Friday, April 16, 2004

The Wait to Move to Najaf, Letters from the Grave, and Ali Explains Why Iraqis Don't Like Jews (But It's Lost on Us)

16 April, 2004 0400 Al-Kut

‘Tell him this is for him and his family,’ I told Ali Internet to tell the shopkeeper while I handed the man some money. Some of the squatters at the TV station opened a little store to sell things to the soldiers. Since we showed up, several of them have been working for us to make some money. We also employed a local plumber to install water pipes, real toilettes, and two showers. One thing is for sure, we leave most places better than we found them when we live in them.
I just got up to pull radio watch from 0400-0500 in the TOC. I’m in a radio studio full of big mosquitoes – hairy mosquitoes, and smart mosquitoes. I just got one. Usually they fly away too fast. Like I said, we are in the Al-Kut radio station part of the TV station complex. Showing a bit of humor (as always), our S-2 intelligence analysts have a sign in the Plexiglas studio window that separates the broadcast room from the office room that reads, “The Morning Show with Steven and Rick,” and “LKUT, Rockin’ Al-Kut!” It’s pretty funny.
I’m tired right now and all I want is to talk to you. I miss your voice. I love your voice Nora, I love you. I wonder how you are doing in France. Tonight I couldn’t sleep at all. I listened on the shortwave and heard that Al-Sadr is being reported as missing. I jumped out of bed and told the LTC and everyone else. “Well,” he said, “I guess we’re going to Najaf to find him.”
Tonight I jumped on the CIA’s website to access the Foreign Broadcast Information Service, or FBIS. It always has a lot of breaking news articles from around the world with lots of good information. I got the idea that I would print out a lot of articles and start leaving them around our TOC on laptop keyboards so maybe some of our great officers would read about what’s going on on the road to An-Najaf and in Iraq in general, instead of playing video games. My plan worked, and soon, everyone was sitting around reading the printed articles – even Knight 6. There’s a lot of bad stuff going on in Iraq.
Tonight I prayed and thought about death again. SSG Stockton lay in bed and wrote a letter, even though we’ve got no mail service. I wondered if he was writing one of those “If I die…” letters. ‘I’m not writing any letters from beyond the grave,’ I thought. ‘I’ve got to have more faith.’
We’re going to An-Najaf soon, and into the heart of the Shia theological capital. We won’t actually go into the city, but we’ll join up with other units surrounding the city already. That idiot Poncho (AKA “Poncheeze”) keeps saying, “Our mission is to capture or kill Al-Sadr.” That’s pretty damn smart right now when Iraq is teetering on mass chaos. A raid or assault on Al-Sadr in An-Najaf would spark a fire difficult to handle. I can’t believe Poncho is running Iraq with Bremer. As our 1AD commander, I remember him well in Germany for his uninspiring and disappointing speeches that I perceived as lacking real intellect. Year or two later, the man is running military operations here.

We were living in strange days at this point. We had no clue what our future held, how long we would be in Iraq, when this was all going to end. It really felt like we were starting all over again in Iraq as we occupied buildings and lived out of our trucks. I remember going on a night mounted patrol through Al-Kut with the staff. We drove around town, conducting a “presence patrol.” That means we drive around town, look at people, and drive away. For the people, that meant they stopped what they were doing for a few seconds until we passed. In Al-Kut, the faces weren’t smiling at us. As we went down one neighborhood street, our tall vehicle antennas were breaking the decorative light bulbs that were strung across the streets. I watched as line after line of lights fell to the ground or went black. Here we were, driving through the streets to gain respect, and we’re pulling their lights down. We weren’t doing it on purpose, we were just being clumsy – and it sure didn’t make us look any better. LTC Jagger noticed this after we drove down a few blocks, and we all pulled over to tie our antennas down lower. I’ll never forget the way those people looked at us.
Word came down that we were moving to Najaf. We needed some more transportation assets for the TOC, and ideally one extra civilian truck for Ali Laundy and Internet Ali so they could better do their deal making with the locals. There was a ministry compound just outside of Al-Kut, so several of the staff went to the compound to confiscate some trucks for us to use for our move to Najaf. I remember pulling into the compound and seeing a large fleet of brand-new midsize pickup trucks and several brand-new lorries. There had to be over 100 trucks, fresh from the factory. Several ministry officials spoke with the staff and shook their heads. Their body language simply communicated agitation with the Americans. The apparent boss kept shaking his head at the American requests. While we were waiting for staff to complete their mission, Ali Laundry and I poured over a large map of Iraq. He explained why the Iraqis hate the Jews. He told some story about a Jewish king in Iraq who had the head of an Iraqi warrior plated in gold. I can’t remember the stories anymore, and they were hard to follow at the time, but it was fascinating the history (either real or invented) that some Iraqis employed to explain their distrust of Jews. The hostility went back thousands of years. While Ali explained this, Foley, a Jew, listened intently.
Towards the end of Ali’s story about Jews in Iraq, Sergeant Major Walker walked back over to our truck. “Let’s go,” he said to us. We folded the sergeant major’s trophy map and jumped in our trucks. We wouldn’t get any extra vehicles. The compound supervisor refused to hand over the keys for the vehicles. I assumed that we would just take the trucks, but in the end, the Army respected the authority of the ministerial office. We went back to the TV station and packed our trucks for the road march to Najaf.


Post a Comment

<< Home