Tuesday, July 24, 2007

The Enemy of My Enemy of My Enemy of My Enemy...

Fourteen months into this deployment and things are taking a turn for the surreal.

Throughout Mosul and Baghdad, we were fighting what could best described as an insurgent cocktail: parts of Islamic State of Iraq, Al Sadr’s Mahdi Army, 1920 Revolution Brigade and simple, pissed off farmers. Shia and Sunni. Organized militias and rag tags. All they had in common was a shared goal: a total withdraw of occupational forces.

Then it got a little complicated when we moved to Diyala Province, where the 1920 Revolution Brigade was already fighting Al Qaeda for the Diyala capital of Baqubah. To us, to 1920, and to Al Qaeda, Baqubah became the most important city in year four of the Long War. It housed the Al Qaeda network headquarters and was picked for a free-for-all Sunni insurgent cage match, a fight to the death to determine who would emerge victorious to battle the Americans and Iraqi Army in the future.

The 1920 Revolution Brigade (translated from "Brigades of the Revolution of the Twenty") takes its name from the 1920 crusade against British colonial rule. History, it seems, does have a way of repeating itself. The group picked the name to invoke nationalism in local Iraqis fed up with the Americans occupying. A good portion of them were members of Saddam’s regime at one point. Since they’re all Iraqi, they haven’t taken kindly to Al Qaeda, made up of mainly foreign fighters that terrorize neighborhoods and kill indiscriminately. They were natural enemies of 1920, who just wanted those pesky Americans to leave. Fighting with Al Qaeda took its toll. Before CNN broke the story, we had been cooperating for quite some time with members of the 1920 Brigade to flush out Al Qaeda members operating in Baqubah.

They came to us with a truce!

At the beginning of the year they claimed a series of downed helicopters, including the Blackwater Security chopper we responded to. They killed all four of the contractors point blank, one of them execution style and attempted to smuggle the bodies out before we got there. They responded by shooting at us with anti-aircraft guns from a high rise building. After talking with them, we found out they were present during the attack that killed my friend Chevy on March 14.

What must have been an awkward meeting turned into an agreement between coalition forces and 1920: they would stop attacking us if we helped them root out Al Qaeda. They would send one dude on patrol with us, and he’d point out Al Qaeda members and safe houses. They were restricted from carrying weapons during the day and would patrol at night. Things got off to a rough start. Now and again a helicopter would see a car full of gunmen and destroy it. They turned out to be 1920 members on more than one occasion. After we killed a dude with an AK, we always wondered if he was an unlucky Al Qaeda member or a really unlucky 1920 member. Most of us simply considered them a lesser enemy and didn’t care much when we killed our dubious friends by mistake. A common suggestion when we got a source was to “dispose” of him after he outlived his usefulness.

When word got out to the press that we were in cahoots with insurgents, it was spun out of control. General Mixon said something along the lines of “we can’t be sure they all have killed Americans.” Like there is an acceptable percentage of those who have blown an American soldier to pieces. I’m not sure of the opinion of the public at large for reasons that are obvious, but it seems to border on unacceptable. It says a lot about the progress of this war when we’re siding with one insurgent group to battle another. If Jack Bauer doesn’t negotiate with terrorists, why does the American army?

Lately, after leading us to an endless amount of empty Al Qaeda safe houses and supposed cache sites, the 1920 Brigade has gotten more perks since we started this nefarious relationship. They have started to patrol neighborhoods during the day, armed, contrary to the rules established. They take over a building and hold it as a base of operations, setting up concertina wire and giving us their location for our GPS systems so we don’t send a missile into the living room. And of course, we supply them with food and water. We have given them uniforms (yellow reflective belts) and a new name: Baqubah Guardians (or The Bee Gees). At least someone up there has a sense of humor.

After a few months of working with them, I’m still on the fence about the morality of the situation. On one hand, they have fought and killed us and hope to in the future when Al Qaeda is gone. On the other, they are more reliable then the squabbling, sloppy, lazy, sectarian and thieving Iraqi police and army. Our last hope of getting out of this country by the end of the decade is an efficient and professional military and police force. Renewed efforts of military transition teams to prop up credible army and police units have largely failed. We have to watch with suspicious eyes to prevent civilian abuse, looting and vaguely homosexual assault on detainees. We don’t even try to obstruct their cocaine use, which was apparent in Mosul when I saw piles of white powder on the desks at the police department. I declined an offer to sniff a line.

The only thing more impressive than the Shiite IA’s ability to beat the hell out of Sunni civilians is their inability to do anything on their own accord. They simply cannot conduct patrols without us, but 1920 reigns freely in the neighborhoods they operate in. In a few months they are confident in their ability to combat Al Qaeda with minimal help from us, and the IA refuses to do a thirty minute patrol alone. And we still refuse to take off the training wheels.

For now, our relationship with 1920 is one of mutual distrust and hatred, a sign of the times. A conversation between a member of my platoon and a 1920 source was rife with foreboding on the future of this partnership, and of the war to come.
“Do you want to kill me?” asked the soldier.
“Yes,” replied the source, coldly and without emotion. “But not today.”



Jeff said...

Welcome to Bizarro World! It's said that politics makes for strange bedfellows and also that war is the continuation of politics by other means (nod to von Clausewitz). Who could have foreseen that those two ideas would be twisted together in such a strange way?

I just hope that in some fashion a detente can be reached with the BeeGee's and they don't end up trying to shoot their new comrades in the back.

As usual, keen insight and concise writing keeps this blog one of the best ones out there (I'm not biased!)



Suz said...

I can only offer one perspective, that of an Army Mom. Mojo~ Keep eyes open & your head down, this shit scares crows feet, right into my face.
Please be careful and know I am sending prayers on the winds, for your safe return home to your family, but I already know, that your journey is to write (A LOT) when you get back!

God Speed

Andrew said...

i guess it gives new meaning to the phrase "The enemy of my enemy is my friend"! just make sure you don't have any of those sadistic ragheads watching your back, cause they are liable to let you or any other american eat a bullet.

Marco said...

Your dad was on the Hugh Hewitt show today with Dean Barnett. He mentioned your blog. I like it, and I'll be here regularly. You take care of yourself and yours, hear?

Matthew's Blog said...

Heard your dad on the Hugh Hewitt show thought I would stop by to check it out...Hey can I use some of your pictures to create a video for youtube? I think a lot of your pictures should be seen by more people...I will post your blogspot along with the photos.

Ladybug said...

Dear Sir,

Heard about your blog on Hugh Hewitt yesterday and am grateful to read firsthand perspective of the war. To you and all your fellow soldiers, my deepest thanks for all you do for us so we can sleep peacefully in our beds. May God watch over all our men & women in harm's way.
Take care!

Samantha Hagenston said...


You dont know me... I'm sure you have many comments like that. I'm Samantha... I have someone there with you... Tom Johnson. As in... hes from Ft. Lewis and all... I dont know where I'm going with this, but I want you to know that you're in my thoughts and prayers... and I promise if you hang in there... you will have that moment you dream of... getting off the plane, seeing lauren... You will have that. Keep your head down and your eyes up...

I hope to meet you on my potential visit to Washington in October. If you have a myspace, mine is www.myspace.com/forlornangel I would love to hear from you.

Love and Respect,
Samantha Hagenston

Anonymous said...

second post of yours I've read tonight.

seriously: good read.

Erik K. Gustafson said...

It's great to stumble across your blog. I've been following events in Diyala and talking with guys who have served there, but your posts offers a grunt’s eye view of recent months. No rose-colored glasses and lipstick on pigs. Just some stone cold honesty about serving in Diyala (easily among the most dangerous combat zones in Iraq this year) and the struggles to make sense of it.

Reading your post about your new comrades reminds me of the Iraqis who are also risking their lives, and raises a key question: why are the BeeGees outperforming the IA? One possible answer is pretty straight forward. They're locals, they care about protecting their own community, and consequently, they’re far more motivated.

Although not ideal for the very reasons you list, the BeeGees are not some poor out-of-towner who joined the IA to support his family and is just punching the clock for a paycheck. It's Ahmed from Baqubah and he’s pissed off that his friend was killed by ALQ for smoking a cigarette. When Ahmed goes on patrol, he's not in some strange city far from his home and family, he's in his own neighborhood protecting his own family, friends, and community. The dude is motivated.

Of course, before Paul Bremer’s colossally stupid Order No. 2, there may have once been an alternative to arming locals. Prior to being thrown out on the street, Iraq’s Army had about 400,000 soldiers. While there may have been some bad apples to pick out, that was a far better starting place than Year freakin’ Zero.

Having never served in the military or knowing what it’s like to cover your buddy’s back in combat, Bremer had no idea what we was disbanding in 2003. Militaries are not something you can build willy nilly. It takes decades to establish the institutions, sense of history, spirit de corps, and well trained commanders required for a professional military.

Even for one as flawed as Iraq's military was in 2003, Bremer’s biggest mistake was to take it for granted. It will take many years to rebuild what Bremer so arrogantly disbanded. Until then, local militias will continue to fill the gap. I’m glad your unit had some success in recruiting more of those militias to point their rifles at the real enemies of Iraq, ALQ and co., instead of our guys. Not much consolation especially with the loss of your friend, but hopefully it will help save some lives among the guys who serve in Diyala after your unit returns home.

R. Hegger said...

I got linked to this reading an online Economist article. Since the average person (that's me) is deprived of any insightful news of your efforts on our behalf in Iraq, reading one of your blogs makes up for the faux veneer we call American news. Thank you for both your service in uniform and your service to the truth.

I lived ten years in Saudi Arabia and I have only one thing to say: come home soon.

R. Hegger
Somers, Montana

Mark, London said...

Loved your blog man.
I've got a mate with English buddies in Iraq, and I hear their stories too. I've got a lot of respect for you, but I'm also really annoyed you have to risk so much for people who don't even want you there. The stories of incompetence and corruption seem to be universal - it's the same in Basra from what I've heard.

Ah what a fine mess Bush and co made for us all. Keep safe man.

Anonymous said...

Yes it is a huge mess today, but 15 years from now a rose will bloom in Iraq and Babylon will rise again.

Dileep said...

Great blog you have got here man. I got the link from an economist article. Thanks for a great read. Will come back for more.

Be safe.

Elrod said...

Great post. I wonder, though, what do the BeeGees think of the Shi'ite majority (and sizable Shi'ite population in Diyala)? It seems that that's more important than their opinion of us in the long run. Are they buying time and money from us for their war against the Shi'ite run government, or are they willing to accept minority status in Iraq going forward?

themorethingschange... said...

Fantastic. I've learned more about
Diyala from you than from any of the others I've known there.

I'm amazed and grateful your blog wasn't pulled and your voice silenced.

Two years from the time you wrote this we've learned how right your insights were.