Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Jane Stillwater, Cache Raider? (My embed report from Iraq, Part 8)

I arrived at the Karbdegla joint security station yesterday night and had trouble sleeping due to multiple insect bites, so by the time I got to meet with the colonel in charge, I was still beau-coup sleep-deprived. But the colonel was an eye-opener and well worth paying attention to as he described his area of control here in the West Tigris section of Baghdad and his future hopes for that area. I wish that people in America could hear men like him talk. They would get an entirely different -- and happier -- picture of how our troops in Iraq are trying as hard as they can to build up Iraq's economy, security and infrastructure right now. They are not just all trying to play at being Chuck Norris and kick down a bunch of doors.

"Our immediate goal is to implement security and to help the local people in as many way as we can," said the colonel. "We're looking to create durable security -- security that will last even after our troops leave."

Then I asked the colonel if the national postal service was functioning here yet. He laughed. "Everyone here uses e-mail, internet cafes and cell phones." He said. "But the big change in Iraq now was that the Iraqis had gone to the edge of the cliff, looked over the edge, seen themselves turning into another Rwanda or Mogadishu and pulled back. No one wants to go back to fighting."

"So what will happen next? Will the Iraqi government step up to the plate?"

"No one knows right now. A lot of people complain about the government. But at least they feel safe enough to complain."

Next I met with a captain who served as a liaison between the US Army and the local councils. "Of course some of the people we deal with here are not to be trusted," he said, "but many of them are true idealists who really care about their community and country." He too had hopes and dreams for the future of Iraq and was not only conscientious in working toward making his ideals into reality but he was extremely good at his job. Plus he was only 28 years old. I was impressed.

"I run two types of operations here -- kinetic and non-kinetic --and they are not mutually exclusive. We run them both at the same time." He uses both military and non-military solutions. "We work with educational institutions, local politics, infrastructure and various other people-focused operations. And at the same time we are also tracking down criminals, gathering intelligence and processing detentions. But we haven't kicked down one single door since I've been here."

The captain and I also talked about how many of the local professionals have fled the area. It would be as if the American hometown where you came from no longer had most of its doctors, lawyers, teachers, etc. because they had all suddenly left.

The rest of my talk with the captain was very interesting and productive. I'm ashamed to say, however, that I forgot to take notes.

Then me and everyone in the platoon I was assigned to ate some plastic pizza, jumped into some Strikers and went out on patrol.

At the first home we stopped at, the young mother who lived there asked us to help get her husband out of jail. Apparently his brother had been mixed up in some shady business and when the police came for the brother, they took the husband away instead. His wife was desperate. The dread Ministry of the Interior was mentioned several times. The wife had no idea what to do next. Neither did we.

Then we went to another house, which was abandoned. "What happened?" I asked a neighbor.

"The husband was a doctor and he was shot and killed by...." By who? I missed who. "We guard his home against squatters and terrorists now, but no one in his family is ever coming back."

As we walked through the abandoned home to make sure that no one was using it as a safe house or a cache dump, I saw a few remnants left lying around from the time that it had been somebody's home -- a stuffed child's toy, a flaming red Victoria's Secret-type female undergarment and an old group photograph stood out in the dust.

Then we went to another house to question someone who had seen a suspicious black Toyota lurking about. One of the soldiers, an ex-police officer, pulled out his notebook and went into his police-interrogator/CSI mode, taking down info for a police report. "When was it that you saw this car? Who was driving it? Have you seen him since?"

"I reported this because I'm afraid that something bad is going to happen in this neighborhood now," replied the witness. "I think the driver was AQI." That's Al Qaeda-Iraq, the local Al Qaeda franchise branch.

Then we went to another home and visited a very nice family. The grandmother was religious -- but in a good way. She practically glowed from the effects of being so wise and kind. And there was also a one-month-old baby who looked at us like she was the wisest person in the world.

Then we talked with another woman who refused to wear hijab -- a headscarf -- out in public. "One AQI man started to give me trouble about that, but I just yelled at him so much that he gave up."

The AQI's support system in this area is definitely threatened right now so the big question here is, "Will they strike back?" People are worried. But it hasn't happened so far.

Next house. "Did you hear about the guy who just got chopped up?" No! We gossiped about the Sons of Iraq, the AQI and various other good guys and law-breakers for the next hour. Then the soldiers in my platoon started planning a raid on a bad guy's house. If they did it tonight, I could come! "Jane Stillwater, Cache Raider".

"The problem here," said the head of our platoon, "s that people will turn other people in -- not because they are guilty of crimes but because someone doesn't like them or wants their job...." Or even is having a bad hair day.

"One thing that amazes me over here," commented the policeman, "is the small amount of evidence that the Iraqi police require in order to arrest people. You need to build a lot stronger case back in the States." I thought about that poor woman's husband and nodded. Then we headed back to the joint security station, a job well done -- for now. Would the bad guys be back? Sure. But they'd be weaker and fewer in number, thanks to my platoon.

Am I over-glorifying the work our troops do here in Iraq? I don't think so. GWB should never have started this "war" in the first place. But he did. And now our soldiers are doing a good job cleaning up his mess.

PS: The next big question here is whether or not our troops will be as willing (or even as able) to clean up after GWB once again -- if he tries to create another mess like this in Iran.