Assorted Thoughts on Iraq

Hoisted from comments, this from Andrew:

I was in Al Kut in May of 2003. Our command had set up their headquarters in a hotel here without clearing the city of resistance. This hotel had been surrounded by hundreds of screaming Iraqis.

My unit was on the outskirts of town, fighting Fedayeen holdouts and destroying weapons caches, when we were called to bust up the siege on the ill conceived command headquarters (evidently the hotel had hot tubs).

When we arrived, ready for all hell to break loose, our translator informed us that the crowd was screaming their support of the American liberators, and posed no threat. (foolish pride insists I insert here that I was in the Marine Corps, and the Army command perceived the crowd as a threat).

I share this experience to depict the real support we had at the beginning of this nightmare, and where our leadership has taken us. The citizens of Al Kut were kissing our feet when we got there. Thanks to the profoundly moronic guidance of this administration, every bit of that goodwill has been squandered.

It is the same direction this administration has taken us at home. 9/11 gave the President a country united. Imagine what a gifted leader could have done with that! Instead we have been dragged through this Rovian nightmare of incessant division. All politics and no policy. I only hope we (and Iraq) can recover.

I did the adjunct Professor for a number of years, and had a number of students who either were sent to or had come back from the happy adventures in Afghanistan and Iraq. One of them, a captain told me something which I think explains the whole mess perfectly. (I’ve written about this before, so long time readers may find it familiar.)

It seems that he was in charge of a unit operating in Anbar early on. His duties included meeting with the local sheikhs. Every single one of the local sheikhs, every single one, told him the same thing: they were ready to cooperate fully with the US Military, but they were afraid of a certain man, who they expected to come and try to slaughter them all. The captain informed all the sheikhs that his men would fight to defend them from this man, to the death if necessary. (Apparently Iraqis like grandiose statements.)

Meanwhile, the captain got in touch with his peers in the region – captains and majors in the Army and the Marine Corps – and they were all saying the same thing: the fear of this one bad man was palpable, and everywhere in the region.

But who was this demon? The sheikhs would say only that the man was a powerful and vicious warlord from up north. The captain sent inquiries up the chain of command, but heard nothing back. Eventually, one of his men, searching on the internet, found out who Jalal Talibani is.

Now, this is not to say that Talibani is a vicious monster. But wouldn’t it have helped a great deal for our commanders on the ground to have something to say to the locals about him (e.g., he’s our puppet and he’s not what you’ve heard), especially before the guy became State President of Iraq?

Which leads to one more comment. My grandfather was a lowly tank driver when he toured Europe from June of 1944 to mid-1945. Since he spoke Yiddish, he became the de facto liaison guy for his unit – every time his unit took a German town, he would meet the burgermeister and other local worthies and explain that the REMFs would be following in a day or two to explain how things were going to be, but in the meantime, there was to be quiet and no resistance or General Patton would be very unhappy, and nobody wants to make General Patton unhappy. He (and everyone else in the unit) was given precise instructions on what to say to the locals, what not to say, and how to treat them. Despite the fact that my grandfather was in a front-line unit (at one point, I believe his battalion had the record for the most days of continuous front-line combat of any comparably sized American unit in any war the US has ever been involved in), eh was also provided with the names of the local worthies, and as much other information about them as possible.

I would expect the American military of today to be able to provide better intelligence to mid-level officers after “major combat combat operations…. have ended” in 2003 and 2004 then they provided to a tank driver in 1944 and 1945. That this expectation is incorrect is part of the part of the problem our troops face now, and the fault of the folks at the top.