north, then turn east and drive over the river, there are several bridges, and already lots of traffic, IP’s guard every intersection and whistle shrilly to clear traffic out of our way
its a 20-minute drive to a checkpoint outside the city, where we drop off the interpreter “Freddy,” on the way i chat with him and find out that he was an infantry sergeant and fought against Iran in Saddam’s army. he says if we get him an AK, he can help us on raids “no problem” also, his son is getting surgery…his medical english isnt so great, so i dont understand what the problem is, but that the doctors dont anticipate any problems, he gives me an extra cell-phone number that we can call in a few weeks to make sure he doesnt need a few more days
when we reach the checkpoint, we pull off the road, and one of our vehicles runs over a piece of scrap metal and its tire bursts, so after Freddy is dropped off we call up HQ and let them know that we’ll be coming back in to get our tire changed
we pull in, drive over to the maintenance pad, and the mechanics jack-up and swap the tire out, probably relieved to have a simple job to work on
we head out, test fire again, and drive over to ERB-* (emergeny response battalion-*) a militarized group of IP that are supplemented by a team of IA special operations troopers
their job is primarily counter-insurgency, as opposed to the criminal-investigation of the regular IP
they have a set of shiny new pick-up trucks, with pintle mounts for russian machine guns mounted in the beds
our LT links up with the IP and goes over a “map recon” with the IP officers, making a plan to quickly surround a suspected rocket-launch site when we get the call
our soldiers take turns taking pictures of each other holding an RPG.. and we settle in for a nice 6-hour wait.
we watch wedding convoys circle the traffic circle
drink cups of insanely sweet chai (here, strong black tea)…
open up MREs for some stray dogs…. nap and relax
at **** we get the word that radar detected a series of rockets fired from well outside the city, on the plus side, they fail spectacularly, apparently spiraling off randomly
we shake hands with the IP, congratulate each other on a job well done, mount up and head back in
we clear our weapons, everyone making sure that someone else inspects their weapons firing chambers
drive over to the fuel point and fill up
its getting dark, Clark greets us, he stayed behind today and got our final humvee up and running, distributed mail, and built a living area for the new guy
i eagerly tear open my amazon package, (a gift from a random Soapbox reader in England), then, a little guiltily, for not checking on it first, spot check my vehicle, making sure gear is properly stowed and electronics are shut down correctly
i run and drop off some laundry at the laundry facility, run by filipinos
then meet up with the other NCOs and head to the chow hall, tonight is mexican food, i pick up enchiladas, rice, refried beans, and a salad
outside, nick brings me a milkshake because I got one for him the other night
Nick and I walk over to a pirate-dvd store and talk in funny english accents while discussing the merits of the various dvds
i chuckle over a “matt demon” collection
Nick selects a “future weapons, complete 4 seasons” for $15, and i head over to the mwr, hoping that the internet is working.