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Front Line View From Iraq
A Frontline View From Iraq
by GYSgt Jon (Mongo) Carpenter USMC Reserve, LVMPD TAC
May 27, 2004
I have been asked several times through e-mails about what I thought of the situation here and what I think might work over here. Truthfully, I think we are on the right track here right now and MajGen Mattis is doing an excellent job of restoring stabilization to this area. Trying to understand
this country is like trying to understand a Paradox. You can see the different sides of the problems but can't get a good handle on the solution to solve the problems here. The biggest problem here is still the radical side of the Islamic world here. They truly hate America, Americans, and
anything we do here is considered an attack on Islam. The rest of the Iraqi people here really do want us here and like what we are doing for them.
Almost all of the Iraqis I have spoken to, say they want us to stay for several years until the restoration is well on its way and the radical terrorists and criminals are dealt with. The Iraqi Police Officers we are training say the same thing. During our transition of authority and responsibility here at the Academy, they keep asking us to stay and keep teaching the students, and not to turn everything over to the Iraqi Police administration. I then explain that this is their country and it is their responsibility to run their own institutions. They say they agree with this, but still want us to stay and continue teaching, providing security,
leadership and counsel.
This is part of the paradox here. The vast majority of the people want us here to protect them from the criminals, to help them restore their infrastructure, provide training for the modern equipment we are installing, and to help them get a new government installed. But they don't want us to stay here forever. Some are afraid of the idea of "Freedom". Their definition of freedom means freedom to go against Islam, which calls for strict adherence to the Koran and to the instructions of the Mullahs. They see "freedom" as something that will allow their children the opportunity to
chose not to follow Islam, or to adopt western values. It also means freedom for women to have equality, or to hold leadership positions, which most Iraqi men are firmly against. At the Academy here in Ar Ramadi, we have two
female interpreters working with us doing interviews and teaching classes to male Police Officers. This has not caused many problems with the students, but has caused some consternation on the part of the male interpreters, who do not like that females are getting paid they same as they are and are teaching adult men in an authority situation. We have discussed this several times, and they continue to resist treating the women as equals and respecting them for their skills and abilities, even though the female's
translation skills are at least as good as the male interpreters.
Another paradoxical problem is the culture of alliances here. During the previous regime and actually most of Iraq's history, forming alliances was the only way to ensure some level of safety for your family. By aligning with larger tribes, you could garner protection from criminals and the like,
and could use the influence of the tribal leaders to ensure fairness in business dealings and assistance getting your sons or relatives good jobs etc. But just like the mafia or gangs in America, this protection comes with a price. You must agree to the authority and leadership of the tribal
leaders, and you must first try and direct business and contracts through the tribe first. Today, the alliances are still strong and the tribal leaders are not much interesting in giving up the power, privilege and status they have attained. What we see as corruption and nepotism, etc, they
see as standard operating procedure. If I need a contract with a company to provide shower water to the academy students, the person I send to find that contract, will at first only bring family members, friends or someone from
their tribe or a friendly tribe to me to form a contract for services. They do not see any problem with this. They feel this is the way it should be, and they even suggest that it is the will of God, (Insha allah) that the contract was made available to them. We recently changed vendors supplying
food for the academy students. Since the contract provides 3 meals a day for between 90 and 300 students, it is a fairly lucrative contract. Thus, when the tribal leader of the vendor we replaced found out about the loss of contract, he contacted a friendly Police General and told him to contact our Academy Commandant, an Iraqi Colonel, to have him reinstate the contract with his vendor. The Colonel here refused, but also asked us to ensure everyone knew that this was a Marine decision and not a decision made by
him, so as not to cause bad blood between the tribes.
Another problem in the south is that the Socialist Baath party took away a lot of the land and houses from Shiites they didn't like for whatever reason. Now, some of these displaced people, many of whom had to run to Iran
to escape persecution would like to have their property back. But, some other family may have been given this property by the previous regime and have been living there for quite awhile and feel the property belongs to
them. This has actually happed though out Iraq with the Baath party taking from one citizen and giving to another person of their chosing. Now that the Baath party has been eradicated, who actually is entitled to these lands or
Another big problem is the Arab media here, which has big problems with facts. Just like the Al Jazeera reporter who stood proclaiming Iraq was winning the war as Marines rolled into Baghdad, they still misrepresent the situation over here. The American media also has had its issues with facts
also. They will go out of their way to find the Iraqi person who doesn't like the coalition and show him as if he speaks for all Iraqis. When we bombed that supposed "wedding Party" last week on the western Iraq border on a Wednesday, the media failed to mention that a vast majority of Iraqis believe that weddings and especially the wedding party should be held on Thursdays. Its part of their culture. This adds to the mounting evidence that this was not a wedding party but probably a meeting of terrorists and
criminals who also eat and throw parties. I read another article by a New York Times reporter who compared the term "Haji", which some soldiers have used when referring to an Iraqi person, to the term "gook" used as a derogative in Viet Nam. Again this is not the case. I have asked several
Iraqis, including Police Officers and interpreters who have said they feel honored to be called a "Haji" because it refers to some who has made or is trying to make the pilgrimage to Mecca. Again, it seems that trying to put down the military is more important than getting the facts straight. Maybe the worst example was how they reported the end of the re-stabilization of Fallujah. The mission was not designed, nor was it our intention to attack and conquer Fallujah. Had we intended that we could have easily destroyed and killed everyone in that city. But, that is not our mission in Iraq. But when the media says we were forced to stop the siege on Fallujah, they fail to recognize that we were only going after the criminals and foreign
terrorists there. When we got the majority of them, the rest went to the leaders and asked for a cease-fire. We won that decisively with minimal innocent casualties. The same is true in Najaf. Only last week the media was saying Al-Sadr was putting up good resistance and had the majority of the
people behind him. Again, we could have easily wiped him out, but we are trying not to hurt innocent civilians nor damage the shrines and Mosques they are hiding in. Thus it takes a little longer and may look like we are not decisively conquering a man with a limited Militia. But it is more
important to keep the hearts and minds of the civilian population we are trying to rescue.
The Marines, Sailors and Soldiers I work with are all still highly motivated to accomplish this mission. We are happy to serve our Commander-in-Chief, President George W. Bush. Yes, we would like to be home with our families,
but we know we are doing something important for America and for the world.
As for me and my fellow Iraqi Police Liaison team, we continue to thank you all for your prayers and support for us over here.