Thursday, February 28, 2008

A largely successful Arba'een

could you spot a suicide bomber?Yesterday completed an important holiday period for the Shia's of Iraq. (Well for the Shia's of the world I guess, but the holiday's impact is all here in Iraq). Arba'een (literally Arabic for the number 40) is the 40th day after Ashura and commemorates the suffering of wives and children of Husayn ibn Ali, who was murdered on Ashura in the Battle of Karbala. His wives and children were then marched across the desert to Syria by the Sunni Caliphate army and many of them perished.

The Shia in my observation* are obsessed with suffering and, as might be said in America, immerse themselves in a culture of being the victim. During Ashura they beat and cut themselves to show their devotion to Husayn and his suffering. They also have a bizarre tradition where they put their sons in a tent which is then lit on fire. All the kids are supposed to run out, but we have had to treat some poor boys who were badly burned. (As an aside, we have treated a lot of burned children and women, apparently there is something wrong with Iraqi stoves in that hot oil is always falling off them) Anyway, the relevance here is to show their devotion to Husayn and the suffering of his family many Shia walk to his shrine in Karbala. They walk from nearby Babil, and Baghdad, but also from Najaf, Basra, even I was told Kuwait and Iran. That is a serious walk, and the sight of hundreds and hundreds of these Shia, all dressed in black, walking down one whole side of the highway, which was closed off for the holiday, is indescribable. Mile after mile off to the horizon of black ninjas. Ah and the noise and the blaring mosque speakers all day long.

As you might imagine, this is a nightmare from a security perspective. It would be easy for a suicide bomber to blend in with crowd. Imagine having to shut a major metropolitan area down to vehicle traffic and protect marchers walking in from all the major highways. An impossible feat, but remarkably, the Iraqis mostly pulled this off, there were several attacks in Baghdad and one suicide bomber in northern Babil (where the Sunni/Shia line is), but it could have been much worse. And I have heard of no attacks in Karbala. We saw the Iraqi Police, Army, and paramilitary forces out on the road everyday, all day, tirelessly working to keep these marchers safe. There were even full blown security plans, operations orders, etc all prepared by the Iraqis by themselves. It was also the best example of Iraqi Army - Iraqi Police cooperation seen recently, and offers hope that these two organizations who distrust each other, but on whom the hope for this country rests, will work out their issues for the benefit of the Iraqi Nation.

*Disclaimer: I am no expert on Shia Islam and can only relate what I have been told by my Muslim friends and Iraqi colleagues.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Thought of the day

"The penalty good men pay for indifference to public affairs is to be ruled by evil men."
- Plato -

Thursday, February 21, 2008

And Now for Something Completely Different

Okay, this is waaay off topic, but I stumbled on this while poking fun at an old friend on Facebook. This is ROTFLMAO funny - Stuff White People Like

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

How to spot a dumbass

We had just gotten done with a mission that had taken extra long, which seems to be our specialty, and had all our vehicles lined up on the road to exfil. I was in the trail vehicle, so I could see the whole line of vehicles, and was keeping an eye on the houses to our right. Most Iraqis around here are sensible enough to not be too curious when we are out with our partner forces, but occasionally someone gets nosy, and I was worried about the locals as they were starting to wake up and word had quickly gotten around that we were in the neighborhood.

All of a sudden I see this idiot come out of his house and start yelling. The closest Iraqi points back to the house the man just came from and yelled something, probably "get back in your house dumbass". No one is supposed to approach our convoy, the insurgents in my AO aren't prone to suicide, but you still don't want someone in handgrenade range, and well, you never know.

Anyhow, not only does this idiot not go back into his house, he continues to yell, and starts to approach the Iraqi soldier. Three more soldiers pile off the nearest truck and the man is picked up and put inside the gate of his couryard, pushed and the gate is closed. OK, he should get the point.

Nope, here he comes again and he makes the big mistakes of taking a swing. Even in San Francisco I imagine it is okay for a cop to defend himself, but this is Iraqi and these Iraqis aren't going to tolerate this kind of disobedience of authority. Pretty soon the guy is getting his ass kicked, and we are almost out of the truck to stop it when they throw him back in his house. But out he comes again and now he is dragged in front of the Iraqi truck and out of view, so P runs up to make sure he isn't thrashed. This time he has a weapon pointed at him until we roll out, but the dumb ass doesn't make himself disappear, he stands there in the gate glaring at our Iraqis.

When the US leaves this place, the local criminals are in for some serious ass whooping. The only thing keeping that from happening now is all the US JAG Officers trying to cover everyones asses when comes to detainee handling, hell even the Iraqis are more afraid of all the paperwork involved in detainees than they are of combat. And they think we are complete idiots - we'll spend tens of thousands of dollars treating some murdering thug we were just trying to kill, yet we tell them we can't spare more ammo or gas so they can run operations. I know we think I shows our compassion and superior morality, but to an Arab it just makes us look weak.

Anyhow, there are lots of dumbasses here in Iraq, just like the guy in my little story. Now there are dumbasses in America too, but there are enough here to keep this place stuck in the middle ages for at least another 100 years.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Steaming Bowl of Suck, part III

Ok, so the whole reason I started this post was to help explain what it means to be a Soldier. It means being able to tolerate all manners of Suck and still get the job done. It is what binds us to each other as Soldiers - that shared risk, and the knowledge that the Soldier to your left and right will endure with you, that they won't break for cover, or shirk their duty, leaving others to carry more of the load.

Now where I left of in the story we had the area secure and broke an element off to go search for an Extremist weapons cache. The rest of us continued to try to retrieve the STUCK-VEE from the shitpond. All the while it continued to rain, and the mud got worse and worse. Somehow we "acquired" a pay loader and spent some time rigging the humvee up to it, but the mud was too slick. We even tried to bulldozer the mud away to get to dry ground, but that didn't work either. Eventually, we had to give up on what we call "self-recovery" and call for help, which came in the form of a 5-ton wrecker. After many different attempts, and some shoveling by hand, we finally freed the wretched vehicle, and got everyone back to base. It took some time to clean the thing, and it still doesn't smell right to this day.

As we went thru this 13 hour ordeal, we had to rotate guys in and out of the humvees to try and get warm, as hypothermia was becoming a real risk - everyone was soaked to the bone, and it was cold. It purely sucked. And it will be a story we'll all remember years from now.

But the bright part of this story is that just when we were worried most about how we were going to keep our men warm enough, one of the Iraqis in the area opened his home to us, built a warm fire and started baking bread for us to eat. The Iraqis eat unleavened bread so he started whipping out bread fast. It was amazing - the flour he was using was the only food he had in the house, but as Arab culture dictates he would share his last scrap of it with a guest. Just amazing.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Boom stick

I have had spotty internet for a while now, so even getting e-mail has been a challenge, never mind posting. But it looks like that has been fixed, so I will attempt to get caught up.

We finally had birds accompany us on mission this past week, no weather or mechanical problems. Everything went so smooth, I actually have nothing Grumpy to say about it.

We also spent time shooting, one of the fringe benefits of the Army if you enjoy it. And being in Iraq, I can go to the range anytime I have time (which is less often than I'd like) and feel like it. But last week, we fired several different sniper systems, and I got to fire the Barrett .50 sniper rifle for the first time. This thing is just awesome, and amazingly the recoil is must less than you would expect it to be for the sound it makes, but the overpressure/shock wave will rattle you. If you ever get a chance to shoot this thing, do so!