Tuesday, May 15, 2007

An imperfect world

In a perfect world, I wouldn’t be writing this right now. At this very moment, if we had not been extended, we would be convoying down to Kuwait in preparation for coming home. Our time would be spent cleaning vehicles and equipment. The unit replacing us would have been here for a few weeks already, and we would have shown them the ropes of this town. In a perfect world.

Instead, this comes to you on the two month mark of our move to Baqubah. Before we left Baghdad, we were promised one to two months up here, and we would be relieved. So we were extended on our extension. What is it with the military and outright lying? We’re grown ups. We can handle the truth.

For two months now we’ve been going full force. They have us, two companies of infantry, holding the most overtly violent city in Iraq. I don’t have the resources to find out, but there is something in the area of six brigades operating in Baghdad. It’s busting at the seams with soldiers. Whoever that guy is, the guy who sits in a big air conditioned room with a huge map on the table a la Dr. Strangelove, decided to send less than a battalion to a city that hasn’t had American forces walking around in almost a year. Baqubah has been held by a cavalry unit, which means they have no dismounts to clear houses or search for caches, just enough to man their Bradleys and Abrams. And even then, they were two companies strong as well. With that kind of manpower, Al Qaeda paraded through the streets at will. No, really. We captured a home video of a parade with about fifty Al Qaeda members holding their guns out the windows of cars riding down a street. Locals were cheering them on. Oh, those tired and poor, yearning for freedom.

The biggest mistake the government, the military and the American people made was deciding these insurgents were stupid farmers with rusty guns. For months, they have been sitting around a chalkboard doing the math on how big of a bomb it takes to completely destroy an Abrams tank, the biggest vehicle in our arsenal. Then they took the time to go out in the middle of the night, cut holes in the road with concrete saws, and drop several hundred pound bombs in the road. Next comes the concealment of the wire that can be hundreds of meters long, running up light poles up to rooftops connecting to batteries. There, a guy sits waiting and waiting until someone comes along. We have found several of these houses. They have chairs and beds on the roof, and a tea set for when they get thirsty. They’re waiting for an Abrams to roll by a bomb in the road that is practically invisible. But a Stryker rolls up instead. With enough explosives to destroy a fifty ton vehicle, what do you expect to happen when one weighing thirty tons less sits on it? Our sister company found out the other day.

You might have heard about the six soldiers and one Russian reporter that died when their Stryker hit one such bomb. They were on their way to investigate the actual site before it blew. They knew it was there. Beforehand, an Apache helicopter identified several men digging a hole in the road, putting something large in the hole, and running away. The pilot asked for clearance to shoot a Hellfire missile at them. It was the best catch a pilot can hope for: killing Al Qaeda and taking out a bomb at the same time. Once again however, our rules and tactics became a bigger enemy than any terrorist could. They were denied permission to fire repeatedly because of the possibility of collateral damage. In the sagacious words of Hurley from the TV show Lost, we looked in the face of the enemy and said ‘whatever man!’ So a dude on a rooftop watched through a little peephole in the brick wall, waiting for someone to come. They didn’t wait long. Our sister company, the only other one in the city, was sent to investigate the matter. They were ordered down a road that was barred from being driven on in the first place because it was so dangerous. I don’t think I have to go into details about what came next. A whole squad, save the driver, was no more. They didn’t die for Iraqi liberty or American freedom. They died for trial and error. They died because an officer somewhere didn’t want to fill out paperwork because some dude’s car might have been damaged in a missile strike. And if we were in a perfect world, they wouldn’t have died at all, because we wouldn’t be here in this city without an extension.

I talked about the biggest mistake we’ve made. The second was simplifying this conflict into an ‘us and them’ war. It’s really an us and them and them war. In Baghdad, we had our hands full with the 1920 Revolution Brigade, an extremist Sunni group competing with Al Qaeda for control in Iraq. They were the ones responsible for shooting down the Blackwater helicopter and likely the other military choppers that went down at the beginning of the year. Here, Al Qaeda has a presence so strong that 1920 cannot operate. They came to the Iraqi police and swore to stop fighting with coalition forces and to cooperate in finding Al Qaeda members operating in Diyala. One particular dude walked down the street with us, pointing out Al Qaeda members milling around. So now we’re in cahoots with dudes who shot anti-aircraft guns into our building, who executed at least one Blackwater pilot and killed the others. This isn’t an us and them war. It’s like the movie The Warriors, but I can’t dig it. If their plan to uproot Al Qaeda works, we’ll go back to fighting with 1920. At least at that point we won’t be civil war referees.

Recently, a general finally manned up and said we need reinforcements in Diyala. There simply aren’t enough guys to control it. Until now, it has been under Mussolini scrutiny. In Fascist Italy, it was said the trains always ran on time, even when they didn’t. Reports sent up here have said what a great job we’re doing and that our manpower was enough to overtake Baqubah. Those reports cost my friends their lives. The day Chevy died, there were Bradleys in front of him. They waited patiently for a Stryker to pass over triple stacked anti-tank mines to see what it would do to a Stryker. The most sophisticated Army in the history of the planet is getting torn up by fifty cents worth of wire and explosives made in a bathtub. We’re expected to intimidate a group of people who are begging to die as martyrs with laser guided bombs and low flying jets. If you shake a fist at a beehive, they’ll sting you regardless.

Yesterday while I watched over the same street where seven men lost their lives, a kid that lived in the house asked me, “Why you come Iraq?” I told him, because they told me to. I didn’t try to explain I was sent by a group of men who didn’t know what it was like to be stung. But we wouldn't go looking for the hive, in a perfect world.