(Editors Note: This letter is written by a Marine in Iraq. It is submiited by Carl Sundstrom, San Diego, California, Retired Captain U.S. Naval Intelligence).
Things have been pretty hectic since the end of hostilities and the start of the real war. Despite what the reporters in the press like to say over and over:
1) We did expect some armed resistance from the Ba'ath Party and Feydaheen;
2) It isn't any worse than expected;
3) Things are getting better each day, and
4) The morale of the troops is A-1, except for the normal bitching and griping.
My brief love affair with the press guys who had the courage to be embedded with the troops during the fighting is probably over, especially since we are back being criticized by the same Roland Headly types that used to hang around the Palestine Hotel drinking Baghdad Bob's whiskey and parroting his ridiculous B.S.
I'm in Baghdad now since SpOpComm 5 relocated here from Qatar. We came up in mid-June to help set up operation Scorpion and Sidewinder. It represents a major shift in tactics. Instead of being sitting ducks for the snipers, we now are going after them.
I'm no longer baby-sitting the pukes from CNN and the canned hams from the networks, but have a combat mission coordinating a bunch of A teams seeking, finding and rooting out the mostly non-Iraqis that are well-armed, well-paid (in U.S. dollars) and always waiting to wail for the press and then shoot some GI in the back in the midst of a crowd.
The only reason the GIs are upset (not demoralized) is that they cannot touch those taunting bags of gas that scream in their faces and riot on cue when they spot a camera man from ABC, BBC, CBS, CNN or NBC. Then they know the next nightly news will be about how chaotic things are and how much the Iraqi people hate us.
Some do hate us. But the vast majority don't, and more and more see that the GIs don't start anything, are by-and-large friendly and very compassionate, especially to kids and old people. I saw a bunch of 19-year-olds from the 82nd Airborne not return fire coming from a mosque until they got a group of elderly civilians out of harm's way. The Iraqis saw it, too.
A bunch of bad guys used a group of women and children as human shields. The GIs surrounded them and negotiated their surrender fifteen hours later and when they discovered a three year-old girl had been injured by the big tough guys throwing her down a flight of stairs, the GIs called in a MedVac helicopter to take her and her mother to the nearest field hospital. The Iraqis watched it all, and there hasn't been a problem in that neighborhood since. How many such stories, and there are hundreds of them, ever get reported in the fair and balanced press?
The civilians who have figured it out faster than anyone are the local teenagers. They watch the GIs and try to talk to them and ask questions about America and now wear wrap-around sunglasses, GAP T-shirts, Dockers (or even better Levis with the red tags) and Nikes (or Egyptian knock-offs, but with the "swoosh") and love to listen to AFN when the GIs play it on their radios. They participate less and less in the demonstrations and help keep us informed when a wannabe bad-guy shows up in the neighborhood.
The younger kids are going back to school again, don't have to listen to some mullah rant about the Koran ten hours a day, and they get a hot meal. They see the same GIs who man the corner checkpoint also help clear the playground, install new swingsets and create soccer fields. I watched a bunch of kids playing baseball in one playground, under the supervision of a couple of GIs from Oklahoma. They weren't very good but were having fun, probably more than most Little Leaguers.
The place is still a mess, but most of it has been for years. But the hospitals are open and are in the process of being brought into the 21st Century. The MOs and visiting surgeons from home are teaching their docs new techniques and one American pharmaceutical company (you know, the kind that all the hippies like to scream about as greedy) donated enough medicine to stock 45 hospital pharmacies for a year.
Safe water is more available. Electricity has been restored to pre-war levels but saboteurs keep cutting the lines. And the old Ba'ath big shots are upset because they can't get fuel for their private generators. One actually complained to General McKeirnan, who told him it was a rough world.
The MPs are screening the 80,000 Iraqi police force and rehabbing the ones that weren't goons, shake-down artists or torturers like they did in East Berlin, Kosovo and Afghanistan. There are dual patrols of Iraqi cops and U.S./U.K./Polish MPs now in most of the larger cities. Basra has 3.5 million inhabitants. Mosul is a city of 2 million. Kirkuk has 1 million. Most of hundreds of other small towns have not had riots or shootings.
The six U.K. cops were killed in a small Shiite town by the ex-cops they were re-habbing. According to a Royal Marine colonel I talked to, the town now has about twenty permanent vacancies in its police force. He's a big potato eater from Belfast named Huggins and knows how to handle terrorists after twenty years fighting with the IRA.
The MSNBC reported on the air that "dozens of GIs" were badly burned when two RPGs hit a truck belonging to an Engineer Battalion that was parked by a construction site. The truck was hit and burned, three GIs received minor injuries (including the driver who burnt his hand) and three warriors of Allah were promptly sent to enjoy their 72 slave girls in Paradise.
A mosque in Fallujah blew up this morning while the local imam, a creep named Fahlil (who was one of the biggest local loudmouths that frequently appeared on CNN) was helping a Syrian Hamas member teach eight teenagers how to make belt bombs. Right away the local Feyhadeen propaganda group started wailing that the Americans hit it with a TOW missile (If they had there wouldn't have been any mosque left!) and the usual suspects took to the streets for CNN and BBC. One fool was dragging around a bloody piece of tin, claiming it was part of the missile.
The cameras rolled and the idiot started repeating his story, then one of my guys asked him in Arabic where he had left the rag he usually wore around his face that made him look like a girl. He was a local leader of the Feyhadeen. We took the clown in custody and were asked rather indignantly by the twit from BBC if we were trying to shut up "the poor man who had seen his mosque and friends blown up."
I told the airy-fairy who the raghead was and if he knew Arabic (which he obviously didn't) he'd know he was a Palestinian. I suggested we take him down to the local jail and we'd lock him and his cameraman in a cell with the "poor man" and they could interview him until we took him to headquarters. They declined the invitation. Guess what played on the British Broadcasting System that evening? Did the Americans blow up a mosque? See the poor man who is still in a state of shock over losing his mosque and relatives? Yep. The Palestinian.
Our search and destroy missions are largely at night, free of reporters and generally terrifying to those brave warriors of Allah. The only thing that frightens them more is hearing the word "Gitmo". The word is out that a trip to Guantanimo Bay is not a Caribbean vacation and they usually start squealing like little mice when an interrogator mentions "Gitmo". No wonder the International Red Cross, the National Council of Churches and the French keep protesting about the place. They know it has proven to be very effective in keeping several hundred real fanatical psychopaths in check and very frankly would rather see them cut loose to go kill some more GIs or innocent Americans just to make W. look bad.
We have about 200 really bad guys in custody now and probably will park them in the desert behind a triple roll of razor wire, backed up by a couple of Bradleys pointed their way if they decide to riot. The more we go after them and not vice-versa, I think we will see the sniper attacks go down. Yeah, they'll get lucky now and then, but it's showtime.
Our first objective is to get the die-hards off the street (or make them too scared to come out in them) and destroy their caches of weapons (we have collected more than 227,000 AK-47s and that is only the tip of the iceberg.
We must continue to get public services up and running so the local families can get water, sewage and garbage service, electricity, public transportation, oil fields and refineries working and a dinar that won't halve in value every month.
It's going to be a long haul (remember it took 10-15 years in Japan and West Germany) but if we don't stick with it, nobody else will, and we'll have some other loony running the place again.This place has greater potential than Saudi Arabia or Iran.