below is a letter from a friend of mine in iraq. it is a perspective you dont often see in the general media.
It has been a long quiet summer. I couldn't have asked for better. Camp Kalsu isn't perfect by any means, but it's a far sight better than most places in this country. I don't know what CNN and FOX are telling you or what your impression of that news is, but from where I sit, it isn't real promising. Not totally bad, it's just going to take a while for this to all work out, but I don't think the good ol' US of A is going to wait around to find out. There are about twenty individual groups trying to upset the apple cart here. About a half dozen of them are the big ones you hear about all the time, the Taliban, Al-Qaida, a few different militias and some feuding tribes. All of them have one thing in common. There is no rhyme or reason to what they are doing. I've found that it is a lot like the old west of a couple hundred years ago. Back then, all of the Indian tribes kept themselves busy fighting each other with turf battles and raiding parties. Eventually the settlers came and the separate tribes still fought each other, but they started fighting with the new comers too. Eventually, they found themselves fighting a common enemy. Once they were finally able to put aside their differences and make a unified stand against the cowboys (think Little Big Horn), it was too little too late. But not all Iraqis are against us being here. I think a majority of the population realizes that we are the only thing holding this country together right now. This place is going to go crazy when we pull out. And it's not like they don't care. There are good people here that want a good life for the people of Iraq, but every government entity, every law enforcement agency and the military, is infiltrated by some form of insurgent. There are Taliban in the government, the local police are full of militia guys, there are Al-Qaida in the military, so until they can clean up their own organizations, it is going to be an uphill battle for us. Iran is a big player here. They control the government in Baghdad, most of them placed in office by us. A lot of them are native Iraqis, but during the last war and at the beginning of this one, they left for Iran and became sympathizers with that government. The locals don't trust them any further than we do our own politician. Which brings up some other interesting items, Americans (%$*& Yeah!!) come here and shake their heads at the violence and corruption in this country. They look at the difference in the two countries, but fail to see the similarities. Yes, there is a lot of violence here. At the start of the summer it was common for there to be on average about thirty bodies scattered around Baghdad every morning from murders committed during the night. That is a lot more than some of our worst cities, but then, they aren't in a war zone. And a comparison can be made about all of these warring factions in this country. What they amount to is nothing more than the same gang warfare that we have at home, turf wars and power struggles, but that comparison gets lost to us under the guise of fighting in the name of Islam. More often than not, the religious groups are just a front for criminals and thugs. Then there is the corruption. We have our own corrupt politicians and officials, they just seem to do it in a more acceptable way. I don't think there is a day goes by that some senator or congressman back home isn't in the news for something. And according to some groups, our highest offices are filled with lies and corruption. So a lot of folks should wake up and not look at Iraq and get all "holier than thou". Speaking of "Holier than thou", I think it is commonly believed that Muslims are a very devout group in Iraq. I am coming to find out that jack-Muslims are in the majority. According to the devout, you are to pray five times a day (three for some sects) and Friday is church day. You are not to do anything on Friday that would be considered unholy. Considered unholy by who? That makes a big difference. Alcohol is forbidden in Islam, yet there are hundreds of liquor stores in Baghdad, and I'm sure elsewhere. When the IPs come to our camp and we go see them at their station, "whiskey" is a well known word when asked what they want. We were at the IHP station the other day and a booze merchant came in all upset that he had been shaken down at one of the highway check points. The station commander had to go out and get four of his IPs and put them in his own jail so that they wouldn't be out at the check point all liquored up. It's bad enough when they're sober. One of the IPs shot his buddy in the shoulder the other day at one of the check points when they were horsing around. The interesting thing here is, that when it came time to impose a sentence on the shooter, it was to be taken up between the sheikh of his tribe and the sheikh of the wounded guy's tribe, not the courts. Another rule of Islam is against adultery. It is acceptable to have more than one wife, and adultery is forbidden. But!! If you go to the Imam and pay a little bit of money, you can be temporarily married to another woman for a few hours. The length of the marriage depends on the amount paid and is at the discretion of the Imam. That sounds kind of familiar, but I think at home we just call them Pimps. The pervading philosophy in this country is "Inshallah", if god wills it. They go about their day-to-day lives unfazed by the rockets, bombs and artillery shells blowing up around them. No need to worry about dying, it's all in god's hands. The other day was a holy holiday in Karballa. The faithful do a pilgrimage for a three day pre-Ramadan party. The real faithful walk, some from as far away as three hundred miles or more in the summer heat. They got to Karballa and the first day of the celebration, there was a big gunfight in the town square, two militias, both Shi'ite, having their little turf war amidst all of the revelers. They shut down the party and sent every body home. I don't know about you, but if I had just walked three hundred miles to go see a show and got sent home, I'd be pissed. But they just shrug it off and go about their business. Most of them caught rides home. When thousands of them walk and just a few drive, it gets kind of tight. I saw dozens of mini-vans packed to the hilt with families going back home. The best part was that on top of every one of those mini-vans, was another family riding in the breeze. Mom, dad and the kids all perched on top of the soccer mom van going down the road at highway speeds just laughing and having a good time. I figured I probably wasn't going to be doing any child safety seat clinics here as part of my training. Another thing they do is drive wherever there is an opening. The big four lane divided highway just out side the gate is a zoo. They drive both directions whether they are in the south bound or northbound lanes, sometimes three abreast. Medians and shoulders are fair game, too. Part of that may be that when we are out, we own the roads. When an American (*%#& Yeah!!) convoy is rolling, it is common knowledge that the locals are to pull to the side of the road and stop. If they don't, they get lit up. We had a little incident the other day when a convoy rolled out the gate. They were fresh faces here in Iraq and didn't realize that the Iraqi Army guys and IPs didn't have to play by the same rules as the rest of the citizenry. When the IA truck wouldn't stop, they filled it full of holes. The IA driver got lucky, but he can only count to nine now. I was doing what we call PTT (Police Transitional Team) missions most of the summer. On paper, we were to go to the police stations, there are two in my area, both within five miles of camp, and conduct training to get them to where they can police the country on their own and the troops can go home. Our IP stations have been considered to be at a level that needs minimal additional training, so other than the first trip I made where we did a couple of classes on clearing a building, I just gather some stats. I would go on a road trip outside the gate every other day and sit at the IP stations for an hour or so and gather information, while my military counterparts did the same for their bean counters. We tried to instill some of the same programs that we are familiar with at home. They had talked about having a neighborhood watch program, so I started asking the police chief about it. It had been assumed that it was similar to what we have back home, but come to find out, their neighborhood watch was really a protection racket. There were about four or five local guys that would patrol the market area, but only because they were paid by the shop keepers. Occasionally we would go on what they called a joint patrol, a cruise down the area highway with a truck load of Iraqis and our little military convoy. I continue to be blessed, charmed, protected and just downright lucky (thanks to you all for your thoughts and prayers) and did not experience any roadside bombs or gunfire while on these patrols this summer. Others weren't so lucky. And speaking of bombs. Those silly Iraqis. Somebody will come tell them that there is an unexploded rocket or artillery shell stuck in their backyard, and like the Keystone Kops, they rush out there, throw it in the back of their truck and bounce all the way back to the station with it. We pulled into the station the other night and there was a 155mm artillery shell laying in the courtyard. We called for the bomb disposal guys to come and get it. The other day, they got a call of a rocket while we were in the station. The plan was to go check it out and then have EOD (the bomb guys) come blow it in place. Less moving = more better/safer. We got out near the place and the farmer took the cops to show them. They came back out with big cheesy grins on their faces and an eight foot long rocket in the bed of their truck. We followed them (at a respectable distance) back into town as they bounced merrily along. It amazes me that these people manage to stay alive long enough to kill each other. I'm outta here in just a few days. I am on my way home with stops in Amman, Frankfurt, Paris (ten days with a side trip to Spain), Denver, Mexico and for something exotic and a little out of the ordinary, McCook. I'll let you know how it goes.
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