For those of you that have inquired, I have arrived home. I have several make-up posts to do over the next few days or even weeks, but for right now, I am just savoring EVERYTHING, especially being with my beautiful wife and child. More to follow...
Time for redeplyment is gettting close, real close. I am busy transitioning with my replacement, and the new LAN is slower than the old one, with more people trying to use it because of the changeover. I will keep this short.
1.) I am short. - This means I have a short time left here. The title of this post should be a hint.
2.) I am busy. I have a lot to post that I may do from Kuwait or more likely the USA, when I have more time and more bandwidth.
3.) The Iraqis are still alternating between frustrating and improving on about an hourly basis, this depends a great deal on which particular Iraqi I happen to be working with at the time - no change there.
4.) I have completed my last mission outside the FOB intact. Barring the golden rocket or mortar round, I will thankfully be going home in one piece.
5.) I bumped into a few more old friends. More on this later.
It has been a usual day here, although I did get a few extra hours off. I went to Midnight Mass last night and the chapel was packed. Chow was a little better than usual, and I had a long telephone coversation with my beautiful Wife, who indulged me by singing Silent Night to me in spanish. That was the best present that I could have received.
I brought several boxes of See's Candy into the TOC today that were
sent by my family, and presented them to the Iraqi Soldiers and
Officers - Did I mention this whole country has a huge sweet tooth?
They each had several pieces which they enjoted thoroughly and wished
me a Merry Christmas. I found that somewhat surprising and
heartwarming that the Iraqis were the ones to initiate Christmas
greetings. I also shared the candy with the rest of the US MiTT
Advisors, so it did not last long.
Although it is obviously Christmas, as evidenced by the decorations that have proliferated all over the FOB in the past few weeks, it never feels quite that way unless I am home. There are lights decorating the trailers of many troops, fake trees and even an inflatable snowman in front of a company command post. There is even a Nativity Scene out in front of the main chow hall - don't tell the ACLU... By far the funniest thing I have seen was a Soldier dressed up as Santa manning the gun-turret of an up-armored HMMWV as it drove across the FOB. He was waving and shouting Christmas greetings to all of the troops, who could not help staring and laughing. As I stood in the back of the chapel, thinking about the past year, and my impending return to the US in a few weeks, I felt a sense of peace I have not felt in many months. It is amazing Christmas always does that to me, in spite of where I am. One feeling continues to well up within me looking back on the last year - gratitude. Merry Christmas! Peace on Earth. Goodwill toward men. God Bless us, every one.
I could not believe this when I read it. The weapons we have work just fine. We don't need to spend a fortune on new ones. We need to spend the money making sure we have enough good people properly trained to wield them.
"Every purple finger is a bullet in the chest of terrorism."
Quote of the day - by the Iraqi man who helped save Private Jessica Lynch. (HT: Beth Topaz)
The enthusiasm today around the Iraqi Headquarters was contagious. As the sun came up, the place was buzzing again with activity. We rolled out two large convoys to go take the Senior Staff and Soldiers to check on the security status of the polling centers in our sectors. While they were there, several of them voted, since they had not done so during the past few days. A few of the Iraqi Officers laughed when I inspected their fingertips for purple ink when they returned to the TOC. It was a quiet day for the most part, as expected. There were no Iraqi or American Soldiers hurt due to enemy action. A few civilians were wounded, unfortunately, but all in all, the day was a great success. Turnout appeared to be the strongest of any election yet.
As for the predictions that I mentioned, they are completely anecdotal and have no basis in any standardized polling or scientific method. I have, however, heard the same things enough times to make me think that there might be something to what I am hearing. List number 731, that of former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, should have a relatively strong showing – much better than a year ago. His name has been mentioned frequently by both Iraqi Soldiers and civilians. The two Shia religious parties that did so well in the interim government elections, SCIRI and Dawa, will not do as well as they did last time. They will still have a strong showing, but they will probably lose ground in the Parliament compared to what the have had over the past year. The Kurdish Coalition, largely ethnic and regionally based will probably do the same as they did in the last election and remain the bloc that someone must partner with in order to form a majority coalition. For now, the Iraqi Soldiers are looking forward to a well earned day off, some of them anyway. First, however, ballots need to be secured, transported and counted. I will add another photo gallery in the next few days – Inshallah…
The polls are now open. I have some predictions to make based on the scuttlebut that I have been hearing from the Iraqis. I will wait to post them until the polls have closed, lest I be accused of exerting undue influence over the vote. It is a big day here - obviously. The TOC is buzzing with activity. Other than handling a little computer troubleshooting and coordination with the Coalition Forces, the Iraqis are running this show. More to follow...
I was lying in the rack two nights ago talking to my lovely wife on my Iraqna cell phone and getting ready to say goodnight as I had to be awake again in about five hours. Just before I did so, I heard the sound of gunfire. This is certainly not a rare experience, especially at night, but tonight the amount of fire was unusually high, and close. I initially did not think much of it, as I told my wife, but the volume of fire seemed to continue to increase. She encouraged me to just get some sleep and not go out to check it out. I initially agreed, as our perimeter is more than adequately manned, and we said our goodbyes. After I hung up, I laid there pensively in bed for a long 10 seconds as the volume of fire did not die down as it usually does. It continued to increase. My Soldier's instincts got the better of me as I got up and started to put my gear on over my t-shirt and shorts.
I chambered a round into my M4 carbine and began to open the door of my hooch when the announcement came over the camp PA system. "ATTENTION! THE ***** BASE IS NOT UNDER ATTACK. I SAY AGAIN, THE ***** BASE IS NOT UNDER ATTACK. IT IS ONLY CELEBRATION FIRE. Needless to say, I took of my gear and went back to bed. Apparently, Iraq had beaten Syria in a big soccer match. Several Iraqis told me the next day that the streets were packed with people chanting victory slogans, singing songs and firing into the air with AK-47's. This is not the first time I have heard or witnessed celebration fire, but it was definitely the largest outburst of it that I had heard and seen. There were a lot of tracers visible that night.
The problem is that what goes up must come down. Soon after the shooting began, the 7.62mm rain began. A total of 46 people went to local hospitals over the next 24 hours for treatment of their wounds from the falling bullets. No Americans were hurt, but I can't think of a more useless and preventable way to get shot. This happens all to frequently. Thunder 6 has another story of celebration fire gone horribly wrong here. Luckily, there was a happy ending. He posted that here. Would somebody please send something safer like bottle-rockets or firecrackers...??
These three types of people started voting yesterday. I have already seen a few purple index fingers. The usual increase in attacks has been taking place over the past week or two. The arhabiyin (plural - thanks to an e-mailed correction from a nice Dutch lady) always try to get in their last shots before we shut down the streets and the borders. It is the same stuff; IED's, a few mortars or rockets, and a sprinkling of small arms fire. The thing the shooting attacks have in common as opposed to the exploding attacks is really poor aim. The arhabiyin are lousy shooters, except for the occasional foreign-trained sniper. The other thing they can't seem to do is come up with an alternative to democracy for the Iraqi people other than more suffering death and destruction. As for us, the polling centers in our sectors are all ready to go and balloting materials are in place. It's almost time to give the arhabiyin the purple finger again.
Last week I went to go visit the headqaurters of the 2nd Brigade, 6th Infantry Division of the New Iraqi Army. I was riding along with the Division G3-Operations in order to make a routine visit/house call with his Brigade S3 counterpart. 2nd Brigade is one of the two Iraqi Brigades that currently control their own sectors here in Baghdad. We made the trip as part of our routine "battlefield circulation." (Militar-ese for checking up on subordinate units.) As we drove down the formerly infamous Haifa Street, our progress was slow, not because of the elevated threat, but because of the heavy traffic. What had been a semi-deserted shooting gallery was again a bustling business district. Kiosks and stores bursting with goods for sale and shoppers were pushed all the way to the curb. Our time at 2nd Brigade was productive as the Operations Officers discussed better ways to stay connected, control forces and ensure timely reporting. Timely reporting of events is one of our big challenges, partially due to communications gear, but also due to bad habit. Our drive was uneventful in both directions. Not every look we received was pleasant as we drove past, but many were. I have posted a new photo album with pictures from the drive and our stop at 2nd Brigade in the left margin. Campaign posters were literally everywhere. They seemed like urban wallpaper in much the same way as we see entertainment posters plastered on construction sites back in the USA. There is also the same vandalism of opponents' campaign posters as we see from time to time at home. This may not be good manners, but it is a sign of a spirited campaign to say the least. The pre-election campaign is in full swing as candidates are campaigning openly this year rather than quietly submitting their names for the ballot as they did last year and hoping they did not get assasinated for doing so.
The overwhelming majority of Mosques are preaching participation in the election this time as the consequences of boycotting elections have been deemed to be undesireable. Both Shia and Sunni Mosques are preaching the "get out the vote" message" including several Mosques that have been virulently anti-coalition and pro-insurgency. While they are probably just "playing both sides" of the game, it is still a good thing to hear them pushing their followers to embrace the ballot rather than only the gun.
The other day, I sat in one of the offices of the Iraqi 6th Infantry Division Headquarters last night with several of the General Staff Officers as they all had gathered around the TV watching the trial of Saddam Hussein Trial. They were huddled around watching the TV so closely, you would think it was a championship soccer match.
"Are a lot of people watching the trial today, Sir? I asked.
"Everyone in the country is watching this." He replied.
"The judge should not let him go on like that. He is the worst criminal of all! He is not in charge of the courtroom." He continued.
Our conversation went on as COL A. described to me how hated Saddam was, and how Iraqis were anxiously awaiting his conviction and execution. Months earlier, LTC R., one of the other officers, who, like the others, served in the Iraqi Army under Saddam, had told me how Saddam had murdered his brother. He always reminds me every time Saddam's name is mentioned. Almost everyone here has a Saddam horror story. All of the officers, a mix of Sunni and Shia, who when asked, refer to themselves only as "muslim," claim that 95% of Iraqis share their sentiment. They are frustrated with the trial delays, and laugh when Saddam tries to cry injustice about his treatment. They are happy, however, that this monster has finally reached his reckoning.