November 27, 2007
An Edgy Calm in Fallujah
FALLUJAH, IRAQ – “You're probably safer here than you are in New York City,” said Marine First Lieutenant Barry Edwards when I arrived in Fallujah. I raised my eyebrows at him skeptically. “How many people got shot at last night in New York City?” he said.
“Probably somebody,” I said.
“Yeah, probably somebody did,” he said. “Somewhere.”
Nobody was shot last night in Fallujah. No American has been shot anywhere in Fallujah since the 3rd Battalion 5th Marine Regiment rotated into the city two months ago. There have been no rocket or mortar attacks since the summer. Not a single of the 3/5 Marines has even been wounded.
“The only shots we've fired since we got here are warning shots,” said Lieutenant J.C. Davis. Another officer didn't agree. “We haven't even fired warning shots,” he said. “It's too dangerous.”
It's dangerous because anti-American sentiment still exists in the city, even though it is mostly passive right now. It isn't entirely passive, however. Someone has been taking pot shots at Americans. A few days ago somebody threw a hand grenade at Marines. Two weeks ago an insurgent was caught by Iraqi Police officers while planting an IED near the main station. He freaked out, accidentally connected the wires, and blew himself up. “That's what he gets,” Private Gauniel said.
Destruction in Fallujah as seen from inside a Humvee
Even so, almost all patrols in the city are routine and uneventful affairs.
“We've got it quiet all the way up to our boundary line,” said Lieutenant Edwards. “But it's stalling as you get closer to Baghdad. I don't know who is on the other side over there. But the tribe that lives in that area doesn't stop at our imaginary boundary line. The tribe keeps going toward Baghdad. We don't know why the insurgency is still active because we're not operating there.”
You can't get a picture of Iraq as a whole from embedded reporters. It just isn't possible. When I'm with an Army or Marine unit I'm mostly aware of what's right in front of me, somewhat aware of what goes on generally in their area, and no more informed about the rest of the country than anyone else.
In July of 2007 I reported that my corner of Baghdad – in Graya'at, near Adhamiya – was quiet. It was, and I meant that literally. I spent a week there outside the wire with the 82nd Airborne, and I saw no violence whatsoever. I heard a single (very loud) car bomb from three miles away, but there was no other indication that I was in a city at war.
Last week I spent a mere eight hours in the Green Zone waiting for a helicopter flight to Fallujah. I lolled on the grass just outside the Iraqi Parliament building, about one hundred feet from the Red Zone, and heard a series of gunshots on the other side of the wall, followed by police sirens. The Iraqi Police responded to the violence as they should – by driving toward it, not by hiding or running away from it. Sadly, that counts as progress in Baghdad. But the sounds of gun fire continued without let up for another hour and a half. I have no idea who was shooting at who. The Americans at the Green Zone outpost didn't know either. The Peruvians guarding the gates shrugged when I asked if they knew what was happening. “Hay muchas problemas,” one said. “Es Baghdad.”
Baghdad is supposedly only half as violent as it was when I spent my quiet week inside the city, but it is still very dangerous. The trend lines are going in the right direction, but anything can still happen anywhere at any time. It remains a city at war.
Fallujah is different.
None of the Marines I've spoken to are nervous while walking the streets. “Complacency kills” is the new catchphrase in Fallujah, and it's drummed into the heads of the Americans here every day. The Marines may not have yet won the war in this city, but it sure is starting to look like it. The insurgency in Fallujah is over.
Fallujah is so close to Baghdad it is almost a suburb, though technically it belongs to Anbar Province. Even so, I have heard almost nothing about the Anbar Awakening here. I've always thought of Fallujah as a place unto itself. The locals and the Marines think of it that way, as well. Ramadi is the real city of Anbar. Fallujah is Fallujah.
Whatever else you might say about Fallujah, it's an original. For decades it has been the infamous bad boy city in Iraq.
Author Bing West describes the place this way in No True Glory: A Frontline Account of the Battle for Fallujah. “Ask Iraqis about Fallujah, and they roll their eyes: Fallujah is strange, sullen, wild-eyed, badass, and just plain mean. Fallujans don’t like strangers, which includes anyone not homebred. Wear lipstick or Western-style long hair, sip a beer or listen to an American CD, and you risk the whip or a beating.”
“Saddam rewarded Fallujah with money and recruited his secret police and fedayeen from here,” Lieutenant Edwards said. “Now it is powerless.” It was also the backbone of the insurgency before it slagged off. Ramadi was the capital of Al Qaeda's so-called “Islamic State in Iraq. But Fallujah was, as the lieutenant put it, Al Qaeda's first club house.
It isn't nearly as dangerous anymore. I would be foolish to say it is safe. You would not want to come here on vacation even if the Iraqi Police would let you inside its walls – and they won't if you don't live here and have the proper ID.
Earlier this year the police set up checkpoints outside the city where they refuse entry to everyone without a Fallujah resident sticker on the windshield of their car. Even residents who have the permit can only drive on designated streets. Every neighborhood has been sectioned off from the others with concrete barriers and checkpoints.
Fallujah is known as the City of Mosques. It is also a city of walls.
“Today we're going to a place where we've seen some small arms fire,” Lieutenant Colonel Chris Dowling said before I joined him on a dismounted foot patrol in a neighborhood called Dubat. “Earlier in the week one of the patrols was attacked with a hand grenade and small arms fire,” he said. “And last night there was small arms fire again. A single shot. That makes it even more interesting. Why only a single shot?”
Lieutenant Colonel Chris Dowling
“Was it a sniper round?” I said.
“I don't know,” he said. “This was last night at 1:30. The company commander went through this morning and I want to follow up so they can see the situation has my concern. We'll talk to people. In Iraq everybody knows everybody. So they'll figure that one out real quick.”
He also wanted to check out the market.
“Iraqis don't normally drink coffee,” he said. “But we're told there's a guy now selling coffee. So we're going to find out why he's selling coffee and who is drinking the coffee.”
Lots of Arabs drink coffee, but he's right that Iraqis do not. They have a tea culture here. Are there foreigners here buying the coffee? Fallujah is a closed city. They aren't selling it to tourists from Morocco or Lebanon.
The colonel goes out on patrol with his men every week. He also goes to city council meetings regularly.
“He no longer has a place at the table,” Lieutenant J.C. Davis said. “He is only there as an advisor if they need him.”
“What was his role before?” I said.
“Basically, mayor,” he said.
The colonel said he wanted to minimize the presence of Marines.
“I'd like to see the convoys stop going through Fallujah,” he said. “I'd rather go around Fallujah. I want to hand the city back over.”
The former insurgency in the city had many causes, not the least of which was the perception that Americans were here to be an oppressor. Now that security has been restored, the Marines are pulling back hard.
“When you go on night patrols you'll see people playing dominoes in the middle of the night,” Colonel Dowling said. “I'm not scooting 'em because it's 23:00 and they're supposed to be inside their doors. I'm out saying Hey, have some tea. Are you sleeping outside tonight? Please be safe. Those are the things a typical neighborhood cop would say. And that's what I want to show them. I'm not shaking them down. I'm not kicking in doors. I'm not demanding information. I'm not taking over their house to use for a sniper. I'll knock politely, and if they don't want me in the house, we don't go in the house.”
“Do you get attitude from people sometimes when you do that?” I said.
“I don't get attitude for that,” he said. “But sometimes I'll see someone on the street who gives me the stink eye. And I'll stop that person on the street. I'll say, hey, why are you upset? I'll never attack him for giving me a dirty look. I'll say You seem upset, what's the matter? He'll usually say I'm not upset. Or sometimes he'll say I just woke up.” He laughed. “Then I'll spend five or ten minutes with the guy and try to change his perception of a U.S. Marine and remind him what it was like a year ago, five months ago.”
We walked toward our waiting convoy of Humvees. Most patrols in the city are conducted out of small security stations in the various neighborhoods, but the colonel works at Camp Baharia outside the city. We would first have to drive in.
“We need to get you some gloves,” he said as we loaded up our gear. “In case there is an explosion.” At Camp Fallujah I saw gruesome photographs of the hands of Marines who survived explosions and who didn't wear gloves. The colonel did not need to convince me.
No one suggested I wear gloves when I embedded with Army units. Nor had it ever occurred to me.
The drive into Fallujah from Camp Baharia took us through a dreary landscape of what the Marines and soldiers call “moon dust,” the finely grained grit that covers and blows all over everything in Western Iraq. You can't touch anything or even go outside in this country without getting it all over you.
Before crossing into Fallujah we passed the checkpoint that keeps non-resident vehicles out. Just past the checkpoint was a sign written in Arabic: Welcome to Fallujah. A Terrorist-Free City.
Brand new solar-powered street lights line the main roads. Now that insurgents no longer sabotage the electrical grid, Fallujah gets around twelve hours of electricity a day on average. (It used to be a lot less.) Getting street lights permanently off the electrical grid not only frees up power for televisions and air conditioners, it prevents the city from going dark even when the power is out. The Marines plan to have every street lit up with solar power in two years. Sunlight in this country is a terrible punisher for almost half the year, but it makes solar power almost a no-brainer, especially since the electrical system is already broken.
Iraq's Third World electrical system is partly disabled by Iraqi incompetence. When a transformer blows, everyone manually moves their wires to another transformer, which then in turn blows, and so on in a domino effect that never ends.
Just inside this overwhelmingly Sunni city is the Blue Mosque, which is Shia.
The mosque was aligned with Moqtada al Sadr's radical Mahdi Army militia until the Marines said it would be kept off the aid list if the imam didn't drop his support for jihad. So the mosque came over the coalition side.
We dismounted from our Humvees and walked along the main street in the market area. Colonel Dowling struck up conversations with random Iraqis as we went. Most of the talk was just casual chit chat, but he did mention the hand grenade that was thrown at Marines. He wanted to make sure the locals knew they had his attention.
If anyone knew who threw it, they didn't say anything. The Iraqis did, however, voice their complaints. Many groused about the government in Baghdad. Fallujah was an important city when Saddam Hussein was in power. It's not anymore. Ramadi is the capital of this province, in fact now as well as in name, but even that city is neglected by the central government.
One Iraqi wildly gesticulated while denouncing the “crazy countries,” Syria and Iran, for fomenting violence in his. The colonel listened with sympathy.
He cuts an intimidating personality on base when interacting with Marines, as colonels often do. With Iraqis, though, he seemed more like a jovial grandpa and a bit of a do-gooder type. I don't think it was for show. He's a professional, and he adjusts his behavior as needed.
Our interpreter's name was Al. He is originally from Cairo, but he lives now in Las Vegas and is an American citizen. Before he moved to Las Vegas he lived in Baghdad. He prides himself on his knowledge of Iraqi Arabic and his ability to speak it mostly without an accent and blend in as an Iraqi himself.
Later an old Iraqi man dressed in a sharp Western suit figured out where he was from. “You are Egyptian,” he said.
This man busted our interpreter Al
“You're busted, Al,” I said and laughed.
Fallujah looks filthy to my eyes, but the city is apparently a lot cleaner than it recently was. The Marines hire local day laborers to clean up the dump sites around town. Ramadi looked worse in August than Fallujah does now, but both are less trash-strewn than they were. There was no garbage collection during the insurgency. Security isn't everything in Iraq, but none of these cities can function properly without it.
New orange dumpsters have been set up every couple of blocks on the streets. The trash is picked up once a week by a Fallujah garbage collection company. Iraqis aren't used to dumpsters, and they have to be told what they're for. Some willingly dispose of their trash inside. Others, out of sheer habit and carelessness, still hurl their refuse onto sidewalks and into gutters and empty lots.
There is no getting around it: this place is ugly, and not only because of the garbage. The streets are dusty as well as filthy. There aren't many trees. The architecture is brutal. Almost every house crouches behind a wall. The Marines have blocked off a huge number of streets with barbed wire and Jersey barriers. There are no nice restaurants and only a handful of the most basic stores. I've only seen one tea shop so far, and there is only one bar in the entire city, somewhere out there next to an empty building with no sign telling citizens what is inside. 99 percent of the people you see outside are men. Fallujah looks like a stern Islamic garrison city.
The Marines know it, too. They feel bad about their own contribution to its hideousness, so they paid local artists a good bit of money to paint murals on the barriers and the walls.
The city may be hyperconservative, but that does not mean it is radical. At least it's not anymore. Several children ran up to me and, after asking for candy and pictures, said “There are no terrorists in Fallujah.”
It isn't quite true that there are no terrorists in Fallujah. As the colonel said, somebody threw a hand grenade at Marines just a few days before. Technically that was an act of guerrilla war rather than terrorism. But the line between guerrillas and terrorists is a thin one in Iraq. Often times the very same individuals who detonate IEDs beneath Humvees also explode car bombs in civilian markets.
Just a few days ago, eleven people were rounded up and detained. I don't know if they were foreigners or Iraqis, and I don't know why they were arrested. That information is classified. But it happened. Total security is impossible in any country, and especially in a place like Iraq. In Fallujah, though, it is about as good as it can possibly be while the insurgency still grinds on elsewhere.
“My number one concern remains security,” Colonel Dowling told me. “My number two concern is education. I want the schools to be filled with kids. I want the schoolhouse teaching good information.”
“Is anybody monitoring the content of their education?” I said.
“No,” he said.
This surprised me. Schools in some parts of the Middle East are ideological indoctrination factories. I don't know if this has been a problem in Fallujah or not, but someone should know.
“I ask questions about ABCs,” the colonel continued. “I'll go out there and see kids run up to me and they'll just start reciting the ABCs. Or they'll whip out their English books and they'll start reading their English books to me.” I saw the same thing in Ramadi in August. “If I can get these folks to start speaking English, they really will be the bright future for Iraq.”
“When I asked about the curriculum,” I said, “I meant the politics.”
“I don't think they're doing that anymore,” he said.
“You know what I mean?” I said.
“Yeah,” he said. “They're not...the imams understand what we're trying to do right now.”
He sounded confident, but he also said no one was checking. The Marines do, however, have fluent Arabic speakers listen to what gets said in the mosques.
“I make sure that my chaplain is out talking to the imams,” he continued. “He goes out once a week and sits and talks to them about religion, values, orphanges, things like that. They see a different perspective from him than they do from the typical Marine. They see that we're very quick to help the poor, and that we'll readily give the shirt off our backs, particularly the Marines. And we back it up. I go to a school once a week just to see what's going on, and I've never heard any anti-coalition messages or anything like that. My Marines have never heard anything bad coming from the loudspeakers of the mosques. They either say coaltition forces are helpful, or a proverb, a direction on how to lead your life, or Thank God for the Iraqi Police. I prefer to hear a proverb and just erase or eliminate discussing anything about coalition forces, either good or bad.”
Aid for mosques is dependent on imams pitching jihad over the side, but the Marines don't force a point of view on the Iraqis. Still, the colonel's preference for no pro-coalition messages was counter-intuitive.
“Why would you not want the imams saying something good?” I said.
“They can do it inside the mosque,” he said, “but I don't need them to announce it. I would rather have normalcy added back to their lives, so they can go back to the way they were 20 years ago or 40 years ago. That's what I'd like to see.”
The U.S. is winning in Iraq right now, but losing in Afghanistan. (American conventional wisdom is terribly out of date in both countries.) Lots of the Marines I've spoken to here want to wrap up their mission and move on to the hotter, more pressing, battlefield. If all goes as well as they hope, the build-up in troops this year means fewer will be needed next year.
“The biggest thing we've got going for us is the surge,” said Lieutenant Edwards. “You've probably read about it or heard about it on television.”
“Yeah,” I said and laughed. I witnessed and covered the surge myself in July and August.
“Has it helped us?” he said. “Extremely. What we can do is we can go in, knock out the enemy forces, and still leave forces there to remain and hold security down. We can then take our own forces, develop the Iraqi forces so that they can hold their own spot, then we can move to another one.”
The Marines have an extra 1,000 troops in the Fallujah area this year, but they aren't in the city. There are far fewer Marines here now than there were.
“We went from having 3,000 Marines in the city last year to down around 300 now,” the lieutenant said. “Maybe 250.”
“So you didn't surge Marines into the city,” I said.
“No,” he said. “We surged Marines around Fallujah. We either capture and kill AQI [Al Qaeda in Iraq], or they move out. If we don't kill or capture them, they move somewhere else. They avoid Fallujah now like it's the plague.”
“Even though there are only a tenth as many Marines?” I said. “Are they afraid of the Iraqis?”
“They're afraid of the Iraqis,” he said. “That's what's holding this place down. It's the citizens and the Iraqi forces. We're here as an overwatch in case something happens, but they're holding their own. They're holding their own security in the sense that if you fail, you fail your family and you fail your tribe. That's humiliating for them, and it is not going to happen.”
As in Baghdad and Ramadi, children mobbed me everywhere I went on the street. They ran up to the Marines and asked for “chocolate,” which to them means any kind of candy at all. They also asked me for chocolate, but they also wanted me take pictures. “Mister! Mister! Sura!
Lieutenant Colonel Chris Dowling beats an Iraqi boy in a thumb wrestling contest while our interpreter Al looks on.
Sura!” (sura means picture, I guess). Some wanted money.
Some Marines like to say “You give me money!” when the kids are particularly aggressive. The kids usually laugh and back off, understanding the point and not taking offense. I tried it myself and one kid actually pulled some cash out of his pocket and handed it over. “No, no, I was just joking,” I said. Occasionally an Iraqi adult took pity on my and shooed the kids away so I could photograph something else.
Two nicely dressed men saw Colonel Dowling and bolted. “Hey!” he said in a friendly tone of voice. They froze and approached us warily, pretending to be friendly. The colonel chatted them up with some small talk, apparently to show them that the Marines are not (necessarily) out to get them. After a few minutes the colonel let them go with an amiable “see you later.” The two men moved away from us as quickly as they could without actually running.
“Public opinion is split about 70-30,” Lieutenant Davis said. “About 70 percent are with us to an extent, though they do want us to leave eventually. 30 percent want us to leave now, but they oppose us passively. I recently met a guy at the market who speaks pretty good English, and he made it very clear he wants us out of his country for good, and he wants us out now.”
As we walked back toward the Humvees, a strung-out drug addict walked up behind Colonel Dowling and wildly waved a syringe in his hand. One of the Marines disarmed him, crouched, and bent the needle backwards on the sidewalk. He sealed it up in a plastic bag and brought it back to Camp Baharia for analysis.
“So what did you think?” the colonel said as we headed back to the base.
“It reminds me a bit of Ramadi,” I said.
“Ramadi is better than here,” he said.
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Posted by Michael J. Totten at November 27, 2007 06:56 AM
We're here as an overwatch in case something happens, but they're holding their own. They're holding their own security in the sense that if you fail, you fail your family and you fail your tribe. That's humiliating for them, and it is not going to happen
Yeah, as long as they see the terrorists as the enemy.
When "holding their own" means attacking the Marines to them, you've got a problem.
But I think the Iraqis are slowly learning who the real enemy is. Just wish it was faster.
One minor quibble, the surge in NYC is also working so I think New Yorkers are safer. While there will be ~500 total murders this year, fewer than one person per week will be killed by a stranger. Don't think Iraq/Baghdad does that well yet.
See: New York Times
Thanks for the update on Fallujah. It is very encouraging that things are improving there.
I am concerned at the comment that we are losing in Afganistan. Is there some site/source you can recommend where we can get more information on the situation there?
"“Iraqis don't normally drink coffee,” he said. “But we're told there's a guy now selling coffee. So we're going to find out why he's selling coffee and who is drinking the coffee.”
Lots of Arabs drink coffee, but he's right that Iraqis do not. They have a tea culture here. Are there foreigners here buying the coffee? Fallujah is a closed city. They aren't selling it to tourists from Morocco or Lebanon."
Not to be a jerk, but I hope revealing this was approved by the LTC? Or does the "embargo" on this post mean that they've already completed their investigation?
The Thunder Run has linked to this post in the - Web Reconnaissance for 11/27/2007 A short recon of what’s out there that might draw your attention, updated throughout the day...
Kenneth Noisewater: Not to be a jerk, but I hope revealing this was approved by the LTC?
Too late. I now know that Iraqis drink tea--not coffee. I won't tell anyone, though. Promise.
Mike, in future don't give out classified info like this.
Solar powered street lights! My town doesn't have solar powered street lights.More of our money down the drain.
That guy selling coffee is in trouble-I hear Starbucks leased the building next to his.
Thanks for the report, Michael.
Great report. It induced me to hit blogpatron with another donation. Keep up the good work and stay safe.
the solar-powered lights make perfect military sense. It is not as easy to plunge the city into darkness, if each lamppost has its own source of electric power. The insurgents would have to bomb a lot of targets simultaneously.
With grid-powered lights, it is possible to knock off a vital part of the system and darken the whole neighbourhood with one bomb.
IMHO, a single solar-powered light is probably still cheaper than a single piece of intelligent ordnance - and lasts longer :-)
To a different tone: just finished reading "House to House" by David Bellavia. It was worth the money and the time.
This guy is a genius of war literature. Reminds me of Erich Maria Remarque.
Edger: "Too late. I now know that Iraqis drink tea--not coffee.I won't tell anyone,though.Promise."
Chai tea to be exact.
Oops, more top secret info leaked to the public.
Maybe I should get a job with the CIA or the NYT!
I can't even remember how many times you've been scolded for "leaking classified information." (Though come to think of it, it wasn't always as sensitive as Iraqis' tea-or-coffee preferences).
I'd consider it a first-degree offense, personally. At best, people are calling you an idiot (for carelessly giving the enemy information) or at worst, a traitor (for deliberately helping the enemy).
Gotta love how average joe back home cries that he's not being told enough about what's going on in the war, and we're being duped. Then when someone tells us even a shred of information, even a mundane detail about tea or coffee preference, the messenger is branded a traitorous idiot. Oh well, I guess it comes with the territory of pandering to particular groups of people.
JD: the messenger is branded a traitorous idiot
I think that would be valid when your friend tells you he hooked up with one of your ex-s.
Great work as always.
Intersting comment about Afghanistan. Any plans to head there next? I'll be deployoing to Afghanistan next year, so if you can make it, I'd happily show you around!
Michael, Looks like the NY Times is linking to you (from here) Hope this brings your great work some addiitonal exposure!
Kenneth: Not to be a jerk, but I hope revealing this was approved by the LTC?
Knock this shit off. I am serious. Every time I publish an article from Iraq, somebody tries to bust my chops and say I'm revealing info that I'm not supposed to. You don't know what in the hell you're talking about. You don't. You really don't, so stfu.
This was from an on-the-record tape-recorded interview.
When I'm not supposed to reveal something, I don't reveal it.
Do you feel a twinge of disappointment arriving in these areas after they're pacified, and things are routine and uneventful (relatively), or just relieved to be safe?
Hope this isn't an overly personal or obnoxious question. Never having been a journalist myself, I'm curious.
Don't joke about getting a Starbucks in Iraq unless you can deliver a Starbucks in Iraq!
Seriously, I have to live there without decent coffee for weeks at a time. I think part of why Michael is embedding now is because he's sure he can get decent coffee with the military!
You people aren't serious are you?! You know what I think... all non Iraqis' will read this story and now start drinking tea! Yea, that makes perfect sense. All insurgents from other countries start drinking tea and we'll never find another insurgent again! You people are sad, esp. for a supposed doctor...please.
Keep up the great stories Michael!
The day anyone with authority or credibility questions the security of what MJT posts, I will worry about it. At least no one has accused him of marking Al the interpreter for death by showing him in this post yet. I am not sure whether it is arrogance, ignorance, or malice, which leads to these kinds of accusations. I am with you Edgar, this kind of stuff is right up there with questioning MJT’s credibility. And what the heck was the ‘embargo’ comment about? Huh? What am I missing?
I wonder how long before the "Foolish man, they only showed you what they wanted you to see!" BS starts rolling in.
The American coffee franchise in Iraq seems to be Seattle's Best. The have car mugs with "Seattle's Best Coffee, Iraq" printed on them. But, I'm told there isn't any franchise set up in Fallujah. Bummer!
Oh, I hope that wasn't classified info!
My experience with Michael is that he chooses places where he has a good chance of reporting the story he covers. Live firefights are great material as far as they go, but you have to be alive afterwards to make something of it. The development of Michael's understanding of combat odds has allowed him to go places that have a higher appearance of risk.
The thing is that the first time you go someplace moderately risky, it is scary as hell. Your heart is racing, you sweat, you flinch at any stimulus, and the problem is in your head. Understanding the difference between real risk and psychological stress is a critical part of doing the job.
Nevertheless: before enlightenment, don't talk to your wife about buying body armor; after enlightenment, don't talk to your wife about buying body armor.
MarcC: Do you feel a twinge of disappointment arriving in these areas after they're pacified, and things are routine and uneventful (relatively), or just relieved to be safe?
Every day I am tempted to ditch this gig and go back to Baghdad. But I am the only journalist in all of Fallujah (according to the Public Affairs office). I feel a sense of obligation to the place now. I'm also trying to resist "if it bleeds, it leads," but honestly, it is difficult.
I'll go back to Baghdad later.
MJT: But I am the only journalist in all of Fallujah
Oh, that's just great. You've indirectly told the journalist-targeting jihadis where to find all the other reporters!
Please send this stuff through a censor first.
Thanks again for another interesting look at Iraq from the streets. If you keep this up, you'll have a permanent lock on the Middle East weblog awards.
The local unemployment rate and its direction offers the best forecast for whether Fallujah remains peaceful. The old adage, "idle hands are the devil's playground," rings true especially here. Northern Ireland's "troubles" were resolved more by Ireland's booming economy than by diplomacy. Conversely, al Qaeda got its start when the Saudi economy entered its own Great Depression in the mid '80's following the collapse in oil prices.
Given this fact, what estimates can you provide us on Fallujah's unemployment rate and its direction? Do the boarded-up stores, relatively vacant streets and uncleared destruction shown in your pictures present a fair representation of the local economy? What efforts has the government made to restart factories and provide at least WPA-type jobs? Does the LTC monitor local economic indicators as he does imams?
Stay safe and don't let your guard down.
Tea? More like pure sugar with with a little hot tea colored water added to liquify it.
We need good people like you telling us about the real stories, not the sound-and-light shows. Keep up the good work.
"Seriously, I have to live there without decent coffee for weeks at a time. I think part of why Michael is embedding now is because he's sure he can get decent coffee with the military!"
Forget Starbuck. If you want good coffee or tea you are in the right place already. Starbuck? Are you kidding?
This was a terrific article, like all of your other articles. Keep safe.
It appears you are not the only reporter/blogger in Fallujah after all; you have competition from the ranks of the US Marines with whom you are embedded. Check out their most recent story, a rather endearing one, at the link below. Frankly, I am very impressed by the author's journalism skills. He definitely had other employment options than just the US military, as the main stream media and John Kerry would have us believe.
MJT, have you noticed any difference in the relationship that Army vs Marine units have with Iraqis?
You need to make clones of yourself so that you can be in Lebanon, Kurdistan and Afghanistan also :)
Hopefully the comments will stay at an acceptable level of discourse; hate it when there are none but not as much as when it is composed primarily of trash comments.
The preceding comment is a sock puppet and not written by me.
I've been offline all afternoon and I did not write it.
Michael, if you get a moment, please ban the IP that 4:56 PM post came from.
Exactly why the idiot who posted it thought it would pass eludes me. I have never claimed to be the Moderator, I never capitalize the word "Iraq", and the actual Moderator has never claimed to be me. Leave the post up, though. It's an example of egregious behavior.
FOXNEWS.com is linking you also. Even had you as a front pager.
I like your writing but the pictures of the children really give me the sense that this was the right course to take all along. It would seem the Solders and Marines think that also or they wouldn't be so dedicated to a strangers plight.
Take care, God bless and keep the faith(in humanity).
Chris Dowling? One eyebrow, over both eyes? Sloping forehead? Looks like the missing link? Think I know him, we were at Infantry Officers' Course together, back in '89 as 2nd Lts. Good to see he's doing well. Please pass him my regards if you get the chance.
Patrick, I spent quite a few years in the Army but I don't remember ever having a good cup of coffee. Hot coffee, yes. A lot of coffee, yes. But good coffee? You really are in a bad way!
Edgar, was that your syringe they took? You seem a bit wired.
Michael, good article, it was thought provoking for me, in my armchair expert sort of way. This article on Fahlujah is worth far more than just another fire dog report out of Bahgdad.
The American coffee franchise in Iraq seems to be Seattle's Best. The have car mugs with "Seattle's Best Coffee, Iraq" printed on them. But, I'm told there isn't any franchise set up in Fallujah.
Starbucks bought SBC about 4 years ago.
The funny thing is that the people most likely to make jokes about 'Charbucks' around here seem to prefer... SBC.
ps: sockpuppetry is so 2002.
It appears that Michael is better at selecting units than you were, or perhaps the people serving in Iraq have decided to invest their bonus money in something that really matters. He told me about spending time in a TOC with two pots: joe and good coffee. The joe pot was mostly full and the "foofy" coffee was heavily used.
This summer I did an Annual Training with a unit that did not really care about coffee. I'm still traumatized over six months later. Seriously, good coffee indicates a good unit. If they have things under control enough to be drinking good coffee, they have everything that matters under control.
Looks like comments are on the way out again.
The worst thing about this place - and most other places - is the relentless lynch mobbing. I'm sure Mike Totten didn't endanger anyone by publishing information about tea and coffee, but there's no good reason to assume that someone else will know that. Regular commenters get more irritated in a linear fashion when the same question is asked repeatedly, and their behavior changes in response, but it's not the same people asking the question.
Part of dealing with the public is dealing over and over and over with the same knee-jerk assumptions. It doesn't make the people who ask the questions malicious or trolls. It just makes them uninformed. If you don't like uninformed people, get off public forums and hang out with your informed friends.
The constant suggestions to ban people in comment forums is like the constant suggestions to "loose the restraints" in counterinsurgency - and equally self-destructive.
Fine article, but I was also hoping you might talk to more Iraqis. Especially those who want the Marines to go NOW.
(trollie is so rude, tho).
Solar powered lights are great -- the US should be pushing for Iraqi Sunnis to become solar power panel producers (with 'silicon valley' hi-technology).
Of course, I also am curious about the coffee customers...
(maybe My Marrakesh looks so great because her place is so pretty! But I'm not looking for pretty.)
Any opinions on the Annapolis conference, or the Lebanon presidential issue? Would make interesting opinion reading for me, anyway...
It looks like Secretary Rice has rolled that boulder almost all the way up to the top of the mountain. Would you care to guess what happens next?
It might be that the failure of AQI will change things, but this looks more like Sisyphus than the Apollo project.
Yeesh, didn't mean to go Nintendoing in anyone's cornflakes.. I should have realized that, as has been noted in the past elsewhere, the stupid terrorists have already been killed, and the ones that are left are not going to make the same mistakes as those in Fallujah (if the cafe in question was selling to anyone other than contractors, repats, or folks curious about Occidental culture).
Let's see...ignoring the moron pretending to be Patrick...hmmm, well, though Trollie should learn that there are no Iraqian-speaking Iraqians, he does involuntarily raise a half-decent point: it was a bit arrogant of that Marine to say that speaking English will be confirmation of "bright future" status...even if there is a grain of truth to that statement. However, it's just another facet of culture-culture interaction, and it's pretty much inevitable that someone would express that thought.
Great article, MJT, I look forward to more.
What a cranky bunch of armchair trolls. That the Marines have made Fallujah quieter than Paris is a Good Thing.
"Oh, that's just great. You've indirectly told the journalist-targeting jihadis where to find all the other reporters!"
The rest of the reporters went home. There's not enough bad stuff happening anymore to make it worth their while.
MJT, thanks for sticking it out and supporting our troops. People back home forget this is America's war and not just the Marines.
Support is on the way.
Just for reference, I posted a comment on Abraham the troll's blog saying:
Your comments bring shame on the twenty men most likely to be your father. You are probably so lonely because you kept eating the pork chop your parents hung around your neck to get the dog to play with you.
If I could have figured out something more insulting to a Hezbollah supporter (that was more clever) I would have. This taunt is why Abraham went after me.
If he just stopped eating the pork chop, we wouldn't be having this problem.
Trollie is banned. His comment has been deleted.
If I figure out who is impersonating Patrick Lasswell (and I will if I have time for this shit), that person will be banned no matter how good his or her standing has been unless I see a written apology here first that I can authenticate.
In the meantime, fuck you whoever you are. I am in IRAQ. I don't have time to babysit your stupid ass.
The posts by fake "Patrick" have also been deleted, by the way.
Oh, and Patrick is not the moderator. The moderator is a she, not a he. Respect her, or you will be out of here.
Speaking of those other reporters, mentioned earlier, I found myself unable to resist posting these observations from the illustrious members of the 4th Estate who are NOT in Fallujah or anywhere else. Because it's TOO DANGEROUS.
Despite claims by US officials that reporting from Iraq is negatively biased, 70 per cent of those surveyed believe overall coverage is 'accurate', while 15 per cent say the coverage makes the situation look better than it is.
Forty-four per cent of journalists believe reporting has treated the Bush administration fairly, while 43 per cent said coverage has been too easy on US officials.
And ," many US journalists believe coverage has painted too rosy a picture of the conflict."
Too rosy a picture, says they. LOL.
Based upon these results I would only say that approximately 15% of 'journalists' should consider alternative employment opportunities. Square Pegs -- Round Holes, and all that.
I blame those damn slackers in Al-Queda. Come on guys --- lay off the drugs, and the booze, and get with the program. We NEED some of those BIG BOOMS . These onsie,twosies, little atrocities are presenting 'too rosy a picture'. We NEED bodies. People are getting 'confused'.
A View Thru The Looking Glass .
Thanks very much for your reports and your insight into Iraqi current events and culture. I have personnaly spent many years living in what some call the "Middle East", but should be called "South-West Asia". As you know, many of your readers have no clue as to the minds of the people in that part of the world. You make one distinction that most people overlook, but is very important - and that is the vast differences between Iraq, Iran, and countries further east. Most of Iraq is tribal (Arabic) and have never sucumbed to a central government (even under Sadaam Husein). Iran, on the other hand, has a different language, belief system, and ethnic heritage (Arian) and they have historically hated each other for centuries. Now Iran is trying to take over the hearts and minds of Iraqis by pushing their brand of the Sh'ite branch of Islam for a play for power and influence in the region. With more people like you, who have been there, hopefully the true picture will be revealed. BTW - I lived in Turkey 1966 - 1968, was in Egypt and Lebanon 1968-1970 and in Tehran, Iran from 1971 - 1977. Keep up your good work.
Your no Micheal Yon, and your reporting seems to be all over the place. Are things better or not in the town? Seems like you give it a "Wow, I'm not in harms way since the surge helped the country, how many ways can I say things are bad over here, but not as bad. I suggest these readers go to someone who goes out on combat missions he's attached to with the ground pounders, and get a real feel of reporting. Micheal Yon.
Michael, the Real.
Technically, it is impossible to ban anybody. I can change my IP fairly easily as most of us.
What are the alternatives? No perfect one exists.
For now the best would probably be total ignorance. Troll will leave eventually.
Troll tries to impersonate you? So what. Faking name is easy, faking style - very hard. I hope we are no dummies and can see.
Besides, replying to troll with threats makes it even worst. Just quietly remove those posts whenever you can. Those who seen them will understand, those who didn't will not even know.
To make things even clearer, post some kind of explanation that trollish posts may mystically disappear from time to time.
PS. If you will suddenly notice that my posts stopped making sense :) know it was not me. And real Ron might not even know he was banned.
Well, I'm immune to sock puppetry.
We have no other Edgar.
Ron: Are things better or not in the town?
Are you serious? Do you have any idea what Fallujah used to be like? If you're so far behind that you can't tell if things are better or worse, it's not my job to get you caught up.
Seems like you give it a "Wow, I'm not in harms way since the surge helped the country, how many ways can I say things are bad over here, but not as bad.
I'm sorry you're accustomed to reading articles that say things are clearly one way or the other in Iraq. This country is not simple. If you think I should conceal details to make the narrative neater, read someone else. And not Michael Yon. He won't do that for you either. He's a good journalist.
I suggest these readers go to someone who goes out on combat missions
If it bleeds it leads, right?
You might not want to suggest my audience go somewhere else because of a lack of explosions and bang bang. They don't come here for that. You are the one in the wrong place, not them. I am not a combat journalist and have never claimed to be one, even though I have done some combat reporting on occasion.
I think one of the most interesting bits of news from Fallujah recently has been the construction of a sewage system - the first ever for this city.
I wonder if it would be possible for Michael to check this out and take some photos? I am certain that things like this are enormously important for the future of Iraq.
Solar streetlights? Cool!
Any idea who makes them? I'm interested in figuring out if saving the cost of stringing wire could save my town a few bucks the next time a new development gets built. (Though we do get a bit less sun where I am, especially in winter....)
The Yon vs. Totten comparison is interesting.
My two cents - Since Yon has a military background, he tends to give a military centric. This view is by its nature more black and white. Totten, on the other hand, brings a civilian background, and from that perspective, progress is more difficult to guage. I value both and the two are - in fact - my favorite war corrispondents.
Ron's initial comparison has raised my curiosity. Have you met Michael Yon or do you read his dispatches? If so, what is the nature of your relationship? Can you give some perspective there on how you view his reporting versus your own?
I'm curious, have you
I see Ron's post cought your attention, too.
Can you tell us whether you read Yon and provide a little more insight into what you think of his dispatches?
Stevend: Have you met Michael Yon or do you read his dispatches? If so, what is the nature of your relationship? Can you give some perspective there on how you view his reporting versus your own?
Mike is a friend of mine, I read everything he writes, and I think his work is outstanding.
Thanks. So when you guys are talking about Iraq over beers, what would a fly on the wall hear?
Fine, censor my comments about the open bigotry flaunted by Lassy. It shouldn't matter where you stand in terms of friendship with him. If you are any sort of rational adult, you would be able to easily denounce the sort of "pork chop" comments Lassy says proudly. So proudly it's as if he wants applause. All he'll get from people who are good, honest people will be ridicule. Bigotry should never, I repeat NEVER, be supported. I'd have thought you'd share the same point of view from your writing.
Just to append, this has nothing to do with Lassy vs. me. I have been hard on him in the past, usually because his absolute statements, or his pompous approach to discourse. Those are just characteristics that work fine with some people, they just dont jive well with me.
This, on the other hand, is now about bigots. Censor this, and you support bigots. From your writing I'd have thought otherwise. But from the fact that you censored my post, without even addressing it, suggets you, Michael, are willing to overlook the flagrant bigotry of Lassy in favor of quieting people who support fair equal treatment of people.
There are much better ways to slam idiots like Abraham than to resort to evil, vile bigotry.
I'd stop posting if I thought it would improve the comments section on your blog, but the quality of my detractors indicate to me that if they didn't have me as a target, they'd be hitting somebody else.
I don't come to this comments section looking for a fight, which I don't think is true for a number of the jerks who come here. To some extent I agree with "leo" above, the best course is to ignore them. I'd be a lot more willing to take some of these jerks seriously if they were having a conversation instead of scolding me for things I said six months ago.
Thanks for the support, you know I'm good for it.
Nice adhominem. I have never once suggested anything you or Lassy has gone through is anything less than it is. I have read people's comments who do, and think they're ridiculous. You travel to war zones and report news from dangerous places for people back home who sit in their safe homes to read. It's admirable. What isn't admirable is supporting flagrant bigotry. I think that's fairly straight forward even for a person with, according to you, a "tiny little brain."
I wouldn't just target someone else. When I first came here I didn't just roll the dice and say I choose you. I target your comments because for the most part they're pompous, and factually incorrect. When they're fair, correct, and honest, I don't address them, or I support them.
I'll be completely fair right now, this isn't a hit job or anything. I'll just say how you come off. If you dont' care, fine. Anyway, comments like "dismissed" and the like are condescending. They're not necessary and inflammatory. Your occasional complete refusal to address hard facts when you've taken a position that is disproven by the facts, and your futher dismissal of people bringing forth these facts as "supid idots", or that they're like "talking to wall," is why I challange you.
The major reason I challange posts of yours that I see as factually wrong, or derogatory is because you will never admit fault in any position. I'm man enough to say I have been wrong in excessive harsh criticisms of you in the past, I"m still waiting for the single time that you are.
"Leo: don't tell me how to run my blog."
I am sorry. It will never happen again.
Obsess much? Just thought I'd let you know how you're coming off.
If by obsessed you mean I get annoyed with bigoted comments. Yes, as should everyone. They are bigoted afterall.
Anyway, this is the last I'll post about that. The point has been made. I don't want to take up any more of this thread which should have been about Michael's great article.
I was embedded over the summer with the Army's 82nd in Bayji (immediately after and right before the two biggest recent car bomb attacks in the city, so semi-quiet while I was there). I'm curious - and I may have missed your reference - how big a unit you're actually embedded with?
Are you mostly at the battalion level, with trips to company level only on a day-to-day basis? The reason I ask, is because I'll be going again and I really liked (not in a fun way, but in a production way) how I did it with being embedded with a company for a month. But, I'm not sure if maybe being at the battalion would be worth some time as well. I personally wasn't a fan of seeking out anybody above the rank of captain - but that meant not getting the same perspective your posts bring (I sold stories to various newspapers about soldiers from respective hometowns, etc.).
Anyway, love your stuff of course. Stay safe.
Thanks for another brilliant article. I love the first person narratives. It makes me feel like I was there in person. Keep up the good work.
I did not write the following: JohnDakota: I'm censoring you because you're a jerk. Patrick and I have been through a lot together, more than you'll ever know or care to know. More than you could comprehend with your tiny little brain.
Leo: don't tell me how to run my blog.
Somebody else wrote that. Sorry.
Anyone in here who acts like an asshole and signs my name probably isn't me.
I am getting a second moderator with comment deletion abilities. I hope the troll enjoyed itself while the fun lasted.
Seriously guys, stop responding to the fake version of me as if it is actually me. Realize what is happening here, okay?
Sorry about that. heh.. I have seen you go off on some people who are assholes. And I do chirp at Lassy, so I figured that might have got your bad side. I"ll try to do a better job at discriminating between the doppleganger =P.
I would like to point out the there are many new visitors to this blog due to the links from other sites. Out of respect for our host perhaps the personality conflicts should be tabled for a while. Michael is in Iraq, and cannot baby-sit. I have a life and don’t have the energy to constantly intervene. Nor do I appreciate getting abused when I do, which is why I have been notifying Michael directly of infractions rather than trying to stop them. We have enough trouble with real trolls without the squabbling amongst the regular visitors.
Give it a rest or Dad is going to turn this car around!
Thank you for clarification.
Please, stay safe.
I for one would like to see the comment section remain open. Every so often someone posts a real nugget of a link that many of us would never come across on our own. On many occasions some posts offer a comment that is thought provoking. I believe that we are all capable of checking the personal attacks and vitriolic remarks for the length of Michael's time out of country. Let's please cut Michael and the moderator a break. Thank you.
On the sanitation side, you mentioned that it is currently being done by contractors. Before the invasion, was there actual "curb-side" pickup and if so was it contractor based or government based? I've lived in cities that have had one or the other and am just curious. Thanks