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April 2006 Archives
Iraq Attack Spin Job
By Michael Fumento
In an article in the print edition of the April 30 Washington Post, there's a line graph based on information from the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. It's entitled "Insurgent Strikes," and declares: "Insurgents continue to launch a high number of attacks on Iraqi police and army troops." Two problems. The first requires a bit of background knowledge. There are far more Iraqi police and soldiers than just six months ago much less a year or more. Further, they are more and more being used in vulnerable positions rather than being allowed to hide behind fortifications and never come out. You'd expect a lot more attacks in these circumstances. BUT then there's problem number two. While the graph naturally shows peaks and valleys, it shows a clear DECLINE in attacks from the height in January, 2005 of 160 per month to only 120 per month in March of this year. This is like the activist groups who say, "People continue to die from AIDS," but never acknowledge they're dying at a fraction of the rate as formerly. Recently I blogged on how the Washington Post reported that the media have turned against the war, assuming they were ever for it. Thanks for driving the point home.
Goin' Home, with a Parting Shot at Military Contractors
By Michael Fumento
As I noted in my fifth Iraq blog, for all the talk of IEDs, snipers, and ambushes the really scary thing around here is the nightmare of being in transit from anywhere to anywhere else. Michael Yon, who more or less does this sort of thing for a living and has just begun blogging from Afghanistan, read Blog Five and commiserated with me by e-mail. So there would be another nightmare on the way out -- and then some. The small landing zone at Corregidor was easily reached, my Marine Chinook came in well before midnight for a change, and it was off to a major airbase at Al Taqaddum airbase. This allowed me to skip flying back into the Green Zone. Yeah!
After a few hours our C-130 arrived and we watched it being unloaded. It was actually rather fascinating, as bundled equipment would slide down the back "door" which also acts as a ramp and into the waiting arms of an incredibly dexterous receiving machine which grabbed it and immediately took off at high speed to deliver it. After a short period, we were able to board for about a two-hour flight to the huge Kuwaiti air base, Ali al Salem. Once again, by the time I got in it was past four and I was exhausted. Naturally my temporary tent was the farthest away, and while the officers I came with had a golf cart waiting to carry their equipment I had to lug my considerable stuff while taking several breaks along the way. But joy of joys, the next morning I was to fly out of the commercial airport and go home.
I awoke at four and showered and went to get my ticket for the earliest shuttle of the day, the 5:30 one. I was tempted to leave half of my ponderous equipment right there in the Kuwaiti desert but I managed to get it all to the shuttle stop by 5:15. Then I waited. And waited. And waited. Few things in the military are on time, so I wasn't particularly alarmed. But finally when a shuttle came at 6:30 and it wasn't mine I hit the worry button. I went back to where the tickets are issued (And what's with this ticket stuff anyway?) only to have them radio the shuttle driver who claimed he came by at 5:29. In short, he lied. Either he came and left way early or he never came at all. One way or another, I was screwed. The next shuttle for the airport wouldn't leave until 9:30 and arrive at the airport right about when my plane would be taking off. Taxis aren't allowed at Ali al Salem for security reasons and there was simply no way to get a ride with somebody.
There was nothing to do but catch that later shuttle and go to the American Airlines office at the airport to get a reissue. There is no American Airlines office at the airport. But I was able to call them from there. I was prepared to pay a fee but was shocked to find my ticket had become worthless. They wanted to sell me a whole new ticket, one way, at the same price as the round-trip ticket I had been issued. Did it say anywhere on my ticket restrictions that this would be the case? No, it simply said the ticket was non-transferable. Well, I wasn't trying to transfer it; I was trying to get a reissue. I've never heard of any such thing.
AA told me "Everybody does it that way." Wrong. But they did hold out that if I came all the way down to the downtown office that perhaps something could be worked out. So I grabbed what turned out to be the dumbest taxi driver in all of Kuwait. No, it wasn't just a language barrier. I had English instructions to the AA office that showed it was about a block from a major hotel and he repeatedly showed it to bilingual Arabic-English speakers along the way but he never did get it. Finally I spied the office and got out, whereupon he demanded extra payment for driving me around for an hour on a 20-minute trip! I don't think so. Then I walked into the AA office and was simply told what I was told on the phone. The trip was for nothing.
Note to self: Next time I'm trying to buy a ticket, pretend American Airlines doesn't exist. It shouldn't.
Thence another cab to the hotel where I had stayed during my way into Iraq and a walk to the nearest travel agency, which was able to get me a trip back for about $1,000. This brought the entire cost of my trip -- all out of pocket -- up to $4,000. I hope my wife enjoyed our summer vacation, because that was it.
In short, our troops are being screwed and while I complained most forcefully to my contact in Kuwait, I'm sure nothing will be done. Fact is, the only people we can say are clearly winning in this war are the contractors. I wish I had made a point of writing down comments about them, but troops constantly complained to me about huge amounts of money handed to contractors who don't deliver or who insist the amount they originally agreed upon wasn't enough and instead of being told to fulfill their contracts anyway, the Defense Department simply throws more money at them. I've read a number of such stories in the papers; but now I've seen them in person.
Yes, I know all conflicts have war profiteers -- unscrupulous individuals and companies that take advantage of the "fog of war" to rip off their own countries and incidentally hurt the war effort. But we are vastly more dependent on contractors in this war than any previous one, when we had soldiers doing these jobs. Nor does a long history of war profiteering mean we should continence it. I think too often we allow contractors to not do their jobs because they claim they had to spend extra money on security. I think they're just keeping it. Instead of the money going to schools and hospitals and providing proper services to the troops, it goes right into bigwig pockets.
Nor is it just a matter of morale or some such. In a guerrilla war, building a school or hospital or laying electrical lines or providing flowing potable water can be far more important than killing bad guys. To the extent these projects are not completed -- and vast numbers are not -- it's threatening the war effort. These people are scum and may as well be working for bin Laden. If they violate their contracts, force them to comply -- don't reward them. If they can't comply, jail them. They're traitors. From what I've seen, this war can still go either way depending on the willingness of the American public to stick it out. From what I saw can still go either way. Everybody likes to target Cindy Sheehan -- as indeed I have -- but really she's just an idiot voice crying in the wilderness trying to cling to 15 minutes of fame that expired long ago. It's contractors and those who refuse to hold them accountable who have the ability to make or break this war.
View Iraq 2006 photos.
Camp Corregidor in Central Ramadi
By Michael Fumento
I knew that on the basis of size, Ramadi is the most Mooj-laden and violent city in Iraq. That's why I tried to get here last year and finally succeeded in making it here this year. Still, even within Ramadi there are places that are more or less violent. So when the public affairs officer at Camp Ramadi asked where I wanted to go, I told him: "The redder, the better." Red refers to a hostile areas, as opposed to Baghdad's Green Zone. And to his credit, he delivered, sending me to the 506th Regiment of the 101st Airborne in central Ramadi.
During my entire trip, this was the only time I arrived at a new area before 4 am. So there was time for a debriefing with the commander, Lt. Col. Clark. He told me and a fellow reporter, one with Army Public Affairs, that if it was action we wanted we were going to get it. IEDs were the worst problem, even though firefights and other forms of conflict were frequent. A few weeks earlier they encountered a mini-"Blackhawk Down" situation. A Humvee was hit by an IED and two soldiers died. Then an M-1 Abrams tank was sent in to retriever the Humvee. They keep a large number of tanks and other armored vehicles at Corregidor -- for good reason. Unfortunately, an IED made a lucky strike on the tank, cutting the fuel line and setting it on fire. Fortunately, the men inside scrambled to safety but now things were really getting messy.
You just can't leave a tank, because it has equipment and armor available to nobody else. If the Mooj got hold of pieces they could determine ways of defeating these otherwise almost invincible behemoths. Further, they could sell their information to the Chinese or somebody else with a vested interest in blowing up M-1s. Had it been a chopper, it could have been destroyed with an airstrike. But not so a tank. Further, these tanks carry a powerful 120 millimeter main gun and three lesser guns. The rounds for these weapons were "cooking off" in the fire, keeping both Mooj and Americans at a distance.
So the 506th had to set a perimeter around the tank all night long. As in "Blackhawk Down," the burning tank attracted bad guys from throughout the city. They kept pouring into the area to kill the infidels. But with their night-vision equipment and laser pointers, Americans own the darkness in Iraq. The Mooj came and they died. By the time the tank had stopped cooking off rounds and been recovered, 30 Mooj had been confirmed dead and one additional American. In a sense, disaster had been turned to victory. But even for the 506th, three men dead was an exceptionally high toll in only 24 hours.
The colonel also told us that body armor and helmet were required any time we left a building, even I it was just a few feet to the next building. This was quite an inconvenience until you got used to it and the Army reporter with me said he'd been to forward operating bases (FOBs) throughout Iraq during the last nine months but had never been to one with such a requirement. But there proved to be a good reason. Civilian buildings that the Mooj could temporarily take over were so close to the camp they could practically heave mortars at us by hand. On average, the camp gets shelled every other day although I went four days before we were hit. Radar that detect incoming shells supposedly allow you 10 seconds to take cover, but I'm told it's usually closer to three. Plenty of places in the camp aren't even 10 seconds from cover. The body armor rule went into effect when the first round of a barrage crashed down about 10 meters from the entrance to the headquarters and exactly where two men had been standing. I took a picture of the depression in the thick sidewalk where it landed. Reddish flower blossoms covered it, almost as if it were still filled with blood.
I also got my first look at what an intact 122 millimeter mortar looks like. Yes, I know how big 122 millimeters is, but it was still a lot bigger than I had thought. By way of comparison, the largest mortars normally used by the U.S military are only 81 mm, which probably have less than half the explosive power. Those are the ones you usually see in movies.
An added "attraction" is that snipers also occasionally fire a round into the camp. There are at least two minarets within firing distance, and they use them knowing of our unwillingness to attack "religious" buildings even when they're clearly being used for military activity. They take shots at the raised observation posts on a regular basis, though hitting anybody walking in the camp would take an extraordinary shot. That said, one night I was using a tiny LED flashlight to guide myself across the camp, having wrenched my knee in a hole during daylight earlier. A shot rang out nearby and off went the light! I preferred the chance of another minor injury to a prospect of a bullet that almost certainly would be powerful enough to penetrate my body armor.
Unfortunately, Corregidor is also short on amenities. Just a couple of months earlier they received their first portable toilets. Before that, everybody peed into tubes planted into the ground and used an open latrine that regularly had to be emptied and the contents burned. Chow had also been awful, but by the time I arrived it was terrific. But on the whole, compared to places like Camp Fallujah -- much less the Green Zone -- it was something of a rat hole. The reporter who came in with me and took part in the same two firefights as me wanted out quickly not out of fear -- he could have abstained from further day patrols -- but because he had grown a bit too used to comfort and he wasn't going to get it there.
Myself, I could have stayed considerably longer knowing that I was practically guaranteed a firefight every time I went on a day patrol and knowing that I was grossly deficient in collecting interviews. That's what happens when you volunteer for every patrol. But my flight home was set. Still, the Mooj gave me a nice going-away present. Just an hour before my helo flight from the tiny LZ at Corregidor, they hit us with three 122 millimeter mortars that apparently landed fairly close. I was in an internet area at the time with insufficient roof protection, so everybody scrambled to put on body armor and get to a safer area. This time we did get our full ten seconds. I didn't even feel put upon. After all, you haven't really been to Camp Corregidor until you've been shelled.
View Iraq 2006 photos.
Another Firefight (One that Came Close to Never Being Blogged)
By Michael Fumento
I sure learned the hard way about the veracity of the Chinese expression that begins: "Be careful what you wish for . . ." We were told we might encounter the bad guys because you always "might," but by noon yesterday I would be a seasoned combat photojournalist.
We joined up at 7 am with Alpha Company, with whom we'd been laughing and joking the night before so we'd already gotten to know many of them and they'd gotten to know us. It's nice to go outside the wire with people you've already bonded with bit, not that I would not trust anybody in the 506th to be there for me if I needed them. We three reporters loaded into an M113 armored troop carrier that carries a .50 cal machine gun and can much better withstand both an IED and an RPG round, especially because it has a sort of grill (commonly called a "cheese grater") that will make an RPG round explode a foot away from the armor.
After perhaps a 5-minute ride we were dropped off in a different section of the city from the day before, near a former hotel that was so bombed out it looked like a good hard breath would knock it over. I think it was about 60% Iraqi and 40% us. The Iraqis were supposed to do the main patrolling while we entered the taller houses in the area and went up to the roof to cover them with light machine guns and M203 grenade launchers. Those are tubes that attach to the bottom of M-16s.
We did always knock or even ring the doorbell first -- honest -- but if there was no quick response the gates got kicked in. One just wouldn't budge but a large soldier gave it an almighty kick and while the lock and chain held, the side pulled right out of the concrete to which it was attached. Thirty seconds later a guy from next door shows up and offers us the keys . . .
Inside they kicked a few doors and were trying to knock in a really beautiful one when -- lo! -- a woman pops out of nowhere with the key. We don't like messing up people's places but we also don't like Mooj popping out from nowhere and spraying us. So once you enter a house each room must be checked.
It was at the next house where we started hearing gunfire. I asked somebody how long it had been since we dismounted. Forty-two minutes! These bad guys can't shoot for a darn, but they certainly are punctual.
We took up positions on the roof but the walls were very high, which is good protection from snipers but not good for observation. I think we took rounds directly on our position, but it's a funny thing; you often can't tell. But we weren't in position to fire back. So we'd listen to the shooting, joke around a bit, listen to the shooting, and joke around some more. One soldier was teased because his smoke grenade had gone off while hooked to his load-bearing equipment on his vest. Somehow this had managed to burn his uniform just below his crotch. The other soldiers made him open his fly to check his skin for burns, saying his resistance was because he was afraid he'd find his genitals baked. Tension relief under fire is muy importante.
Finally we "exfilled" (exfiltrated) to another house when it seemed the shooting had ended. This would be a feature of the firefight to come. Just when things got peaceful and you thought it was all over, suddenly the Mooj would start firing again and with more weapons than the round before. We occupied the top of another building, which had a roof on the left side and an excellent observation position on the right with little more than glass windows to hide any part of your body behind. I hid a bit of myself behind a pillar but most of me had to remain exposed. Here we heard bursts of fire every few minutes but most of it was from the M240 light machine gun manned by Pfc. Robert Killion from the roof position on the left side of the building. Out of four confirmed enemy KIA that day, Killion would get two.
So I gave up on our machine gunner and went over to Killian's position, also manned by Sgt. Jonathan Falk. I'd been shooting most video and still needed some good combat stills and I jokingly ordered the two men to just pick out some inanimate target and fire at it while I snapped away. It didn't prove necessary. Soon enough they were banging away and I got my first good shot with Killion's spent brass casings bouncing of the chest plate of my body armor. I also got good footage of an enemy round missing Killion's head by a matter of inches. He wasn't too happy about that.
It became like a bizarre joke; enemy firing would stop for awhile and we'd be ordered to head downstairs but just as soon as the men pulled back from the wall the firing would start up again and it was back to the wall to fire back. Meanwhile, the machine gunner where I had been standing on the other side of the building was letting loose. So I went back over there and watched a soldier lay a couple of grenade rounds on the enemy. One struck home, making it three dead Mooj killed from the house we occupied.
But the Mooj had been firing back. About where my head had been there was a large pock mark in the opposite wall. It might have drilled me had I remained there; I can't say. But the window I'd been standing next to had a nice clean bullet hole that clearly would have gone right through my side where I have absolutely no protection and continued until it reached my heart. It put me in a pensive mood, but I didn't have long to contemplate it before we were told it was time to exfil and start trekking back to the pickup point. The shooting had stopped and once again it seemed like the fighting was over. Actually it was about to get a whole lot worse.
As soon as everybody was out of the houses the bad guys hit us big time. Machine gun and rifle fire seemed to come from every direction. In part, perhaps, this was because of sound reverberations off the walls and possibly it was because it was coming from every direction. Americans tossed several smoke canisters to conceal us as we crossed the first wide street, but since the Mooj tend to fire wildly anyway I'm not sure how much it helped. All they do is point their weapons in our general direction and squeeze off as many rounds as they can. But a haphazardly-fired bullet when it hits you has the same impact as an expertly aimed one.
We could have pulled back into the houses and simply shot it out with the Mooj but we would have ended up there all day, and given the Mooj a chance to call in more and more of their buddies. We also would have endangered the civilians inside. So we took option number two: run like crazy. It was just like the scene towards the end of "Blackhawk Down," when they ran the so-called "Mogadishu Mile" to the stadium. I don't think they ran a mile and I know we didn't, but it seemed like several at the time.
The tactic: One machine gunner darts across the street or alley to provide cover from that side. He's wearing a ton of body armor, pounds of ammo, and a weapon considerably heavier than an M-16 rifle. But if somebody had clocked him he would have qualified for the Olympics. Then a second machine gunner guards the street or alley from the first side. Both machine-gunners lay down suppressive fire to keep the Mooj heads down. Now the rest of us would fly across the intersection. It doesn't matter how much gear you're carrying, or whether you wrenched a knee or ankle. It doesn't matter how much junk is lying in your path. You will fly. I saw a few guys fire their rifles sideways as the crossed particularly wide areas.
At one point I was crossing the street at a non-intersection to join up with the main body of men when a machine gun began spraying from behind me in what sounded like exactly my direction. Maybe it was; maybe it wasn't. But the shielding walls on the sides of the street looked a million miles away from me at that moment and all I could think of was dropping flat like a pancake onto the middle of the road, then rolling to the other side. I kept my camera up at all times (the footage makes you dizzy), but probably two dozen GIs saw me go down and were sure I was hit.
One brave soul, who turned out to be Sgt. Falk, risked his hide by jumping from his relatively safe position along the wall to pull me in. I yelled: "I'm okay! Go back!" But darned if he wasn't determined to rescue me! My lack of injury doesn't make him any less a hero in my book. As soon as I got to the wall I stood up all the way so everybody could see I was alright, but then another fellow apparently slipped and all eyes turned to him. But he was okay, too. He just needed water so I gave him my Camelbak water bladder to drink from, assuring him I didn't have cooties. The non-injured helping the non-injured!
Speaking for myself and probably every man there, I was far too busy trying to stay alive to be scared. At one point on my tape you can hear me singing "We've got to get out of this place . . . " from the Rolling Stones song. I don't even like the Stones; but it seemed appropriate at the time. And so we went from protective wall to protective wall, across alleys, streets, and open spaces that looked like they were forever long. As we sat under one wall, machine gun bullets tattooed it above us dropping plaster on some guys' heads.
As we approached our pickup area and relative safety, I came across an Iraqi soldier with blood streaming from his face onto his body armor and yelled for a medic. To the first American soldiers who looked at him it appeared it was just a bad nick. But -- and if you think I'm making this up I have pictures to prove otherwise -- he'd apparently taken a ricochet round sideways through the nose! Unreal. For all intents and purposes he now had four nostrils.
Finally we approached the protected position whence we had begun, with concrete on top and one side. Safe at home, right? Not in this firefight. "Incoming!" somebody yelled, and we dived that few extra feet for cover. There was an explosion in the distance and we saw a plume of smoke, but it turns out to have been a Mooj firing an RPG at a tank coming to support us. The rocket pretty much just bounced off.
The tank was too late, but we did have support from some M113's. Nothing came from the air until we reached the safe point, when a jet swooped over and flew off. The rules of engagement are very tough for Ramadi for two reasons. First, it's heavily populated and it's all too easy to accidentally kill civilians. Second, with more and more joint American-Iraqi patrols it's also all too easy to kill friendly soldiers. Even 500 lb. bombs can't be dropped in the city. But the Iraqi soldiers don't necessarily understand this. Knowing I was a reporter, they pointed to the fellow with four nostrils and then to the jet and told me "Ameriki (Americans) no good!"
Well excuse me! The Iraqis did perform admirably by Iraqi standards. They held their positions and suppressed enemy fire. But without our guns, they'd have taken terrible casualties. As is, other than the nose shot only one of them was injured, in the calf, and he was removed from the battle zone immediately and presumably under heavy fire. No Americans were injured, but two video cameras caught me hitting the dirt so you could say I wasn't a casualty but I played one on TV.
In the M113 on the way back you might have expected a sort of stunned silence, yet it was anything but. The sounds were of excited chatter and outright laughter. Even later, as we reporters looked at each other's video footage we laughed all over again. It's hard to explain. The original laughter was surely part in relief. And keep in mind that we knew nobody had even been badly hurt on our side. But it was also like the best amusement park ride you've ever been on. Whatever else it may have been, it was thrilling. All three of us reporters immediately inquired as to whether there would be another patrol that afternoon or the next day, but found patrols had been halted because of some upcoming activities that will remain unmentioned here.
And yes, it was thrilling for the soldiers as well. "I don't think we've been under heavy fire like that before," Pfc. Tony Wickline of A Company told me. "I mean, we've been shot at a lot but today . . . " Then he just started shaking his head and muttering: "Uh, uh, uh, uh, uh."
Firefight at Ramadi
By Michael Fumento
Ramadi and Miserable Military Down Time
By Michael Fumento
The primary enemy of the freelance embedded reporer in Iraq is the incredible amount of lost time caused by military transportion procedures.
First, it take takes a full day to fly from the United States to Kuwait. Okay, that's not the military's fault. But then you have to stay one or two days to catch your C-130 transport into Baghdad International. I lucked out and got a Royal Air Force seat on standby. Once you've arrived, now matter how early you get there, you have to wait until 2 or later in the morning to catch the armored Rhino into the International Zone. I can understand only traveling the route at night, but night is falling at about 8 now.
Once there, you get picked up by Public Affairs and brought back to the temp quarters and in-process. That takes about five minutes. Then you wait some more. If you're lucky you catch a chopper to your final destination that night. Twice now I have not been lucky. The first time a Marine general kicked us all out of two choppers (choppers almost always travel in pairs.) This time I was told they were surprised I had arrived that day even though I told them I would probably arrive that day. So another day wasted.
Finally, you actually get to the landing zone of your major camp at about 4 a.m., whereupon you are supposed to be met by somebody who knows why you're there and takes you to the media quarters. It never happens that way. So last night they just drove me around for over an hour before dumping me in temp billeting. Mind you, the major camp may not be your final destination and for both Fallujah and Ramadi it was not for me. So then you have to wait and wait and wait to get transportation out to your real final destination. It's utterly maddening.
Here at Camp Ramadi, I wasn't even on the list of people who arrived last night so they didn't even know I was on base. The result is that I missed the mandatory press briefing you get before being sent to your embed unit. In my case, that's going to be central Ramadi, because that's where most of the fighting is, including the umpteenth attack from a mosque last night that got a lot of news attention. So since I missed the briefing this morning, I can't convoy out tonight. I convoy out tomorrow night. Two more days wasted.
Ultimately I'll have only a few days at my Ramadi embed, yet that's the one I was most looking forward to. Bottom line: During my three week trip I will practically be able to count the hours I was doing something exciting or benefiting what I'm writing. Ramadi is really hopping now, it's just a couple of miles away, and I can't get there from here. Aaargh!
Yes, I learned in my four years in the Army that "military efficiency" is an oxymoron and time is something best thrown away. It drove me nuts then and it's driving me nuts now.
View Iraq 2006 photos.
Easter Report from Iraq
By Michael Fumento
We went on yet another patrol yesterday, but each is different than the one before. For one, while we always go on foot, this time the Humvees came along for fire support. A number of Marines had been killed in the area. But there would be no action this time. What was most distinctive, though, was that this was a relatively long patrol of four hours and the temperate reached 99 and stayed there. I wasn't going to say anything, but when the Marines half my age started complaining I felt free to chime in.
It's incredible how much water you consume in such conditions. I emptied my three-liter Camelbak bladder in a couple of hours, but fortunately apparently the purpose of the Humvees was to resupply us. At the same time, the other bladder rarely needed emptying. Almost all your water exits via your pores. Just as well; I hate scouting out positions where no civilian will see me and get offended and no sniper will have a good shot. I can see the headline: "Embedded Reporter Killed while Peeing." The best defensive against possible snipers -- as opposed to probable or definite ones in which case you take more dramatic covering and concealing actions -- is just to keep moving. A moving target is hard to line up in cross-hairs.
The Marine nodded. I later found out he'd killed three, including one who was prone on the ground -- an amazing shot. "The round went into his neck and tore a path right into his lungs." I thanked him for the forensics report.
The main avenue is called Market Street, and that it is. The fruits and vegetables looked truly wonderful -- as good as anything in the States. Then there were a few stands with cheesy toys and t-shirts and what-not, some with various snacks, and some drink vendors. A jundi politely offered me an orange drink of sorts but "La, la shukran" (No, no thank you.) I have no idea what little microbes are swimming around in that glass but I can't afford to find out. My stay here is all too short to be spending part in a clinic and much of the rest in the john.
We got the usual greetings from both kids and adults, and a couple of the children spoke a bit of English and practiced it on us. For my part, I'm extremely glad I spent time learning basic Arabic expressions. Mostly they are a way of bonding with civilians and Iraqi soldiers, but sometimes they really come in handy. I've learned more since coming, of course.
Towards the end of the patrol we saw Abu Ghraib prison, which I thought was many miles away but, no, there was the wall and the watch towers. It's been in the news so much you expect to see something special but, well, its walls and towers. Nothing more. We also walked through another Shiite slum and for the first time I saw barriers placed across streets. They might be rocks, large concrete pipes, or even just piles of trash. Plenty of that laying around. I asked why they were there and was told the people were terrified of the insurgents. The Mooj don't like to walk, so usually stopping their cars stops them. In any case, it prevents drive-by shootings.
I should have explained earlier that I was embedded with three units in First Division, Fourth Brigade. It's commanded by an Iraqi and comprises mostly Iraqis with American MITT advisors. That stands for Military Transition Teams. Their purpose is to transition the Iraqis into an independent fighting force. It's actually an Army Special Forces job, but the Green Berets are essentially being used in what's supposed to be their secondary job as commandoes.
So MITTs are pulled together from conventional units. In this case, most were from an Army Reserve unit based in Richmond, Virginia. That was actually rather nice for me because it meant a lot of these guys were essentially neighbors of mine. One lived one city over in Alexandria, a couple lived in nearby Fairfax where my German classes are, and one had a condo in my own town of Arlington. One of the Fairfax guys knew about a bar called "Dr. Dreamo's" that's about a block from my townhouse, so he knew exactly where I lived. But we also had Marines mixed in, so your typical patrol would be about half Iraqi, one-fourth Army, and one-fourth Marine.
Yes, the Army guys badmouthed the Marine Corp sometimes. The usual complaint is that the USMC is too big on brawn, to little on brains and finesse. In this case, there was some definite bad blood. Marines were given orders to come through the area and shoot stray dogs and ended up plugging the cute little camp mascot. The soldiers said they knew it was a pet but killed it out of spite. I don't know. But certainly the soldiers completely respected and got along with the Marines who served alongside them.
As I type this, I'm now at Camp Fallujah waiting for the "bird" that will fly me to Ramadi tomorrow night. I still remember it quite well from last year and had no trouble finding the laundry and the Post Exchange, along with the Iraqi products outlet store next to it. That's actually something of a joke, since the Iraqis like most Arabs don't produce much in the way of finished goods -- although Iraqis at least have farms. Most of the stuff in the store is from Turkey. But I bought a few overpriced souvenirs anyway. Now when people say, "Why the heck did you go back to Iraq after what happened to you last time?" I'll be able to say it was a shopping trip.
Speaking of which, I also passed the medic station that I reported to last May before being medevacked to Baghdad and ignobly disemboweled. It was a strange feeling, especially since a Marine Chinook helicopter landed right while I was there to medevack somebody else. Far more pleasant to be an observer than a participant.
They've gotten rid of the media tent and replaced it with trailers. In theory, that's nice but my trailer had no electricity when I arrived. I was told contractors would come by to fix things but they took the day off. I'm typing by the light of a flashlight that fits on your head (I call it my coal miner's light) and while I have plenty of laptop batteries, I'm wondering how long the headlamp will hold out. Moreover, the problem with trailers is that the metal makes them great heat collectors without have the AC on. Still, the first time I came out here I was surprised they had AC at all.
It's also Easter Sunday today and the anniversary of the accident in which my wife was almost killed in a car accident, which we usually celebrate in some small way. (No, not her being killed but her not dying.) If I'm counting right, it was 14 years ago that I almost lost her and it was right here 11 months ago that she almost lost me. I shall endeavor to ensure that this time I not only come home but with all of my body parts intact.
View Iraq 2006 photos.
A four-hour foot patrol on the outskirts of Fallujah
By Michael Fumento
Patrolling an Outhouse and a Visit to OP3
By Michael Fumento
Street urchins followed us around in packs, begging for "Choccolata" and money. "U.S. number one! George Bush number one! Choccolata?" On safer patrols we do carry and hand out candy, but not on this one. We couldn't afford distractions. So we'd reply "Mokoo choccolata!" No chocolate! Still, you'd stop at a protected point, usually at the edge of a house or wall, and there they'd be wrapping you up like a street urchin burrito. At one point more than a dozen surrounded me and a Marine and I had to tell them to back off, as they were endangering both us and themselves. But you'd see them again. In fairness, a lot didn't want anything but to be friendly. Nasser Wa'Salaam is like the Sadr City of Fallujah, the ghetto into which Saddam herded the Shiites. But after decades of intermarriage it's now about 60/40 Shiite/Sunni. And while the Sunni wanted nothing to do with us, the Shiite -- kids and adults -- were delighted to see us. Often they were simply trying to make conversation and giving us high fives. One insisted on feeling my biceps. He squeezed and gave me a thumbs up. When I told them I was a journalist -- "Izmi sahafi" -- they kept demanding I take their photos.
So I'd pretend and they'd be delighted. But I already have about 40 urchin shots; that's enough.
Avoiding action is an intractable problem with the Jundi. As it's been put to me repeatedly, "They tend to be reactive; not proactive." They wait for the Mooj to make contact. When they do, they see their job as breaking off that contact with a mass of rifle and machine gun fire. They don't fire controlled bursts, which is how you kill somebody rather than just keep his head down. And they rarely go on the pursuit. I sat in the office of some vaunted "special forces" soldiers from Saddam's army that have joined the new Iraqi Army and listened to the U.S. commander of 2nd battalion tell them over and over, "It's not enough to defend your position, you must kill them! Do you understand that; you must go after them and kill them!" I don't think they quite understood. Likewise when I interviewed the commander of OP3, the site of the major action I described earlier, I asked him if he saw his job as not just sitting pat but sending out patrols to kill the bad guys. He evaded the question. I asked again. Then he emphasized taking prisoners for information. Yeah, that's all well and good but ultimately you have to kill people. With important exceptions, and perhaps more exceptions all the time, this just isn't in the Jundi way of thinking.
There was also a large blood stain where it appears one Mooj went to meet his 72 virgins.
I saw that OP3 wasn't attacked because it was weak. From the inside it looks rather like a medieval fortress and it had several look-out positions, all of which but one had a light machine gun and all were protected by glass windshields pulled off heavy Army trucks. All were badly smashed but had done their job. Basically, OP3 was hit because it was an intrusion into an area more or less under Mooj control. It will be hit again. And again.
Speaking of which, it was quite around Camp India and everywhere I went but Marines building an OP in a close-by town I can't spell (near Camp Hit) got hit with a mortar barrage. They had no cover at all. Fifteen wounded; two dead. Sad.
Back to Fallujah
By Michael Fumento
It doesn't take very long out here to realize that you're not in Kansas anymore. After arriving at Camp Fallujah at 4 in the morning by Blackhawk from Baghdad's Green Zone, I had barely settled into my bunk in the transient tent when I heard the thump, thump, thump of outgoing artillery fire. Last year during my entire Fallujah embed I never heard a single round.
The military being the military, they arbitrarily decided my first embed would not be Ramadi as I requested but Fallujah again. But my tame little pussycat of a city from last May has sprouted long nails and teeth. Lots of people have returned to the city and tucked among them have been insurgents, along with terrorists from Syria, Saudi Arabia, and other countries. All want a crack at the infidels and their Iraqi lackeys. Further, U.S. troop strength is down from around 3,000 to 300 with Iraqi Army (IA) troops filling the vacuum. To the bad guys -- known by several names but I'll stick with "Mooj" for Mujahadeen -- that's an invitation to a party.
I later learned the artillery wasn't high explosive but rather illumination rounds called in to help fend off the largest Mooj attack this year in Fallujah. An Iraqi Army (IA) position called Operating Post 3 comprising about 80 IA and three Marines was stealthily enveloped on three sides by about 50 Mooj. The "Jundi," as the Iraqi soldiers like to be called, held off the attack with their AK-47 rifles and a couple of light machine guns. They only had to hold on for about 15 minutes for a Marine Quick Reaction Team to arrive, but in a war in which firefights often last a minute or two that was an eternity.
When the Marines did arrive they and the Jundi quickly switched to the offensive. For 17 hours they pursued the Mooj through the city, ultimately killing 18 and taking prisoners. One Jundi died with five Jundi wounded. What could have been an absolute disaster became, in this war of small actions and small arms, a stunning success. The Mooj will be licking their wounds for months to come.
On my second night in the area, in Karbala just northeast of the city, I was standing outside enjoying a beautiful moonlit night and watching the Jundi excitedly prepare for the arrival of a captured suspect terrorist. Suddenly I heard the brat-brat-brat of machine gun fire perhaps two miles away. Then all hell broke loose out there. I listened for awhile, then went inside to find out what was happening. It wasn't good.
Seven insurgents had attacked a checkpoint at a vital bridge over the Euphrates that I would later visit. The Jundi were already jumpy from having three rocket propelled grenades fired at them earlier in the day, two of which hit the bridge. They were now perhaps overeager now in returning fire from both the bridge position and an upper floor of a building near the bridge where they had more soldiers stationed. At some point the Mooj slipped out but in the meantime a Marine quick reaction force had arrived. The Marines, unfortunately, were unaware that it was Jundi on the bridge and took them under fire even as the Jundi started firing at the Marines.
The commander of the unit I was embedded with worked his walkie-talkie furiously to get both sides to cease fire. He succeeded just in time. The Marines were about to call in a helicopter gunship to fire up the "Mooj" on the bridge and in the building. Ultimately, although about 2,000 rounds had been fired off (300 Marine, 1700 Iraqi), nobody was hurt. No, it's definitely *not* like in the movies where it usually only takes one or two rounds to bring down a soldier. Unless a sniper is at work, it takes a lot of bullets to kill a man.
The next day on a two-hour foot patrol we heard another firefight and saw flares go up and smoke rising, though building blocked our view. I caught some of it on videotape and camera. Yet another firefight broke out fairly close to us but not close enough to hear. We moved towards it in case any escaping Mooj might come our way. None did. Now, even as I type this I'm told there's more shooting going on outside.
When I went back to Camp Fallujah to be handed over to another embed our Humvee broke down and while we were waiting for it to be fixed again there was the thumping of outgoing artillery. Finally we got to Camp India east of the city at 2 am, a medium-sized outpost. Exhausted, I quickly fell asleep only to be awakened by a number of loud explosions that sounded awfully close. They were. The Mooj had hit us with large (122 millimeter) mortars that flew over the camp and landed just outside. Very rude Mooj they were, but I got the better of them. I rolled over and went back to sleep.
Fighting in Ramadi
By Michael Fumento
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Arrival in Iraq
By Michael Fumento
Got to the Green Zone, now known as the "International Zone," at 4:30 a.m. The armored Rhino bus still only leaves once a night at staggered times, and this time it decided to leave really late. Until then I had been lucky, having caught a space available seat on a Royal Air Force C-130. But since that got me in a day early, apparently the Marines are not ready for me at Ramadi even though I told them I might be able to catch a space-A. I'm told I'll find out soon, which actually means right at the last minute.
The area around the airport has changed since last year. The first thing I noticed was blimps overhead. I'd heard that they were going to start using them, since they are much cheaper to use than UAVs and can stay up for long periods of time. An officer told me that the blimps are good at catching terrorists emplacing IEDs and setting up ambushes and have been used to call in fire if an ambush does occur. It's too bad we couldn't blanket the red parts of Iraq with them, but the cost would be horrendous.
Ugandans have also taken over security from the Iraqis and Georgians I saw last year. Judging by their smiles, they seem to be happy to be here. Of course, if you were from Uganda, why wouldn't you be? The area as a whole, comprising the airport and three camps, looks much more "relaxed" as it were in terms of wearing body armor and other hard-to-describe features. Shortly after the last time I was here a suicide bomber blew up a checkpoint relatively close to the airport. I don't think that's happening anymore.
Alas, inside the IZ my beloved Gurkhas are gone. Too expensive. They've essentially been replaced by Central and South Americans -- Peruvians, Hondurans, and the like. But again, this is a positive reflection in that the State Department no longer feels it needs to pay top dollar to the world's best mercenaries. It's too safe here for that. Even the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) appear to have been pushed out so they can fight, leaving guard duties to lesser soldiers.
There are about 45 embeds in Iraq right now, primarily the U.S. and U.K. From a chart I'm looking at now, there will be two other reporters at Ramadi when I'm there; one from CBS (though I assume he has a camera crew) and one from the AP. The great plurality, of course, are in Baghdad. As I blogged previously, it's a bit more comfy and safe staying right here. Besides, this is where almost all of the crowd-killing suicide bombing goes on.
To most reporters, the war comprises nothing BUT such attacks so why bother going with the troops and being where the fighting is? Never mind that Ramadi is probably supplying and training most of those suicide bombers. Such is the American journalist mentality.
AIDS in Africa Grossly Exaggerated? No!!!!
By Michael Fumento
The UN has finally admitted the African AIDS epidemic is far less severe than it's been claiming all along. It gives all sorts of wonderful reasons, but strangely enough I've been saying this since my AIDS book came out in 1990 and periodically updating it in my columns.
What did I know that the UN didn't? Or what did the UN know that it wouldn't let on?
Mike goes back to the sandbox
By Michael Fumento
On Wednesday, April 5, I depart for Iraq to become an embedded reporter with the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force, returning April 26. My sponsoring publication will be the Weekly Standard, but I will be paying all expenses. My station will be Ramadi, in the largest Sunni province called Al Anbar. It will be just down the block, so to speak, from my last duty station of Fallujah.
I will initially be with the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 28th Infantry Division (Army). After that I will be sent to "the Military Transitions Teams who live with, train and mentor the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF)." Generally they are led on patrols by two Americans.
I have chosen Ramadi because, while Baghdad gets all the attention since it's large and reporters congregate there because they can safely retreat to their Green Zone bars and hotels in the evening, Ramadi is actually the "hottest" spot in the country. It's the headquarters of Al Queda in Iraq and a way-station for foreign terrorists coming in from Syria. After the Battle of Fallujah, many of the survivors fled to Ramadi. I was scheduled to be embedded there part of the time on my last trip but got bumped by Ollie North and his crew.
If it sounds perverse to go to the most dangerous part of the country, that's the whole idea. That's where I'm most likely to see action or, conversely, at least be working with soldiers who have seen and will see action. That's where the news is; not behind walls and wire in Baghdad or in Shiite or Kurdish areas.
As to working with the ISF, again that's the most dangerous duty an embed can have not only because even the best ISF don't fight as well as Americans but because - to a great extent for that very reason - they're most likely to be attacked. It's what Bob Woodruff was doing when he suffered his misfortune. But while his luck was bad, his thinking was good. The future of this war is in the hands of the ISF.
It is an unfortunate fact that safety and getting the story are inversely related. Even the cliched advice I constantly get to "Keep your head down" can hardly apply when you're going as not just a journalist but a photographer. You can even fire weapons with your face in the dirt, but you cannot take photos.
All that said, I have been in physical training for this since January and am in the best shape I've been since my last foray. The part of my colon that ruptured last time and ended my trip has been removed and what's left is healthier than most people my age.
Regardless of whether it was right to invade, I believe we must win or be dealt a terrible setback in the war on terror. I also don't believe the media have the right to decide who wins and loses our wars. I have the training and the writing ability to make my little contribution to getting the truth out about our success (or failure) over there and I will use it.