A lot of you may wonder why I haven’t given a few more insights into what is going on in Iraq. I purposely don’t give out a whole lot of information or opinions due to the fact that I am in the military. Typically I fill the screen with funny anecdotes that give you a glimpse into the life of a modern soldier. However l will now try to provide you with a little glimpse of Iraq from my perspective. I don’t have a lot of expertise into what is going on in Iraq as a whole, just a glimpse into who they are as a people, what is going on in a little corner of northeastern Baghdad and where that little area is going.
The security situation in Iraq has undoubtedly improved remarkably over the past few years. The Iraq I heard stories about before my deployment is not at all the Iraq I saw. Most people did not want to kill us, most people were not afraid of the American soldier. Walking down the street giving people the warm greeting ‘Salaam Alaikum’, (I have no clue how to spell that Arabic phrase properly) which literally means the peace of God be with you, I often received kind smiles and offers to come in and drink some chai with them. However in many eyes were not merely kind smiles but hungry eyes. Americans have come to represent money and power to the impoverished people of northeastern Baghdad. Local shop keepers eye you greedly hoping for another round of free handouts of foreign money. The little children, covered in dirt and flith from the playing in the garbage that is everywhere, have learned well from their parents and driving past them in up armored HMMWVs they line up by the dozens, raise their hands in the air and shout, “Mister, Mister, Ball, Ball!” Unfortunately we have no balls to give the children and a few of the bolder ones, irate that they aren’t getting any free handouts, heave large rocks at our vehicles. And so it is, the Iraqi people want to use us for our power and money, but when we don’t cave to their greed, or some get nothing they attack our soldiers out of greed and anger.
The Iraqi people have some admirable qualities. They are usually warm and hospitable, family oriented. However in addition to greedy they are also lazy as a people. They literally have trash laying around all over their streets, flowing over parks and soccer fields, everywhere imaginable. They are quite enterprising when it comes to making a quick buck, but for the most part the protestant work ethic is the unthinkable to the Iraqi man. They keep their women indoors hidden behind veils, jealous that a stranger might so much as receive a kind smile from their daughters. As a people the Iraqis are amazingly resilient. Not very long ago a couple of car bombs went off at a traffic circle in Baghdad and killed over 150 innocent men, women and children. The Iraqis just took it in stride, it was as big of news in Baghdad as a major traffic jam is back in the states. However suffering through years of coups, followed by nearly three decades of Saddam Hussein, who from the many anecdotes I heard was a man evil on the order of Adolf Hitler, and now a brutal sectarian violence and insurgency has also made them extremely defeatist. The people are not concerned if their government is corrupt, after all what is so bad about a little corruption provided you get food on your table and you live to see another day?
Commonly when you try to schedule any sort of business with an Iraqi you hear the word, “Inshallah” which means if Allah wills it. That is the Iraqi people’s mindset and thus they are primarily reactive rather than proactive. They reason, “What use is it trying to stop the inevitable?” Yet as one of the principles of counter insurgency states, “sometimes their good enough is better than your perfectly executed operation” they have primarily taken over the security role in the part of Baghdad where I operated. They definitely aren’t perfect by our standards but they seem to be just barely good enough. When the security agreement went into effect that required us to stop actively operating within the city limits violence did not appreciably increase. Iraq will never be what I would consider a nice place, but for the Iraqi people, after six long years it seems that they have arrived at the point where they are good enough. Saddam is gone, the sectarian bloodshed has stopped, and now there is no use in our trying to Americanize their security forces or government anymore. Let them be Iraqi, whatever it is that that means.
Looking back on the time I spent in Baghdad the enduring mental image that I will take with me of the Iraqi people is one from a few weeks ago. We were driving through the dirty streets of one of the muhallahs (neighborhoods) we were responsible for just before sunset when the whole world takes on that golden glow. There was trash, shin deep, piled for six or seven feet along the mud walls that kept each families courtyard private. There were a few streams of mud flowing across the dirt streets because there was no sewer. An old man, in a tattered and dirty brown dishdasha (man dress) with a disheveled black checkered headdress was tending a dozen of the filthiest sheep ever seen and waiting for night to fall. He struck at bags of trash with his staff and strew the trash a little more so his sheep could find the choicest rotting vegetables because there was no pasture for them. As we passed him he glanced up, his brow furrowed with the wrinkles wrought by years of poverty and strife, and gazed at us with his tired brown eyes while we simply passed on by. And so is Iraq, a tired disheveled old man doing just enough to survive while we pass on by.