Greetings to everyone from Iraq:
Hope this weekly greeting (which is a few days late, sorry!) finds you all in good spirits and good health. Speaking of health, I ask you all to keep my Dad in your prayers. He’s going through some tough times right now but we are continuing to hold good thoughts for him. He is scheduled for surgery and I’ll know more after that.
Well, I’ve got a few things to relay this week. The first was having an experience with a confidential source that was really trying to deal with. I’m sure all of you are aware (especially my fellow current and former LEO’s) that law enforcement doesn’t function without informants. The same thing holds true here. However, there is definitely an added spin when you are virtually powerless to protect a source on the “outside,” i.e. Red Zone. I have a situation where someone is trying to do the right thing and is literally placing his/her (I’m not giving any clues here!) life on the line. The risks are so great in Iraq not from coalition countries but from the fellow Iraqi countrymen. I mean this place can be vicious and family means nothing. Unfortunately, I am so frustrated because I am powerless in this regard in a foreign country and with a foreign government that still can’t be fully trusted. I’ve thought of trying to get this person into the protective area except the decision is left to an Iraqi Council. Coming before this board could be sufficient exposure to get one’s life terminated for an Iraqi if the wrong people know. Consequently, I’m really torn between obtaining information and pursuing an investigation versus telling this person to go away and live. I admire this person’s tenacity to serve justice but this assignment is definitely not high on my list of things to do.
Speaking of life in Iraq, I really took exception to what one of our colonels (Gentile I think was his name) had to say about arming Iraqi citizens to carry outside their homes. I mean he was dead set against it saying that it would incite civil war, make the place more dangerous, etc., etc. Well, I’ve got one real problem with this. The Ministry of Interior grants weapon’s permits to those that the Ministry thinks deserves them. So, if your buddy buddy with the gang at the Ministry, you get a special permit. If you’re not, that’s just tough luck. Then there are these militias running around whacking people constantly. Sometime this is done by kidnap and then murder or they are just shot down in the street. Of course the militias either have permits issued or they are the type that could care less about the permit process and are just able to “scoot by” and never get caught ……or is someone or a group just looking the other way. One way that the Iraqi people were trying to get around this was establishing their own neighborhood security forces (like a neighborhood watch) or carrying weapons when they need to go someplace like work or the market or the doctors, etc. Now this Colonel Gentile doesn’t think this is a great idea and wants the populace to be disarmed so that there could be “one Iraq” adhering to a central government that moves at a snail’s pace. He was quoted as saying that if the people were armed, the next thing they would be doing is shooting people that were planting IED’s. Well, duh!!! Who are the one’s blowing things up?? When you look at what’s happening in Basra, you’ve basically got a militia group running around just bullying everyone down there because the rest are defenseless. It’s not like they have a protecting police force as well. Many Iraqis because of bad experiences just don’t trust the police or the military. However, this makes it certainly very easy prey on innocent disarmed people by an organized militant group or by a band of thugs. Don’t forget that Sadam emptied the prisons just before our forces arrived. They are still out there making a buck any way they can. My bottom line is let these people protect themselves. The bad guys soon enough will learn that although they may number 20,000 – 30,000 strong, they cannot compete with 24,000,000 armed citizens most of which are content to pursue life and leave others alone. Will it stop the blood shed completely? No, but it will slow down eventually and it sure beats seeing unprotected innocent people slaughtered like sheep for no reason.
Which brings me to my next point since I’m on my soap box. I had occasion to interview an Iraqi Christian and ask her about life in Iraq as a definite religious minority. She relayed that most of the religious animosity is between the Sunnis and the Shiites and that the differences go back to 650 A.D. As I understand it, these differences basically relate to how one recognizes Mohammad and his descendents. As she explains, the Muslim religion can be very violent by interpretation which is what causes all the instant consternation. I’m not expert on this but as I understand this, one faction deems Mohammad as a prophet and the other classifies him as a religious person. She feels very intimidated as a Christian and she wears a Burkha to maintain her anonymity. She said one of her family members actually dropped out of college because of the constant questioning about what religion faith was being followed. She is aware of Shiites that actually wear crosses so that they could pass as Christians and not be threatened by the Sunnis. She resides in a Christian section of town and for the most part they are left alone but there are times when the Christians are asked to choose sides and that’s when things become uncomfortable. This lady speaks 4 separate languages and she is hoping one day to leave Iraq due to the lifestyle and the danger. She said her mother would move but her father wants to stay in Iraq because it is his country. I admire his patriotism especially with what’s been done. Hopefully it can change so that she can make this place a better place to live. It’s amazing how many people have left. There used to be a heavy population of Jews and many Christians. Now the Jews that are left are in complete hiding of their faith and the Christians only make up 2 % of the population. There are times that she fears she may have to die for her faith. Now that’s something that none of us have ever been threatened with. I can only wish her the best.
I had to let you all know that on Sunday I completed a 10 mile run in 1 hour and 37 minutes. It’s not that fastest time anyone has ever done but I got through it. I certainly did well for my age group. I was right in the middle of the over 40 crowd. I think the fastest time was 1 hour and 4 minutes. I also learned that after I ran, I earned the Bloody Boob award. I didn’t realize it but my left nipple had chaffed so badly on my shirt due to the sweat and weight of the shirt that I started to bleed. I didn’t even notice it until after the race when a Marine Colonel said I was a casualty. It didn’t hurt until I got in the shower but then that hot water just lit me up. I’m healing but I need to find another way to prevent this. One of our female runners was there when we were discussing this and I asked if I could borrow one of her sports bras for the next run. She asked if I wanted flowers or pink. That got a few laughs all the way around. All in all I’m glad I did it but 10 miles is definitely a long way. I can’t imagine running an additional 16 miles for a marathon …… but then again, I may try.
I heard one of the funniest things the other day. I was walking down the hallway in the Palace when I overheard a conversation between a British Officer and an America Officer. The American addresses the Brit as “Dude.” The Brit replies “Wait a minute, I’m not a dude. You don’t see me riding a horse do you?” I met another Brit who is a former British Marine and now works as a part of a PSD. His nickname is “Digger.” They call him “Digger” because his degree is in archeology. Unbelievable that a person degreed in archeology is working here as an armed guard because the money is much better. And the British Marines are about as wild and crazy if not more so than their American counterparts.
We had a dust storm yesterday that came in so quick, it was unbelievable. It turned the sky so black that the street lights came on at 04:30 P.M. It was over within 30 minutes. It was unbelievable how fast it came in and out.
We went to a Cinco de Mayo party at USAID. It was really nicely done. There is an impromptu band here called the Baghdaddy’s. The present lead singer is one of the ambassador’s advisor. She used to sing on Broadway while getting her master’s in New York City. She really is quite good and she’s a very nice person as well. I told her I wanted to do a Sonny and Cher song with her on karaoke night. When she’s working at the ambassador’s office, she’s all business. I told her I see you have another side. She smiles.
This week we had several funny incidents. First our two youngest agents who are in their mid-40’s took the Ford Expedition out. Now understand that these are two pretty good sized boys that are over six feet and weigh in excess of 260 pounds each. Well, the speed bumps are pretty high and apparently they didn’t see one so they mangled the skid plate on the Expedition and had to take it in for repairs. Our boss learns of what has happened to the car and says he wanted a full explanation from “the kids.” Of course the rest of us think this is great that these guys are called the kids because we care at least 14 years older than they are. The first words out of their mouths was “we weren’t going fast, honest.”
The other thing that happened was one of our friends is a Department of Homeland Security Agent. He’s very Hispanic looking and is bi lingual. Now understand that our check points and palace security are manned by Triple Canopy employees who are either Peruvian, Ecuadorian, El Salvadoran, Honduran, Mexican, etc. We were coming into the palace check point and the DHS agent John is wearing khaki clothing very similar to the uniform of the guards. Well, the guard is standing away from his post. There’s one who operates the door and the other that checks badges. Well, we held the door open because people were bringing furniture out. When we were ready to go in, there was quite a line behind us. John just started in when someone else comes out with a chair. I’m holding the door to let this guy pass. John steps in the position of the guard to get out of the way. Then I head in and out of habit, I show my badge to John who’s standing where the guard is supposed to be. I realize my mistake and say “Why the hell am I showing you the badge, you don’t care.” Then I show it to the real guard but the people behind me are showing their badges to John and saying Buenos Noches Senor. There were about five people that did this and John is just laughing. The real guards eyes are like saucers because he’s trying to double check these people again. It got straightened out but I said to John he could moonlight on his off days as a guard. He repeated it in Spanish and the guards thought it was pretty funny as well.
Well, I’m going to wrap this and head to the hooch. It’s been a long but productive day. For those of you out there where this applies, Happy Mother’s Day. Where would we be without you?
Love to all. Bob