Sunday, May 23, 2004

Second-hand news from the Sandbox

One of the women at the conference is married to a soldier ("Dave") who just returned two days ago from thirteen months in Iraq. Saturday night I spent quite a long time talking to this gentleman, and I thought it would be a good idea for me to record what he said. Of course, I cannot say that the things I have written here are correct beyond a shadow of doubt.

These are my secondhand recollections of this good man's opinions, so some error may have crept in either through either filter (him or me). All the same, I thought that there might be some among my imaginary readers who would find this information helpful in some way, and so I share.

1. We are not going to find a huge cache of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Dave was in the Iraq Survey Group, whose job it is to look for WMDs. This is also the group who dealt with the recently discovered artillery shell filled with GB (aka Sarin). The shell had been rigged as an improvised explosive device (IED) in a manner which, in Dave's opinion, meant that those who rigged it didn't know what was in the shell. This was why the agent failed to disperse properly. Combined with the age of the shell (and the agent) explains why the EOD (explosive ordinance disposal) crew who were first called in to deal with the shell were not seriously harmed. Dave does not blame President Bush but thinks that he, along with every other leader and intelligence agency in the western world, was deceived by Iraqi exiles who sold us a story that we wanted to believe. This goes to show that the media are not the only folks who sometimes fail to be adequately skeptical of "facts" that we want to believe are true.

2. Soldiers are not happy that they are being asked to stay in Iraq past the dates when they were originally told they were going to be home. They are dealing with it and doing their jobs, but many of them are beginning to wonder if they are ever going home.

3. We need more Civil Affairs people (and MPs) in the military. And the military needs to leave them alone and let them do their jobs. Right now the administration wants zero casualties, and so the CA guys are hampered by excessive security details. They would be more effective if they didn't have to take Bradleys wherever they went, but a few of them would probably get killed.

4. Garner's people loved him and thought he got screwed. Bremer doesn't pay as much attention to the military, and Dave does not expect that the move to two commands in Iraq will increase the coordination.

5. Iraqis and people in the region more generally don't care that much about Abu Ghraib. To Westerners, they complain, and loudly. Among themselves, however, it is not such a big deal. They know that standard treatment for prisoners in the region is often worse than the mistreatment alleged to have occurred in Abu Ghraib.

6. Almost all Iraqis are aiding the Coalition forces, either passively or actively. If it were not so, we would be losing fifty men every day. Insurgent attacks are often thwarted thanks to timely information from friendly locals. Example 1: A boy who plays soccer with the guards to a Coalition base goes home early one afternoon, explaining to the soldiers that his mother wants him home because there is going to be an attack later that day. Example 2: A soldier riding in a humvee on a patrol hears urgent shouts in Arabic. He looks for the source of the shouting and sees people yelling at him and pointing to three insurgents who are preparing to fire a rocket-propelled grenade at his vehicle. He quickly fires, killing one of them and injuring another. He escapes harm, as do the other soldiers in the humvee.

7. The insurgency is a few thousand guys whipped into a frenzy by a few extremist clerics. Quite a few of them are unemployed ex-Iraqi soldiers, which leads Dave to think that we should not have disbanded the Iraqi military.

8. There are thousands of civilian contractors doing soldiering stuff (if you don't count security as soldiering, the number is much lower). And they're not restrained by anything but the desire to stay employed by the Coalition. They're also not protected by the Geneva Convention. Also they get to grow beards, wear non-standard clothes and use non-standard guns, which makes regular soldiers envious.

9. Press people in Iraq think they're immune to harm because they're doing something important. It's a wonder more of them don't get their heads blown off.

There. It's a pretty random information dump, but that's everything I could remember. Hope someone finds this useful.


No comments: