Thursday, August 14, 2008

Ghost of Babylon, part Wahed

The story of how I hurt my shoulder, the reason for my still being on active duty, starts with an attempt on an Iraqi General's life. The commander of our Iraqi partner force had been putting pressure on JAM (aka Mahdi Militia, Mahdi Army) and other militias in the Province we operated in, and doing it in a very public way. This commander was very conscious of his public profile and was often able to get his unit featured on the local Iraqi media. Of course, being a General means having a large ego, and so the media coverage often centered on him. This earned him the respect of our PA people, but the disdain of some of his officers, but it particularly made him a symbolic target of JAM. The General, our Commander called him “Omar Sharif”, had been the target of several assassination attempts, including one EFP attack against his convoy blamed on shithead “A”, who live in a small, isolated, hard to access village south of the city.

So shithead “A” was on our list of people we needed to talk to. The problem was the guy was a like a ghost, we got plenty of reports on him – helped by the wanted posters plastered all over town, but he always just got away. We had attempted several raids of his home, hauling in quite a bit of propaganda, but nothing really significant (well, other than his brother). Like many of these small Iraqi villages, it is hard to get into them without word getting thru the village that we were coming. “Early Warning” we called it, and this bastard apparently had plenty of it. Speed was one way to defeat this, and man did we push those war wagons sometimes (see Runnin’ and Gunin’), but this guy seemed to have it all figured out. He lived deep in the village, his house was only accessible by canal road. If you haven’t driven on these, well, you don’t ever want too. First off, they’re made of piled dirt so they aren’t stable, second usually there is a drop off into a canal on one or both sides of the road (hence canal road), third, they are elevated, so you make an easy target, and last they are barely ( and not sometimes not) wide enough for a HMMWV to fit on. All making for a white-knuckle ride for the driver (that was usually me.) Oh, and just to make it interesting, he built a mosque on his property right next to the house, which meant we had to treat it as a sensitive site and get higher levels of approval and scrutiny to proceed.

As an aside, JAM especially made good use of our ridiculous restriction on entering mosques. I know it sounds good back here in the States, the US Army being “culturally sensitive” and all, but it isn’t like home. Mosques (in my experience in the Shia area of Iraq)* aren’t neutral like churches are at home. There were pro-government mosques, pro-SCIRI mosques and pro-JAM mosques among others. JAM used their mosques to cache weapons, conduct meetings, training (to include EFP manufacture) and plan operations. Of course, we were Soldiers so we followed orders, but sometimes it is hard to keep “the big fucking picture” in mind when you are getting mortared with munitions stored at the mosque. To make matters worse, and it really shows JAM’s organization and sophistication, they would have all their offices declared as “religious sites” by building a small mosque on the property, or dedicating one room in the building to prayer. (BTW, we know there were weapons cached in those places, because the Iraqi authorities finally raided them in the spring, during all the fighting that followed the Battle of Basrah. But that's all another story.)

Then if even the Iraqi forces entered the building, even with a proper search warrant, they would scream to the press that the “American puppets were violating our religions sites.” You can’t expect the average villager to know better. I have to say I grew to respect JAMs sophisticated use of both Iraqi and Western media, and there was virtually no way for us to stop or counter it. That was all in the hands of the Iraqi government and their forces.
Ah, well, I’ve gotten way off topic, I’ll get back to my story next post [;)

*disclaimer: like all opinions expressed in this blog, they are author's opinions, based on his experience in a specific part of Iraq during a specific period of time. They should not lead the reader to make generalizations.


David M said...

The Thunder Run has linked to this post in the blog post From the Front: 08/15/2008 News and Personal dispatches from the front and the home front.

Dan said...

I'm suspectin' most folks who ain't been to that lovely place may not understand that it's chaning faster than our military and gov can adjust.
When we vacationed in Fallujah with the Marines in the end of 04' there was a very pretty mosqe in the town...where a hajji sniper shot from. A few rounds of Army 155 mm took care of said sniper and the pretty mosque was no more...too friggen bad it took a few Marines and Joes to get shot before they could take care of the place.