Saturday, May 19, 2007
GENERAL DAVID PETRAEUS, Commander of Multi National Forces—Iraq, gives a speech in honor of Command Sgt. Maj. Jeff Mellinger. Photo by Caleb Schaber
It was one of those days where I was stuck in the florescent holding cell other wise known as the Combined Press Information Center (CPIC) in Baghdad's Green Zone. Occasionally they throw me a bone and let me go outside and play.
“Tomorrow, we are going to go to Camp Victory to see Command Sgt. Maj. Mellinger's Change of Responsibility Ceremony,” a Major at CPIC tells me.
I never heard of the guy and was not even aware what he did.
“You might get to talk to General Petraeus if you go,” he continued.
OK, I am in, I say and make plans to wake up at 0600 on a Saturday. We got to drive across Baghdad down what is termed "the most dangerous road in Iraq," in the daylight, to Camp Victory, which is sort of a death wish in retrospect. I put in my ear plugs, just in case we hit a IED or EFP in our armored bus.
We arrived late, which was bad all around. We had probably 20 journalists, mostly Iraqis, who had to scramble to put up their cameras. The ceremony had started when we walked in.
I tried to get some pictures and footage, but it was mostly a goatfuck, I had been to the Palace before, and I am allowed to walk around their unescorted. This time I was there I had to ask permission to move more than three feet and that really doesn't make me happy. I had a few Specialists giving me shit because I moved four feet and tried to get a picture. So I got another soldier that outranked that Specialist, who only outranks Privates, so I could do my job and take pictures.
After the Ceremony, General Petraeus walked by me but did not give us any interviews. We did, however, get to talk to Command Sgt. Maj. Jeff Mellinger.
For more information on Mellinger, I have another article I wrote. http://www.nvnewswire.com/?q=node/54
I had asked several people I know if they had any questions for Petraeus. Starrman said: Ask him if he thinks a timetable for troop withdrawal would be a benefit or not.
Crow emailed me the following:
“You might ask him why he thinks so many soldiers and command staff that have formerly served there have made recommendations for withdrawal.”
“Another question might be whether the"surge" strategy was his recommendation to address the military situation there, or if the decision was made at another level. If it was his recommendation, was this influenced by political factors?”
And –W emailed me this: “Ask him if he can keep a straight face when listening to the civilian leadership of the war, and how he resists decking them when the opportunity arises.”
Well, those questions are left unanswered, of course I did ask a few to Mellinger. He said, for instance, in regards to Crow's first question about former military officials criticizing the war, that he didn't think that any of them had knowledge of Iraq and challenged me to give him a name so he could comment further. I didn't have one. You can see his reply in the video. If I get a chance to talk to Patraeus, I will try and find some answers to your questions. That is my job, you know.
It was an honor to meet both CSM Mellinger and CSM Hill. They are the representatives of the Non Commissioned Officers in this war and are both very down to earth men.
Thursday, May 17, 2007
From left to right Master Sgt. Daniel Oancea,
Sgt. Lizuca Darie and 2nd Lt. Andrei Mihai
CAMP DRACULA, Iraq—Romanian paratroopers in 495th Infantry Battalion patrol 200 km daily in the Dhi Qar province of Iraq. The 495th is named after "Capt. Stefan Soverth," a Romanian paratrooper who did not accept the Russia suppression of Romanian paratroopers in 1945.
Camp Dracula, a walled compound inside Logistical Support Area (LSA) Adder, is very close to the ancient city of Ur. Nasariyah is the Iraqi City that closest to the base.
Romania is supporter of the war on terror and also has a large presence in Kandahar, Afghanistan. In Iraq, the Romanian Area of Operations (AO) is the entire Dhi Qar province—over 12,900 square kilometers, of which they patrol daily.
“We secure, patrol and do reconnaissance missions, said Lt. Col. George Constantin, the Battalion Commander.
He said that they also secure the bridge over the Euphrates. This bridge is the only one in 200 km to cross the river.
These paratroopers have a six month tour of Iraq. They also help protect LSA Adder. Constantin said that they have not had any trouble lately.
In October 2006, Romania took over this mission from the Italians, who have for the most part, withdrawn from Iraq. In the new year of 2007, the 495th Battalion arrived in Iraq, replacing the previous battalion.
To help the Iraqi people, the Romanians are also working on school project. The school has six classrooms.
I hope it will be completed while we are here, Constantin said of the school.
This is the first time that Constantin and his battalion are in Iraq.
“I like it very much,” he said. “We feel very very good.”
Lt. Col. George Constantin, the Battalion Commander.
Constantin's battalion has received no casualties. Since their involvement in Iraq, Romania has lost only one soldier. A stone memorializing that soldier and Italian causalities is within Camp Dracula.
According to the press packet given to me by the Romanian's, Vlad Drǎculea was born in 1431 and was of the lineage of a Knight of the Dragon's Order, who stopped the Turks from advancing into Europe. The 495th Battalion is from Bucharest, which is near Vlad's kingdom.
The Bram Stroker Dracula is a fictionalized version of a real historical figure that the Romanian's look back on. It is after the Romanian Hero, not the fictionalized character that the camp is named.
In the last couple of years Romania has had very high temperatures 40 to 50 degrees Celsius, Constantin said. These high temperatures back home have made it an easy transition for the paratroopers to Iraq.
Romania's military is all volunteer.
One tradition the Romanian's have upheld is their religion, even in war. More than that, they build amazing churches. In Kandahar the Romanian's have an exquisite church. In Iraq, they have a portable church. To see the wonderful murals and hear the Father Preda Bogdan talk, please look at the youtube video.
I had a chance to interview three paratroopers stationed at Camp Dracula.
A platoon commander, 2nd Lt. Andrei Mihai Oancea, a squad leader, Master Sgt. Daniel Oancea and a team leader, Sgt. Lizuca Darie. All of them said that they enjoyed the work that they were doing in Iraq.
Unfortunately, I do not speak Romanian, so these interviews were all through an interpretor.
2nd Lt. Andrei Mihai said that his platoon guards the bridge. The program varies, but spends he and his paratroopers often spend a few days at a time there.
The mission is difficult, he said, but we are trained for this.
Sgt. Lizuca Darie said the schedule at first was hard to get used to, but now she is doing well and enjoys her work, knowing it benefits the Iraqi people.
Master Sgt. Daniel Oancea works on the Quick Reaction Force. If there is a threat any where outside the wire with a Romanian patrol, such an attack, he is one of the paratroopers on team that responds to help.
With our background and training, I consider that this is a normal mission, Oancea said. The coalition forces he works with, he said, he considers comrades and is proud of his work.
On this stone the deaths of a Romanian soldier and Italian soldiers are memorialized.
Friday, May 4, 2007
TALL AFAR, Iraq—Golf is being played in the far corners of Iraq at Forward Operating Base (FOB) Sykes. The course was made by Sgt. Eddy Arnold, 42, of the 1st Squadron(Air), 17th Cavalry (1/17th CAV) stationed at FOB Sykes.
Located 40 miles from Syria, near the Iraqi town of Tall Afar, the “Chip & Putt” is an improvised miniature golf course. Next to the nine hole course is also a driving range.
Tee time is 1700 for a few soldiers. The Chip & Putt was constructed by Sgt. Eddy Arnold, 42. Arnold, originally from the Philippines, serves in the US Army's 1/17th CAV as a truck driver, but currently his assignment called for constructing this miniature golf course.
“Our job is to support the troops and beautify the FOB,” he said. Sgt. Devon McDermott, 20, from Las Vegas, NV, said he holds the best score. The par is 36, he said, and he came in at 26, while Specialist Kyle Ambeau, 21, from New Orleans said he holds the worst score. Both are in the 1/17th CAV.
The Chip & Putt is open to everyone on the base. Construction, said Arnold, was a group effort. Even the Air Force helped out. Materials were donated from companies of soldiers across the FOB, and some items were recovered from the burn pit, such as the long pipe that runs from the top of the bunker between the 8th and 9th hole.
Prior to placing the holes, Arnold said he flattened the course by dragging a large piece of wood that resembled a railroad tie, over the area.
“This is different from the original plan,” he said. “I wanted to make it a challenge.”
Part of the challenge involves climbing an abandoned Iraqi bunker that resembles a pyramid.
“It keeps them in shape because they have to climb,” said Arnold, who confessed that he never played golf, and still does not. He said he enjoys watching the soldiers play golf.
“It gives them time to relax,” he said. “When I go outside the wire, I will want something like this to come back to.”
Chief Warrant Officer 3 Christopher Jones, 28, from Spokane, Wash. and Chief Warrant Officer 2 Mike Epling, 32, from Stevenson, Wash. are UH-60 Black Hawk pilots in C Company, 2nd Battalion, 25th Aviation Regiment based in Wahiawa (Oahu). The 2-25 AVN is attached to the 1/17th CAV. Jones and Epling played the Chip & Putt a few times.
“It's a fun course,” said Jones. “They got pretty creative with some of the holes, like trying to chip on to go up the bunker.”
After playing the Chip & Putt, Jones and Epling got the idea to make a full sized course to play. They started in December.
They scavenged a Driver, an 8 Iron, a Pitching Wedge and a Sand Wedge.
“We finally decided to do something,” said Jones. “It started with us just picking out a piece of trash in the distance and hitting to it.”
They make tees out of the tops of plastic water bottles. The course they made has a varying amount of holes and rests at the end of a runway, near a garbage pit where refuse is incinerated.
“We have a few holes and few targets that remain stationary,” said Jones. Depending on the OPTEMPO of missions and the weather (it's currently rainy in Northern Iraq), they play regularly for a few hours after lunch.
“We play to with in a club length of the hole because the rough terrain makes putting impossible,” said Epling. “We are actually thinking of making a score card.”
“I guess you kind of forgot where you are at for the moment,” said Jones. “It's a good change.”
Jones is on his third combat tour of Iraq. Epling did a tour of Afghanistan prior to this Iraq tour. This is the first time that they have been able to find a place play golf and have a few golf clubs and balls.
When this tour, which was recently extended three months, ends this fall, Jones and Epling hope to play golf at Turtle Bay.
I turned 34 years old a few hours before I drove down Route Irish from Baghdad International Airport to the Green Zone. After spending my first sober birthday in over 10 years, I was reissued my press credentials for working with coalition forces in Iraq and eagerly awaited getting outside the wire into Iraq's more dangerous places.
A Sergeant walked in to the press room, where I was waiting. “Does anyone want to go to FOB Kalsu for an Iraqi Police Graduation?”
A free helicopter ride, how could I resist? Forward Operating Base Kalsu stands out in my mind from a previous interview I had with a soldier who was there during the invasion of Iraq. He told me of how they lived in tents and his tent was hit with a mortar. One of his buddies got a testical blown off. I always think of that soldier who got his balls blown off when I pass thought Kalsu.
Colin Powell had a saying when he was Secretary of State about breaking something at a Pottery barn: You break it, you buy it. He compated invading Iraq to that policy and we broke Iraq. Now we have dispatched Saddam Hussein and many of those in his former government and are working on that hard sell of giving Iraq back to the Iraqi people.
As the United States Congress pushes for a withdrawal of our US troops from Iraq, another class of Iraqi Police (IP) Graduated without substantial Western Media coverage. Well, I was there along with about 10 Iraqi journalists. Other western media were also invited, but declined. I find it amusing that most journalists are only interested in the problems, not the solutions in Iraq. But if it bleeds, it leads.
IP from Babil and Karbala Provinces attended a ten day training program at Forward Operating Base (FOB) Kalsu. [Note: these were not new recruits, but experienced IP.] They lived at Kalsu during the training and were instructed by US contractors on a Provincial Transition Team (PTT). Members of PTTs are usually former or current US law enforcement officers who come to Iraq to help break the patterns of Saddam's regime with the current Iraqi Security Forces.
Col. Michael. X. Garrett, commander of 4th Brigade Combat Team (Airborne), 25th Infantry Division, who has a Bachelor of Science degree in criminal justice from Xavier University, addressed the graduating Iraqi Police Class #07-02.
This was the second certification program run at Kalsu and the first incorporating two different provinces in the same course. Col. Garrett had the IP from Babil and Karbala stand and face each other.
“The men you are standing across from are your brothers,” he said. “The security of Iraq rest on your capable and able shoulders.”
A hand out was given to reporters about the event which reads:
“The key “take-aways” of this event are:
1.Graduates of this training program have increased their proficiency as police officers to uphold rule of law in their respective provinces and are a credit to the Iraqi Security Forces.
2.2. Achievement of Provincial Iraqi Control is progressing quickly and today's graduation aids in reaching that ultimate goal.”
Prior to the ceremony, I spoke with Garrett and he told me that the certification empathized crime investigation, self defense, and human rights.
Addressing the IP, Garrett continued, “I ask all of you to continue to commit yourselves and even give your lives for your country. I personally applaud your effects and thank you for what you do everyday.”
After Garrett's speech, Brigadier General Faris spoke to the IP. He is the deputy commander of the Babil Province IP, and his police were noticeably different from the other cops—they sat in front and wore police uniforms. The Karbala IP were in civilian clothes, mostly sweat suits with American sports logos on them. They did, however, all wear blue baseball hats that read “Police” in English.
The PTT instructors are paid for by the US Army, I was told, and the only costs for this training beyond that was feeding and housing the 50 or so IP at Kalsu for 10 days. According to estimates of what would be charged for food, that amounts to approximately $100 per IP for the duration. [On a side note, when I ran for mayor of Seattle in 2001, I learned that the Seattle Police Dept. had less than $50 per officer budgeted a year for additional training and certifications.]
Iraq has no Miranda Rights, nor is there a functionally 911 service. The police under Saddam Hussein were even further from what we have come to expect in the Western world. However, these baby steps, ignored by Western media, are the backbone of our exit plan from Iraq.
“We are just looking for creative ways to train the IP,” said Garrett. Indeed, many of the concepts of professionalism, human rights and criminal investigation are completely unknown to the many of the IP. These types of courses bring these concepts into focus.
“The 50 IP you see here today risk their lives to support the population,” said Garrett. IP and their families often become targets of insurgents, besides on the job risks.
After the speech, Garrett and Faris answered questions from the reporters. Much of the dialog was in Arabic. One Iraqi reporter asked Garrett if the US would provide more technology and equipment to detect and prevent IED attacks.
Garrett responded that the coalition forces armed and equipped the IP with vehicles and even fuel since 2004.
Now, Garrett said, “The Iraqi Government, the Ministry of the Interior, has sufficient resources to pay and equip it's own forces.”
One Iraqi woman, who worked as a stringer for the New York Times, asked if the US Mission in Iraq was over since they were no longer equipping the IP.
“No, it's not over,” said Garrett.
Other concerns brought up were in regards to the increased insurgent activity in Al Hillah in Babil province.
“Because of the security plan in Baghdad,”said Garrett, “terrorists have moved to other provinces.”
Garrett added that he thought that things were getting better because he saw two major Shia religious holidays involving movements of religious pilgrims in Iraq occur “with not a great loss of life.”
Later, waiting to return to Baghdad with the rest of the Iraqi Journalists, I asked them through an interpretor what they thought of the day's events and I also asked again why the IP from Karbala did not wear uniforms.
All I got on that question was “They were not ready.” I attempted to interview the individual members of the IP, but they all declined.
The answer as to what the Iraqi media thought of the graduation was mixed. One journalist, who spoke English, and works for an Arabic TV station in the US, said, “It's bullshit!”
He continued to elaborate, saying that while the police in Babil had raised the standards of the IP, and transcended Sunni/Shia differences, the Karbala IP, who did not even wear their uniforms to graduation and were still deeply divided by Shia/Sunni differences, and he doubted that eating American food and using American toilets for ten days would make any difference at all.
Col. Garrett addressed this concern earlier, saying that while he recognized that the war in Iraq would not be over after ten days of IP training, that by bringing police together from different provinces and giving them this training they were moving things along and one IP may come along and make a major difference.
Other Iraqi journalists, the majority, said that they felt the day was a success—they said “We made pictures and ate food.”
All of them seemed to understand the frustration of building the needed Iraqi Security Forces so the US can leave, and they can have a safe, unoccupied country to live in.
“It's another day in Iraq,” said the Army interpretor.
The war in Iraq conjures many images, but few people would think that fine art is one of them. The tradition of combat art comes from the time before the camera and has been lost down a deeper well than that of black and white negatives.
I met Steve Mumford when I was passing through Baghdad. Most of the people I meet in the press office are writers, photographers and videographers. Steve was the first Combat Artist I have met, and one of the handful operating in Iraq.
“I've been a combat artist since the war started here [in Iraq],” Steve told me while we were sitting around the Green Zone, a few days before a mortar struck and killed a soldier and a contractor.
He said that he had not been in Iraq for over a year, although this was his fifth trip to the war. The last time he was in country he kept staying longer and longer. It's something I know well myself. The longer you stay here, the more want to see. It's almost like a drug.
Here is a picture Steve did of me.
“I am not a war junky,” Mumford told me. “Really, I am just an artist.”
“If I say I am just an artist, people are like 'did you get lost?'”
The tradition of war art can been traced back through many collections in museums—but it is doubtful that these idealized paintings of historic figures were made by artists that were actually in the war they portrayed.
One of the first recognized war artists is Winslow Homer, who covered the American Civil War for Harper's Weekly.
The United States Marine Corps has the MOS of 9950—a combat artist. They have deployed a few to Iraq. These soldiers come to the war to draw and paint Marines in Combat. I am still looking for one here in Iraq and if I find one, I will tell you all about it.
In Vietnam, the Army had combat artists as well. I did some informal research on what the Army is doing for combat art. One Major, who works as a PAO in Baghdad told me that he knew a few Army Illustrators. They go to the same school in Maryland as the broadcast and print journalists. However, the Major added that all of them he ran into had jobs making power point presentations for officers.
Later, as I traveled near the ancient city of Ur, an Army PAO told me that he had friends that were Army illustrators.
“If they are good,” he said, “they get a job in Psy-Ops.”
The Army uses photos taken by soldiers such as himself and has Army Illustrators paint pictures from those photos, rather than doing sketches in the field, like Steve Mumford, or the Marine Corps. I am not sure what the Navy and Air Force has, but surely they have Illustrators.
So, Steve, I ask, have you even been shot at why you are painting?
“A bullet never landed anywhere near me,” he said, but he has been in circumstances where the soldiers he was with were shot at. He took cover with other soldiers and made some sketches.
With the dangers of snipers, Steve told me he would not be out in the open with an easel or a sketch pad when soldiers were under fire.
You can see a video interview I did with Steve. He was heading out on his first day of working in a hospital in Baghdad.
Steve started out at the Boston Museum School. He said when he was there everyone was doing abstract expressionism and he spent about eight years doing “bad” abstract paintings.
“I figured out what I really want to do is tell stories.”
You can find a series of stories that Steve has experienced and represented in his art on the websites at the end of this article. He has worked with soldiers and Iraqis. I tried to get him to go to Afghanistan. I spent eight months there last year and I would love to see what he comes up with over there.
“Everything has to be negotiated with my wife,” he said and added that if he wants to stay married to his wife, he “can't just parachute into wars.” And he has to come home when he says he will come home.
Also, for art, Steve needs to be out of the war.
“I have to get back to the studio,” he said. “The most important work takes place in the studio.”
Steve takes all his sketches and puts them together in a series of paintings. Sometimes he spends over a year in the studio.
VIDEO INTERVIEW I DID
You can see Steve Mumford's art in New York City at http://postmastersart.com/
More information on Marine Combat Artists
Other Combat Artists:
More on Steve Mumford.
BAGHDAD, Iraq—A soldier woke me up sometime around 8 a.m. I try not to get up too early, but I heard him say, “you'll drive to the North end of Baghdad.” I've been sitting around the Combined Press Information Center for several days, basking under the fluorescent lights, waiting for a mission, like Captain Willard in Apocalypse Now.
General order # 1 bans alcohol from US Forces and the journalists embedded with them, so I didn't need to be dragged into the shower like Capt. Willard. I grabbed a Coke and hand full of sweet tarts, slung my body armor over my shoulder and was ready to go in a matter of minutes.
I had no idea what I was in for, but the last thing I wanted to do in Iraq was to sit around in the Green Zone, with the war percolating around me outside the blast walls and concertina wire.
Erich Langer, a civilian press agent for the Gulf Regional Division Army Corps of Engineers quickly briefed me on the ride to his headquarters where I was met up with the convoy of privately owned civilian Humvees.
The Army Corps of Engineers (ACE) is working with a 20 billion dollar budget in Iraq, Langer said. These funds have already been allocated, so the current situation in Congress does not effect the progress, yet. Over 300 projects are in various states of construction around the country of Iraq.
“It's bigger than the Marshall Plan,” said Langer, which was the plan for reconstruction in Germany after WWII.
Today, Langer told me, I was invited to view an annex to the Al Kadamiyah Court House. The 427 square meter structure cost $213,915.00 and was constructed by Al Ratba's General Contracts using Iraqi workers.
Dr. William DeLeo, ACE's resident engineer, Col. Tim Clapp, Director of the Joint Reconstruction Operations Center, and Dr. Qurash Fajir, adviser to the deputy prime minister of Iraq, Salam al-Zawba'i, came along for this informal tour.
The Al Kadamiyah Court House houses two courts, a Criminal Investigation Court and Personal Status Court. It's staff has 3 judges, 2 prosecutors and 11 judicial investigators. Between January and September 2005, the court saw 3,500 cases. The press release stated that on average, 300 litigants pass through the court house a day.
We approached the front of the court house, then ducked down a corridor past a woman with a small stand with chai. Emerging on the back side of the court house, we arrived to a set of lock doors. Within a few minutes, a court house official showed up with the keys and Dr. Qurash began discussing the future of this annex with him.
Apparently, the Iraqi Ministry of Justice no longer needed the space for administration purposes at the courthouse. The court official said that they want to use it as a Neighborhood Action Committee meeting area.
Deleo asked, “Does everything work?” I didn't hear if anything didn't work. It looked very like a good job to me. The newly constructed rooms had lights and wiring that worked, fire alarms, smoke detectors, fire extinguishers, a bank of air conditions, screens on the windows, several bathrooms—all of which had Western toilets with bidets, rather than the standard Turkish toilets used in the Middle East.
“I am concerned about the operation and maintenance of the facility,” said DeLeo. A discussion ensued about the people who would look over the facility now that it is completed.
The representative of the court house said that they would need more funds to have someone over see the maintenance of the annex, and then asked if he could get some furniture.
DeLeo said the contract did not include any furniture or cubicle walls, but told the man he should request the funds from the Ministry of Justice, as well as the funds to maintain the annex.
“It will last longer if you take care it,” Deleo said. “The end user will have a sketch of what the building's needs are.”
Dr. Qurash is a surgeon and also heads the Iraqi surgical society. He reports to the deputy prime minister and he is trying to help develop the much needed public works infrastructure to maintain the new buildings being built in Iraq by the coalition forces.
“The violence needs to decline in Iraq,” said Dr. Qurash. He said that massive amounts of Iraqis that have fled the country because of the violence is hurting all the reconstruction efforts.
He said the Iraqi's fighting each other need to get together, talk, and forgive each other so that the war in Iraq will stop and expatriot Iraqi's can return home.
Dr. Qurash said that Iraqi is a wealthy country and if they could get back on their feet, the issues over war funding by the United States would not be so critical, because Iraq could pay for it through their own revenue.
Over all, Dr. Qurash remained optimistic.
“We will win,” he said.
VIDEO OF THIS
I thought I was going to a ceremony for issuing the Silver Star, one of the Army's highest honor's. Apparently, there were two events going on today at CPIC in Baghdad. So, I found a seat at Maj. Gen. Caldwall's Press Conference. I learned all about Operation Rat Trap. Just in the past few days, 95 rats were caught, and 15 killed. Rats, of course, are Iraqi insurgents. The most interesting part of the interview I thought was the little discussion the General had about blogs and how he was on a panel that discussed the implication of the blogging's affect on the war. Of course that conversation was cut short to discuss the real meeting, RAT TRAP.
The General said that over 29 operations were going on in the last month. Once a rat was caught, they would squeeze them with a little cheese and drop them back in the maze. Well, not really. But I like the sound of that.
The king rat was Muharib Abdul Latif, of the Al Juburi clan. He was killed in a raid. His body was taken from the scene for DNA identification, which took two days. Once his body was ID, he was released to a clan member, who was also locked up, but let go. Sort of like catch and release sport fishing I imagine.
Muharib was a bad rat, one of the real nasty ones. He is linked to the abduction of Jill Carroll, the Christian Scientist Monitor's writer who spent months in insurgents' captivity. Tom Fox was last seen alive in Muharib's presence, according to lessor rats caught and interrogated. Muharib is also linked to the kidnapping of two German civilians.
Muharib, we were told, hide out in Syria a lot and they think his family is still hiding there. Damn those rats I say, and international law, too, that keeps us from spreading a little rat poison in Syria. I wonder if Condi Rice talked to Syria lately about the rat problem.
They caught Muharib four miles West of Taji, a town about 30 miles or so North of Baghdad. They detained six people during his capture and killed five, including him.
The General said that they were tracking a smaller rat that they thought would lead them to Muharib.
“They got them both in the same target set,” Maj. Gen. Caldwell said.
Another rat they have been looking to catch is Al Baghdaddi. I am not sure if I spelled the name correctly, and the General said they are not sure that this guy even exists. They have no information on him, he said.
So, after they released the corpse of Muharib to his relative, the relative was again detained at a check point when the Iraqi authorities discovered that he was transporting the body of a dead terrorist on their watch list. This further blew up in the media and caused more confusion, and speculation that Al Baghdaddi, the international man of mystery, was dead, or someone else, although Osama bin Laden's name was never mentioned.
Muharib was killed at 01:42 a.m. May 1st, the General said. It took two days to figure everything out, and three hours prior to the press conference was when everything was finally sorted out.
However, no weapons of mass destruction were recovered during OPERATION RAT TRAP. But they did stop some terrorist from making more of those chlorine bombs that have become fashionable of late.
“Al Qaeda in Iraq has been a very resilient organization,” Maj. Gen. Caldwell said. Yes, the rats are bad. The press conference was in a windowless room with green curtains on the side. Fox, CNN, AP, NY Times and LA Times were a few of the numerous reporters there, asking all sorts of questions, trying to figure out what this all means.
One guy from a big newspaper asked the General if this meant anything that Muharib was dead.
“Anytime we are able to take down someone associated with kidnappings . . .” Maj. Gen. Caldwell said, “Taking him off the street is a good thing.”
The General also added that while the confusion was not exactly what they wanted, and they did contact Iraqi authorities after the killing of Muharib, it was not a bad thing that the Iraqi's intercepted the corpse. It means that they are looking for the bad guys, dead or alive, he indicated.
“Al Qaeda works like a franchise,” Maj. Gen. Caldwell said.
Look out Walmart.
HERE IS VIDEO FROM THE PRESS CONFERENCE
Saturday, April 21, 2007
In the war, I find myself desensitized to the deaths back in the states. Well, that, and last year I was working in Afghanistan I lost a few friends, one in Seattle to mass killing at a party. I was surprised to get this press release today from ISAF, NATO's soldiers in Afghanistan.
FARAH, Afghanistan (21 April) – Soldiers and sailors of the Farah Provisional Reconstruction Team (PRT) here gathered Friday for a memorial service in remembrance of the students killed and wounded in the Virginia Tech massacre.
“We value human life, whether it is in Afghanistan, or Blacksburg, Virginia,” said Frank Hughlett, PRT Farah commander, a Virginia Tech graduate.
“We’re far from home. And whether it’s 33 Afghans or 33 Americans, the value of human life is precious, and we’re here to safeguard it and enhance the human condition any way we can.”
Flags were lowered to half-mast as Capt. Terry Hestilow, a former Baptist pastor, led the troops in a prayer that the families and the victims of the tragedy would be comforted.
Monday, April 16, 2007
Being in Iraq has offered me a new perspective on suicide bombers. Last spring I got news of a shooting in Seattle. Some random guy came into my friend Ian's party and shot his place up and killed his roommate and friends. Today in the news I see that there is another shooting.
I've struggled to understand the drive of suicide bombers here in the middle east. I know that it has to do with religious beliefs and the idea of dying in a holy war for Islam is supposed to take these bombers straight to heaven. Most of the killers in the states, I am guessing, don't have such a religious basis for their actions.
But we do have a sort of American cowboy mythos, that and the gangster. Going down in a blaze of bullets. I am not sure exactly what I am getting at. Perhaps just trying to understand the human condition.
The bottom line is that every minute of every moment more people are on this earth than have ever been here. Despite war, murder and natural disasters, humans are reproducing at a rate greater than we are dying. Our resources are running out, or will run out. The party is just beginning.
Friday, April 13, 2007
I have to say morale is not horrible here after the announcement that deployments are being extended another three months. The rumor was in full swing a few weeks before the news hit. It was sort of an air bag.
One officer told me that my headline for the work I am doing here should be “Soldiers kicked in the balls.”
I can tell you that almost every soldier I have talked to said that they are going to leave the military as soon as they can. Most have done a tour previous to this and to be on the second and third tour AND have it extended has simply burned them out, despite the $1000 a month bonus.
The bottom line is that these soldiers have family. It's too long away from spouses and children. I have heard it over and over. Putting ones life on hold for 15 months at a time is just too damn much.
I did ten months over here in 05/06 and that was enough for me. About 8 months of that time were spent in Afghanistan. I found a link today to something I wrote about a friend of mine that died in Afghanistan last winter. Wais was not a soldier in the traditional sense, but he was a fighter and survivor. He managed the Mustafa Hotel in Kabul. http://www.waisfaizi.org/Wais%20Faizi/Words/1A541DE9-C31A-4B1D-A09A-9AC0005F8515.html
All hell is breaking loose here in Iraq, it seems. Woman suicide bombers, bridges exploding and bombs in the safest parts of the Green Zone—the Iraqi Parliament. Well, that is determination. I am not sure what a surge of troops and extending the Army three months on a twelve month tour can do when all of the attacks I mention are by people willing to blow themselves up. Nothing will stop a suicide bomber easily. Of course you can shoot them if you get a chance, or take the bomb away. Sure. But that is hard to do.
I've been working in Tall Afar at FOB Sykes with the 2-25 AVN attached to 1/17 Air Cav. Good bunch of guys. I took a little video you can see here.
If you like the music, I'm playing the electric guitar, Shurd, the pilot with the rubber chicken is playing a classical and Chris, a contractor was on keyboards. It was our first song and first time jamming. We started out with BORN UNDER A BAD SIGN. If you click on the first podcast you can here the entire jam.
The extreme heat of Iraq has not hit—its rainy, making lots of mud, and cool. Probably in the 50s at night. I have a few more days here, then I am off to Al Assad in Al Anbar.
Friday, April 6, 2007
The military gets a selection of channels on AFN cable tv here in Iraq. Simpsons, with Fox and CNN, stuff like that. So I was walking by a tv in waiting area of a military camp in the Baghdad area. I'd just flown into Baghdad and was waiting to drive to the Green Zone.
The Resident of the White House, George Bush, came on tv to talk about the strings that were attached to the war funding bills, specifically the withdrawal plans being attached to the budget.
The room was empty at the time when the speech ran live, except for a NCO at the LNO desk. This soldier was not impressed and made disgusted sighs every time Bush said it was the democrats that were making this war suck.
Later, the news replays all night long showed the footage over as the room filled up with soldiers. No one said they wanted to go home. One Marine Corps Colonel was rather upset with Senator Harry Reid. To be honest, while almost every soldier I have talked to says they want to come home, many of them want to stay and finish this job.
I suspect that their will be a spring offensive soon. Many soldiers and others have said that now the insurgents see that they are winning they will work hard to cause trouble and get our politicians to pull out of Iraq. I know they watch what is going on—when I was in Afghanistan last spring, when the US phased out much of it's combat operations and handed it off to ISAF and the Canadian/British troops. The fighting got bad, as bad if not worse than the initial invasion in 2001.
Bush says that if he doesn't get what he wants, the troops will suffer because of the democrats. Well, that does not seem to be true.
Most of the shit going down is because of his administrations fuck ups, not the fuck ups of the democrats.
Personally, I like a few ideas related to the withdrawal—1). Have the Iraqi's vote. Do they want us here? 2) make the deployment to Iraq voluntary. Instead of ordering people in or out of this war, let's exercise a little democracy. Iraq is not our enemy, really, and this isn't some crazy shit like WWII where we need all hands on deck. Shia and Sunni have been killing each other for 1385 years. We are not going to make a difference in five or ten years when this blood feud is way older than even our country.
FOB ISKAN, pictured here, where a Swedish journalist I meet claimed that all the soldiers keep the toilet seats in the up position "because they are so disciplined."
Some journalists are assholes, unlike me. Others are assholes, snobs and idiots. I met Johanne Hildebrandt, a journalist from Sweden, while I was in at FOB Kalsu working on this article: http://la.indymedia.org/news/hidden.php?id=196262
I asked her what she was working on. She couldn't tell me. It was a secret. She said, “You know, stuff.” Like I was going to steal her article, please. This is her story.
She later revealed to a Marine Col. that picked us up at the helopad in the Green Zone that she was at FOB Iskan. I spent a week there last summer and covered a big fight. I never thought it was a secret.
She went on to talk about how a big US soldier pressed his body against her, when they was some small arms fire. And continued that on about how disciplined the soldiers were, because all the toilets had the seats up. So, let me tell you, the bathrooms there are divided by sexes, so she only would have seen the womans room. However, the porto-potties are unisex. They also have spring loaded toilet seats.
She bragged about how she worked for the “biggest newspaper in Sweden” but couldn't even forward her article to me. I found it on google.
So, we were all invited to see the Iraqi Police Graduation at FOB Kalsu. She screwed off and ignored it. The solution to this war is Iraqi Police and Army taking over. Some crazy journalists like me think that maybe that is something news worthy to cover. Call me Crazy . . .
If you can't tell, I really dislike snobbish journalists, that think they are above the rest of us covering this war, especially when they choose only to pay attention to being shot at, and toilet seats. Shit, I was shot at more in Nevada when I worked for Burning Man than she was in Iraq, I bet.
I asked her and her photographer if they covered the Swedish soldiers in Afghanistan. They said no. Well, at least they can inform the Swedish public erroneously about the condition of the toilet seat lids at FOB Iskan.
Translation of the article provided by http://www.tranexp.com
Well, it's nice she was touched by a soldier and never used her journalistic skills to look and see the toilet seat lids are spring loaded.