January 2, 2008

A Plan to Kill Everyone

"War, children, it's just a shot away, it's just a shot away" – The Rolling Stones, from “Gimme Shelter”

Girl in Doorway Fallujah.jpg

FALLUJAH -- A sign on the door leading out of India Company’s Combat Operations Center says “Have a Plan to Kill Everyone You Meet.” For a fraction of second I thought it might be some kind of joke. But I was with the Marine Corps in Fallujah, and it wasn’t a joke.

I asked Captain Stewart Glenn if he could explain and perhaps elaborate a bit on what, exactly, that sign is about. “It’s pretty straightforward,” he said rather bluntly. “It means exactly what it says.”

A Plan to Kill Everyone You Meet.jpg

Welcome to counterinsurgency.

A sign outside Lieutenant Nathan Bibler’s Joint Security Station in the slums of Fallujah makes the point a little more clearly, and delicately. “Look at everyone as though they are trying to kill you, but you cannot treat them that way.”

“The threat's always there,” Sergeant Chuck Balley told me as he looked blankly at nothing in particular. “Everybody is sketchy.”

Maybe they are. But very few people in Fallujah try to kill Americans – or other Iraqis – anymore. It has been months since a single Marine in Fallujah has been even wounded, let alone killed. But at least a handful of disorganized insurgents still lurk in the city. Once a week or so somebody takes a shot at the Americans.

Lima Company Sign.jpg

“Do you have plates in that Kevlar?” one Marine sergeant said to me as I donned my body armor on our way into the city. He was referring to steel SAPI plates that fit inside Kevlar vests that can stop even a sniper round.

“No,” I said, and I didn't care. The odds that I, personally, would be the first person shot in Fallujah for months were microscopic.

“Look,” he said. “You are not gonna get shot. But you should still carry some plates.”

One lieutenant forced me to wear Marine-issue body armor – which weighs almost 80 pounds – before he would let me go out on patrol with him. I felt like Godzilla lumbering around with all the extra bulk and weight, and I didn’t really feel safer. Running while carrying those extra pounds all of a sudden wasn’t much of an option. Sacrificing most of my speed and agility to make myself a little more bullet-proof might not be worth it. But perhaps that’s just what I told myself so I could justify wearing lighter and more comfortable armor. It’s hard to say. What I do know for certain is that Fallujah at the end of 2007 was neither scary nor stressful. No one can go there right now without feeling what is perhaps a dangerous sense of complacency.

But complacency kills. The Marines are reminded of this fact every day, as was I when I traveled and worked with them.

The day I arrived at India Company's Forward Operating Base, which had been converted from an old train station, all the Marines had to attend readiness training classes designed to offset complacency.

“Too many Marines are getting complacent and lax,” Captain Glenn said. “Complacency is as potentially deadly as an IED at this point.”

Complacency Kills.jpg

The Marines couldn't help it, and neither could I. Combat operations in Fallujah are over. It wasn't possible to work myself up into feeling nervous in that city. I just knew I wouldn't be shot. Of course, I could have been wrong, and I knew that, too.


“Are you a strict non-combatant?” Second Lieutenant Mike Barefoot said to me as we stepped out of the joint security station in Jolan, Northern Fallujah, and began a patrol.

“What do you mean?” I said. Of course I am a non-combatant. Was he asking if I’m a pacifist?

“Do you fight?” he said.

I narrowed my eyes at him slightly, still not quite sure what he was getting at.

“If we get in a fire fight,” he said, “and I give you my pistol, will you take it?”

Mike Barefoot.jpg
Second Lieutenant Mike Barefoot

He put his hand on his sidearm and fingered the thumb break. He wasn't kidding. All I had to do was say so and he would hand me that pistol.

“I'm not allowed to carry a weapon,” I said.

He rolled his eyes, not at me but at the policy.

“No embedded journalists are allowed to pick up a weapon,” I continued. “They’ll throw me out of Iraq if I do. It’s a good policy. Most of us aren’t trained to fight in a war. If reporters were armed, eventually one of us would shoot a kid or an old woman.”

It is a sound policy. He nodded and seemed to understand that. Still, he repeated the question. “If I give you my pistol, will you take it?”

“If it gets bad enough out here that either I shoot it or die, then yes,” I said. “I’d rather be thrown of Iraq then be killed. But that is not going to happen, so I can't take your pistol.”

We walked a few steps.

Mike Barefoot on Patrol.jpg
Second Lieutenant Mike Barefoot on patrol

“Thanks, though,” I said, and I meant it.

Several Marines were shocked that I was willing to walk around the streets of Fallujah without a gun, but I didn’t feel the slightest bit nervous. Complacency kills, and I get that. But I had Marines as bodyguards and I wasn’t allowed to defend myself anyway. So I figured I might as well relax.

“Anyway,” I always said to Marines who thought I should carry a weapon, “if it gets bad enough out here that you’re relying on me in a fight, you’re really screwed.”

Having a plan to kill everyone I met wasn’t an option. I tried it out for a few minutes, though, to get a tiny idea of what it might be like inside the mind of a non-complacent counterinsurgent. I imagined carrying an M-16 on a sling and holding it at the deck with both hands, index finger off but near the trigger. How quickly could I raise a rifle and shoot a man who takes the initiative and fires an AK-47 at me or at somebody else? What if the friendly young man who just smiled at me pulls a knife? Was I supposed to look at women and children as potential combatants? Once in a while insurgents are able to pressure children into throwing hand grenades at Americans.

We walked past houses and buildings riddled with bullet holes. Raw sewage slowly ran in rivulets through the streets. Only the smallest of businesses were open -- it will be a long time before any international corporate chains arrive in Fallujah. A young bearded man wearing baggy white pants and a filthy blue shirt sold black market fuel in jerry cans to motorists.

Black Market Fuel Fallujah.jpg

Contrary to popular belief, there are motorists in Fallujah. There is a so-called vehicle ban, but it has been misreported and misunderstood. It is true that Fallujah neighborhoods are segmented by barriers, but residents can walk and drive their vehicles from one neighborhood to the other after passing through Iraqi Police checkpoints. They can also leave and enter the city whenever they like as long as they have a Fallujah resident sticker on the windshield of their car. Fallujah's vehicle ban only applies to cars from outside the city. Non-residents are welcome in Fallujah, but they have to leave their vehicle at the outskirts. The city is very small. It is easily walkable, and taxi service is cheap and available. The non-resident vehicle ban is enforced by the Iraqi Police, not the Marines. Iraqi Police Colonel Faisal will decide when the non-resident vehicle ban will be lifted.

Kid with Backpack Fallujah.jpg

I did not realized that I had dropped my pen after jotting down a few observations in my notebook while I walked. A young Iraqi boy ran up behind me, picked up my pen, and handed it over. Every day at least one Iraqi kid will ask me to give him my pen, but this one wanted to make sure I didn't lose it. Another young boy came up and gave me a high-five. They often do this to the Marines. Whatever the adults in Fallujah might think of Americans, the kids really do seem to like us. Eight year olds do not have politics.

Almost every house in the city is ringed with a high wall for privacy. The residents didn't have siege warfare in mind when they designed their homes, but the walls are strong, made of concrete, and they can serve that function. Any number of insurgents could, in theory, be crouching behind them and we wouldn't know it until they opened fire on us.

Street Tilted Angle Fallujah.jpg

One of the Marines found a cassette tape stashed in the bushes and eyed it suspiciously as he pulled it out. Abu Musab al Zarqawi's Al Qaeda in Iraq sometimes distributes propaganda on audio tapes just as Ayatollah Khomeini did in Iran before the Islamic Revolution.

“Can I see it?” our interpreter said. The Marine handed over the tape. “It's just music,” he said as he read the label. “Nothing to worry about.”

It has been months since the jihadists have been able to murder anyone in Fallujah. Only a few weeks before, however, a handful showed up on a street corner and handed out anti-American snuff films on DVD. Apparently they thought the local civilians would be impressed. They were not. They called the Iraqi Police, and the propagandists were taken away to the jail.

The main Jolan market was up ahead, but first we passed through a neighborhood that, unlike almost anywhere else in Iraq, received 24 hours a day of electricity.

Lieutenant Barefoot pointed up toward the sky. “See the electricity poles?” he said. I did, and I was amazed.

Proper Electrical Poles in Alley Fallujah.jpg

The neighborhood was wired properly as though it were part of a modern First World country. Gone all of a sudden were the hideously tangled rat's nest of wires and cables that make up most of Iraq's electrical grid.

Typical Electrical Poles Fallujah.jpg

“Why is the wiring so much better here?” I said. “And is that really enough by itself to give people 24 hours a day of electricity? Is this a politically favored neighborhood or what?”

“No,” said the lieutenant. “They just have better local leadership in this neighborhood.”

Political corruption is unspeakably bad in Iraq, in Kurdistan as well as in the Arabic parts of the country. If Lieutenant Barefoot is right about this section of Jolan, the insurgency is by no means solely to blame for Iraq's shattered infrastructure.

We arrived at Jolan's market district. It was not what I expected. Jolan is the oldest part of Fallujah. It was built on the banks of the Euphrates River where it swings in closest to Baghdad. I thought perhaps we would walk through one of the covered souks that are so ubiquitous in the Middle East. But few buildings in even this part of the city looked more than fifty years old, and many of the shops were in outdoor booths.

Jolan Market Area Fallujah.jpg

The Marines found the market impressive because it had only reopened recently. Objectively, though, it is not very impressive. Everything is relative in a place like Fallujah. The market is an ugly ramshackle mess where only the most basic goods and necessities are for sale. It smelled of piss. Trash burned in oil barrels. There were hardly any women out and about, even though the market areas of conservative Muslim cities are where you are most likely to see them. All women older than teenagers wore black abayas that enveloped them from head to toe. Only their faces were visible. A man carrying a stick led goats through the area who managed to find nourishment from piles of garbage.

Goat Eating Garbage Fallujah.jpg

Amid this drabness, though, was a surprising little oasis. A local man was selling flowers and plants at a pleasant little store. He contentedly watered his flora with a hose and smiled at us as we walked past.

Watering Plants Fallujah.jpg

I had a hard time imagining that the Marines I walked with had a quiet and secretive plan to kill this guy if all of a sudden he raised up an AK-47 from behind the bushes. He was not going to do that. I just knew it. It is very nearly impossible to tell what most Iraqis are thinking when you briefly pass them on the street. Theoretically any one of them could be an insurgent. But there are some I felt safe writing off as potential threats. You can just tell with some people. At least I have the luxury of thinking so when it isn't my job to return hostile fire.

On our way back to the station we stopped by a volleyball game.

Volleyball Fallujah.jpg

An Iraqi Police captain recently started a Fallujah-wide volleyball tournament. He purchased uniforms for the players and trophies that will go to the winners when the tournament ends. Most of the Marines I spoke to were stunned by this development, especially those who had previously served in Fallujah when it was still the catastrophically violent city most Americans think it still is.

I wasn't personally all that impressed with the fact that Iraqis play volleyball now. That is not because I don't “get it,” but because it's hard to imagine just how bad a place Fallujah recently was. It's not a nice place today, but it is almost normal for a rough-around-the-edges city in the Third World. And it's a paradise compared with, say, a shantytown-packed Mexican border town like Juarez or Tijuana.

Our patrol came upon a wedding party being put together in the street. A shiny black Mercedes decorated with purple, red, and white flowers pulled up beside us.

Car with Flowers Fallujah.jpg

Sharply dressed Iraqi men and children got out and walked up to meet us. They were so friendly. An older man in a keffiyeh greeted us so warmly and sincerely it was obvious his affection was real. “Thank you, thank you,” he said. We all knew what he meant. Thank you for being here. Thank you for the security.

Men at Wedding Fallujah.jpg

Some Iraqis only pretend to be friendly, but it's obvious when you meet someone who isn't pretending. Human emotion and its expression is the same across cultures. This man could not have been a combatant. I was certain the odds of him trying to kill us were zero. I couldn’t help wondering: was it really necessary to have a plan to kill everyone? But complacency kills. You never know who might attack you in Iraq. I imagined bashing his head into the sidewalk.


I shared a room that night at the Joint Security Station with Lieutenant Barefoot and his roommate and station commanding officer Second Lieutenant Gary Laughlin. Joint Security Stations are shared by American Marines and Iraqi Police. Our room was on the Arab side of the house. The wall opposite my bed was riddled with shrapnel holes, as if a mortar round had exploded right in our bedroom.

“It used to be a lot less friendly here,” Lieutenant Laughlin said and laughed.

He led me out to the back porch where we could sit and enjoy the moderately warm afternoon sunshine.

All the Marines I spoke to were amazed at the progress made in Fallujah. It was safer than even they had expected. I asked Lieutenant Laughlin what, specifically, surprised him most about the current state of the city.

LT Laughlin Fallujah.jpg
Second Lieutenant Gary Laughlin

“The most surprising thing,” he said, “is how friendly people are. I expected people here to just hate us after Al-Fajr. You kind of have to take it with a grain of salt, though. Some of them really just want the Iraqi Police to take over, and they only smile at us to be polite.”

That has to be right. Some unknown percentage of Fallujahns are still disgruntled with the American presence. But there is almost no surface-level evidence that this is true. Very nearly 100 percent of the people who live there are friendly.

“Have you run into any civilians who are hostile toward you?” I said.

“Not really,” he said. “Some of them are scared of us, though. We can look pretty intimidating.”

Lieutenant Laughlin had only been in Fallujah for a couple of months. First Lieutenant Barry Edwards has been around longer, so he could compare and contrast the present and past.

“Have you seen a shift in the way Iraqis treat you in the year you've been here?” I said.

Schoolboys Fallujah.jpg

“Oh yeah,” he said. “This summer I ate dinner just about every week out there. I couldn't have done that back in January. They would have lit my tail up. You couldn't go 100 feet down the road that runs along the river without getting hit by an IED. Now we can sit there with our flak jackets and helmets off like we're sitting right here. We can do that outside in the open. We go out there and eat chow with the guys who were shooting at us a year ago.”

While Lieutenant Laughlin and I basked in Iraq’s winter sunlight, we heard a weather report that might be slightly disturbing under different circumstances: there was absolutely no wind. That meant it was an ideal time, from the point of view of insurgents, to launch a chemical weapons attack. Because the air was perfectly still, poison gas wouldn’t float away on the wind. Marines, therefore, were required to carry gas masks on their person at all times, even though the odds of a chemical weapons attack were very near zero. Not quite zero, though. Chlorine gas has been used by Fallujah insurgents before. The Marines seems hyper-prepared almost to the point of paranoia. But they were not paranoid. They were just ready for anything. “Make Yourself Hard to Kill” is one of their catchphrases.

Checking a Hole Fallujah.jpg Checking a Taxi Fallujah.jpg

“Marines are more focused than soldiers,” Sergeant Balley told me. “If we get in a fire fight, you will see.”

But I could see it, a little, even though we weren’t being shot at. They do seem to make themselves a little bit harder to injure or kill than Army soldiers. The differences aren’t huge, but they are there. One of the reasons I felt relaxed in Fallujah was that they seemed so over-prepared for everything.

Man Behind Marine Fallujah.jpg

One of the peculiar things about Fallujah now is that, for some people at least, it’s less dangerous than some other places in the Middle East, even some that are full of tourists.

“Our interpreter is from Jordan,” said Lieutenant Laughlin. “He’s been with us for four years. He doesn’t go home. There have been threats against his life from former Iraqi insurgents who live there. He is actually safer here in Iraq because we protect him.”


I walked the streets of Fallujah at night with a platoon of Marines looking for intelligence tips from local civilians. They weren’t fishing for information about anything in particular. They just wanted to ask around the neighborhood in case anyone was up to something suspicious.

We passed through a reeking garbage dump on a empty lot as wild dogs barked. I ducked beneath dangling wires and almost ran straight into a group of young Neighborhood Watch men carrying AK-47s and lurking like dark wraiths in the night. Plastic bags snarled in razor wire billowed in the soft breeze sighing in from the desert beyond the city’s walls.

Local civilians grumbled about the price of gasoline and the lack of electricity, as they often do, but no one said they had seen anything suspicious. The one thing they were actually happy about was the dramatic and apparently stable restoration of calm.

Later, though, we came across something suspicious ourselves.

I rode along in the first truck in a convoy of Humvees on the way back to India Company’s Forward Operating Base. Our driver slammed on his brakes and said something to the sergeant in the passenger seat. The sergeant stepped out of the vehicle and walked in front of the headlights.

“What’s going on?” I said to the driver.

“There’s a mound of dirt in the road that was not there this morning,” the driver said.

I found it amazing that such a small detail was noticed.

“Why is that a problem exactly?” I said.

“It’s in the shape of a speed bump,” he said.

I stood up as much as I could in the back seat. Sure enough, dirt had been carefully piled up on the road in the exact shape of a speed bump. Someone had done this on purpose.

“It could be a pressure-plate IED,” he said, but he did not need to say so. Those IEDs are notorious, and they do look exactly like speed bumps. The explosives are triggered by the weight of a Humvee or Bradley.

The sergeant gingerly pushed dirt aside with his boot. He had better hope there wasn’t an insurgent lurking somewhere who could manually set it off. I was safe in the back of an up-armored vehicle, but there’s no way he could survive an explosion from right underneath him.

But there was nothing under the dirt, and no one triggered anything manually.

“It’s fine,” the sergeant said as he climbed back in.

“Why on earth would someone push dirt into the street like that?” I said, unconvinced that everything was actually fine. It was obviously formed by hand for a specific purpose. What on earth for?

“I don’t know, sir,” the sergeant said. “Iraqis are weird.”

Perhaps someone wants Marines to become complacent about piles of dirt in the shape of a speed bump so they’ll slowly learn to just drive over the top of them. But it’s also true that some Iraqis really are weird.

“We’ve had kids out here build fake IEDs on the side of the road,” Lieutenant Laughlin said. “Last time it happened was right out in from of the station. We saw what looked like an IED so we got out of our Humvees all concerned. Then some kids jumped out and yelled Mister! Mister! Chocolate! Chocolate! They know they can get us to stop with fake IED, but we won’t give them candy when they do. Our psy-ops guys put out fliers telling kids not to do this. It’s dangerous. But they don’t understand, or they don’t care.”


The next day we heard gunfire, and we heard a lot of it.

I walked the perimeter of Fallujah with a platoon from the Khaderi station. Corporal Hayes was in charge of my security. The desert was on our left, houses on our right.

Northern Edge of Fallujah.jpg

“Route Kathy was hit with a Katyusha rocket in early October,” he said. Route Kathy was one of the main streets through the neighborhood which we would shortly be walking along. “It was fired from six miles away.”

There is nothing you can do if a Katyusha rocket explodes next to you. You’re just dead.

Iraqi Police officers joined us on the patrol. They walked in front so it would appear to the locals that they were leading. But they were not really leading.

“They’re too bunched up!” one of the Marines said. “Tell them to spread out.”

Our interpreter told the Iraqi Police to spread out. Too many people too close together are more likely to be shot at.

The Marines carried their regular rifles, and a few brought grenade launchers, too. One Marine fingered a smoke grenade – they’re useful if you come under fire from snipers. Some carried signal flares to be fired in the air if we made contact with the enemy. Overwatch at the station will see the flares and send reinforcements. I carried a high-tech signal device that Lieutenant Mike Barefoot had given me in case I got separated from the platoon.

Several unemployed Iraqi men loitered and waved hello as we passed.

“There’s movement on the roof of that house,” one Marine said and pointed to a house just outside the city on our left. I could barely make out the figure of a person on top.

House Outside Fallujah.jpg

“There’s two people up there now,” said another.

They were too far away to accurately shoot at us with anything but a sniper rifle. But they could give away our position to somebody closer if that’s what they wanted to do. It didn’t seem like a big deal to me. But complacency kills, so I stopped walking in a straight line and started to zig zag at random to make myself harder to shoot at. It was not because I was paranoid. I never felt nervous in Fallujah, not even after what happened next. I’ve just learned to do a few things that soldiers and Marines do to make myself a harder target. I do it casually now, often times without even thinking about it.

We walked a few moments in silence and kept our eyes on the roof of that house. Suddenly we heard automatic gunfire behind us.

“Shit,” I said. “That sounds close.”

“It sounds bad,” I heard a Marine say.

More gun shots.

“It sounds like it’s coming from that checkpoint we just passed,” Corporal Hayes said.

Then there were more shots, also automatic, and they sounded different. More than one kind of weapon was being fired.

“That’s intense,” I said. And it was. It sounded like a full-blown fire fight had just broken out.

“That’s worse than anything we’ve seen since we got here,” said another Marine.

Two Bullet Holes Fallujah.jpg

We crossed the street and leaned up against the outer walls of the houses.

“We have to get you back,” Corporal Hayes said to me.

“Back to Khaderi?” I said.

He nodded.

“I don’t want to go back,” I said.

I was slightly surprised to hear myself say this. I probably should have been scared. A fire fight in Fallujah is nothing to shrug at. But I wanted to see what would happen. And of course I would stay in the rear where I wouldn’t be personally shot at.

Several Marines sized me up in ways they hadn’t before. They were obviously trying to determine if I would be a liability for them in a fight, if I would need to be babysat while they were being shot at. No one objected when I said I didn’t want to go back, but I have no idea what they were thinking.

Crouching Marine and Small Boy Falllujah.jpg

“Is that coming from the train station?” someone said.

Oh, I thought. Yeah. The Forward Operating Base that had been converted from a train station was only a few hundred meters away.

“Maybe they’re test firing at the station?”

As soon as somebody said it, I was sure that’s what it was. The shots were probably on the practice range. Fallujah is no longer a war zone.

But we didn’t know. The Marines are supposed to be warned in advance when the range goes live so they don’t overreact and think there’s a war on. Every single one of them first thought what we were hearing was combat.

“Khaderi isn’t answering.”

“That has to be the range, right?”

“The shots are too consistent. It isn’t a fight.”

“Somebody should have told us.”

We still weren’t sure, though. No one at Khaderi answered the call. But everyone was slowly convinced that the gun shots were practice rounds on the range.

The platoon’s radio squawked. It was Khaderi. Twenty minutes from now, we were told, they will be gun shots at the train station.

“Nice of them to tell us,” Corporal Hayes said.

Clouds and City Fallujah.jpg

It was only then that I noticed that none of the Iraqis on the street reacted in any noticeable way to what had just happened. They didn’t take cover when we did. We were all briefly certain that war had returned to Fallujah. But the Iraqi kids still played in the street. They did not run and hide. Their parents did not yank them inside. Try to imagine that in an American city.

One of the Marines later told me that military dogs, while they’re being trained, are put into rooms with loud speakers. The first half hour of Stephen Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan -- that terrifying scene where hundreds of soldiers are shot and blown to pieces while storming the beach at Normandy – are played over and over again until the dogs no longer fear the sounds of war.

Iraqis who live in Fallujah have heard more shots fired in anger than I ever will. Machine gun fire has been the sound track in that city for a long time. War is just a shot away, but even the children of Fallujah won’t flinch if it breaks out again.

Post-script: Please support independent journalism. Traveling to and working in Iraq is expensive. I can’t publish dispatches on this Web site for free without substantial reader donations, so I'll appreciate it if you pitch in what you can. Blog Patron allows you to make recurring monthly payments, and even small donations will be extraordinarily helpful so I can continue this project.

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Many thanks in advance.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at January 2, 2008 1:04 AM

Great to see the comments back up, but why is the whole story being reposted?

Posted by: AtadOFF Author Profile Page at January 2, 2008 4:00 AM

I have spent a lot of time in Ireland, before and after the IRA suspended it's military operations. I heard a comment once about the Irish that I have always thought worked well for the Arabs as well.

It is said that the Irish are the nicest people in the world, except when they are trying to kill you. I think the same goes here.

The fact that the people are being nice to you has to be taken with a grain of salt when you know Arabic culture.

There are a couple of phrases in Arabic that describe what I am talking about. I dont know how good people's Arabic is here, but one of them is "kalam fadi" which means "empty words."

A good example is when you ask an Arab if they will do something for you, or if something will be done at a particular time. They will say "Insha'Allah" meaning "if God wills it". More often than not this is just a way of saying that it probably not be done, but it is more polite to put it off on God's will than just to say they probably will not get around to it.

The other Arabic phrase fits here very well "Jamial kadaba"(transliteration okay?), which is to say something to be polite for polite's sake. Often things are said to say and look polite when it isnt really meant.

In the culture it is considered "ayb" or rude to not be nice. So even if you do not believe it, saying something to look polite or some over a situation is not considered to be wrong.

These things, part of the culture, often make it very hard to know what is what and who really means what when dealing with people in the Middle East.

As an American who was raised to value honesty and telling the truth, I dont like it when people lie or are not honest, even if it is to be considered polite. I prefer blunt honesty to to situation where someone lies to maintain the facade of a calm situation.

Just a pet peeve of mine that I have dealt with over the last decade and more of living and traveling in the Middle East.

Anyway, great report. I never would have thought the city would have ended up this way.

Posted by: Marc Author Profile Page at January 2, 2008 5:48 AM

Another excellent piece Michael. You've got some guts. Glad to hear the gunfire wasn't another breakout of warfare there.

Posted by: ikez78 Author Profile Page at January 2, 2008 6:04 AM

“Have a Plan to Kill Everyone You Meet.”

This is a idiotic sign. It encourages paranoia---and this is the last thing our soldiers need when dealing with the Iraqi general population. Modest caution is all that is required. At the the end of the day, the odds are against them being harmed. Try imagining what what would happen in the United States if the police behaved so fearfully?

Posted by: David Thomson Author Profile Page at January 2, 2008 6:21 AM

"This is a idiotic sign."

Should be: This is an idiotic sign.

One further comment. What is the odds of one of these soldiers becoming a terrorist victim? Is it even one in a thousand, one in ten thousand? If so, it is ludicrous to walk around like a scared rabbit.

“Look at everyone as though they are trying to kill you, but you cannot treat them that way.”

This is only slightly better. It is still too paranoid.

Posted by: David Thomson Author Profile Page at January 2, 2008 6:27 AM


Thank you very much

Posted by: leo Author Profile Page at January 2, 2008 7:01 AM

Thanks for the consistently honest independent journalism Michael.

"One further comment. What is the odds of one of these soldiers becoming a terrorist victim? Is it even one in a thousand, one in ten thousand? If so, it is ludicrous to walk around like a scared rabbit.
“Look at everyone as though they are trying to kill you, but you cannot treat them that way.”
This is only slightly better. It is still too paranoid." - David Thomson

Sir I don't know what you've done with your life, but I can honestly say that you're wrong here. Regardless of the odds of losing even a single Marine to enemy fire we continue to behave with what you are deeming "paranoia" because it is what we must do. Counterinsurgency operations are by their very nature unpredictable, and remaining prepared means that you must be equally ready to greet or kill everyone you meet. We're professionals sir - we know what the sign means whether you choose to misunderstand it or not.

Posted by: SSgt Neill Author Profile Page at January 2, 2008 7:30 AM


Everything the Marines say is over the top. It is an indoctrination that creates a cohesive and very effective fighting force.

That being said, I would think that if someone wanted to make a statement they would try to make it in Fallujah. If a bunch of Americans were killed in an attack in Fallujah it would probably make the news. That makes it a desirable outcome.

Whether they can or not is what is determining the outcome in Iraq.


Posted by: dkite Author Profile Page at January 2, 2008 7:53 AM

The Thunder Run has linked to this post in the - Web Reconnaissance for 01/02/2008 A short recon of what’s out there that might draw your attention, updated throughout the day...so check back often.

Posted by: David M Author Profile Page at January 2, 2008 8:27 AM

Atadoff: Great to see the comments back up, but why is the whole story being reposted?

That is a bug, and it should be taken care of later today.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten Author Profile Page at January 2, 2008 8:30 AM

Happy New Year, Michael -- I'm glad one of the best writers on the internet is still safe, and still writing great stuff.

David's claim that being paranoid is idiotic is pretty weak, but I thought your imagining bashing in somebody's head (of the marriage father?) was a touch one-sidedly raw. Didn't you also imagine one of his sons, nephews, or a friend, bashing in your head? Or setting off a little IED bomb, after a merely polite smile?

I'm beginning to feel that Rumsfeld was more correct than McCain or Gen. Shinseki, with a "light footprint" needed to allow the Arab murder-thugs enough control so as to allow the uncertain Arab moderates to decide alliance with the Americans is better.
(Sort of like what a parent must do with pot/ coke/ drugs and a teenager -- some mix of discouragement and freedom?)

Over at Neoneocon's site, there was another Vietnam note. In '64-'69, the S. Vietnamese didn't have a real choice to accept the US or not, with 500 000 troops occupying the country.

It's not even really the "surge", so much, as the time, exposure to AQ in Iraq vs America, and the continued option to choose pro-America / pro-freedom / pro-security by rejecting the AQ anti-American insurgents. Anbar Awakening happened before the surge. But it DOES depend on good local leaders.

I hope the local leader with the better electricity gets promoted, and gets more US help -- to become a better example for other Iraqis and future Iraqi leaders.

Thanks again, as always!

(Did you test your comment SW in IE 6? Not so great yet.)

Posted by: Tom Grey - Liberty Dad Author Profile Page at January 2, 2008 8:52 AM

Tom Grey: Didn't you also imagine one of his sons, nephews, or a friend, bashing in your head? Or setting off a little IED bomb, after a merely polite smile?

Well, yes.

Neither thought was pleasant.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten Author Profile Page at January 2, 2008 9:02 AM

Michael, wonderful article.

I also would like to weigh in on "paranoid" issue. How can one be paranoid in an area that until recently was a hot zone? Just because the violence has seen a dramatic downward trend to date doesn't mean the area is peaceful. It isn't paranoia, it's being a professional soldier. And since soldiers aren't popping off every civilian that looks at them funny is proof that they understand the reasoning behind the statement. Now if that idea was clung to back in the states, then it is paranoia. Case in point, my former brother-in-law used to think that just because his last name was italian that the FBI had him under surveillance so he kept his blinds drawn. That is paranoia.

Posted by: Kevin Author Profile Page at January 2, 2008 9:26 AM

David Thomson,

How many firefights have you won? How many lives are dependent on your doctrine?

When it is stupid and it works, it is not stupid...or idiotic. Having a plan to kill everyone you meet is not the same as having a desire to kill everyone you meet. It is keeping yourself at a sufficient combat edge to be able to survive the first five seconds of the most confusing time of your life.

How idiotic is it to stand gaping like an idiot while your best friends are being killed around you? Preparation for battle in a war zone is not idiocy, it is prudence.

Posted by: Patrick S Lasswell Author Profile Page at January 2, 2008 10:06 AM

Thanks, Michael. You are one brave guy.

I can't imagine why the Marines would be paranoid. Whatever for?? Just because terrorists would love to have another notch on their belt? No offense, David, but it seems reasonable enough to me, and I'm glad they're diligent. They are our most important asset in Fallujah and need to be protected at all costs. I am proud as can be for our Marines.

Michael, what do the citizens do in the evening for entertainment? Do they just hunker down?

Happy New Year, Michael and be safe.

Posted by: Kathy from Austin Author Profile Page at January 2, 2008 10:21 AM

Kathy: Michael, what do the citizens do in the evening for entertainment?

There isn't much entertainment culture in Iraq. Some people (always and only men) hang out in tea shops. Kids play outside. There is one bar in Fallujah with no name, a video game arcade of sorts with XBoxs attached to TVs. Most people stay home and watch TV. Even when the electricity is out, lots of houses, probably most houses, have generators.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten Author Profile Page at January 2, 2008 10:27 AM

Full quote:

"Be polite, be professional, but have a plan to kill everyone you meet."

Variations abound. It's a "peacekeeper" addition to the many semi tongue-in-cheek (and unofficial) rules for combat developed over the years. Other examples include "no plan survives first contact with the enemy", "friendly fire isn't", "when you have secured the area, make sure the enemy knows it too", and (ala Patrick) "If it's stupid but it works, it isn't stupid."

On one level it's graveyard humor, on another it's wisdom of the ages. The sign you saw served as a memory jogger for those familiar with the concept.

And (a guess here) it was probably placed by one of the unit's Senior NCO's.

Another fine report, Michael. Kudos again.

BTW, I'm writing from the living room in my home - made it in time for Christmas (and a couple shopping days too.)

Posted by: Greyhawk Author Profile Page at January 2, 2008 11:07 AM

This is an amazing article. I'm so glad you posted it. If only everyone would see the progress our boys are making over there.

My son is deployed with the USMC right now. This posting has been super-encouraging for me.

Posted by: Jose Author Profile Page at January 2, 2008 12:27 PM

"One further comment. What is the odds of one of these soldiers becoming a terrorist victim? Is it even one in a thousand, one in ten thousand? If so, it is ludicrous to walk around like a scared rabbit."

"Outside the Wire" US Military Members in Iraq are less than half the total. The odds of going home in a coffin for them are about 1 in 100, not 1 in a thousand or ten thousand. The odds of getting killed or wounded are roughly 1 in 12. Russian Roulette offers Odds of 1 in 6.

Only an idiot would play Russian Roulette, and only an idiot American Soldier would go outside the wire in Iraq amd assume nobody would try to kill them today.

Posted by: Soldier's Dad Author Profile Page at January 2, 2008 12:46 PM

Soldiers Dad,

I agree with your main point here, but the odds aren't that grim anymore, especially not in Fallujah.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten Author Profile Page at January 2, 2008 1:17 PM

Regarding the comment in the post about Fallujah seeming nicer than Tijuana... I went on vacation to the Solomon Islands last summer. Saw a video posted here of a walk around in (I can't remember which Iraqi city) and it immediately occurred to me how much nicer Iraq looked than the Solomons capital, Honiara, did.

Obviously Iraq sucks in more ways that I can imagine, but it's sometimes nice to have the reminder that Iraqis don't have a monopoly on crappiness and misery.

Thanks for the post.

Posted by: bdunn02 Author Profile Page at January 2, 2008 1:23 PM

Great article, Michael!

A sweet-sour, no nonsense, reality based read. You don't see many of those anymore these days.

I hope we (the US) can realize how much more important our job in Iraq is today than ever, and that the next POTUS (whoever it might be) will carry the resolve to see to it that the Iraqi people will get a peaceful and democratic future, and not leave them in the dust as we bail out.

Not just the US, but the whole WORLD has an awesome opportunity to inject a droplet of democracy and freedom into the middle east. Some say Iraqis/Arabs are incapable of democracy, that their culture requires them to live in a state of dictatorship - I despise this theory, and I'll call anyone a bigot who would utter such nonsense.

That being said, there is no miracle cure for Iraq, or the Middle East as a whole. But I believe in every man there's a wish to live in peace and "tend to their garden", that wish needs to be cultivated, and the opportunity to do so must be facilitated and spread.

Posted by: Poposhka Author Profile Page at January 2, 2008 1:29 PM

Great post...absolutely captured the scene and people.

I embedded with the Army this summer and the same soldier gave me the exact comments those Marines gave you, albeit at different times...He told me that he would be happy to hand me his rifle so I could take a few shots during a firefight, to which I replied that if I started shooting it meant we were in the Alamo.

On another occasion a couple weeks later, he chastised me for taking off my armor at an Awakening Council meeting... "I mean, we got your back if anything happens," he told me, "but you should really wear your armor."

I don't say that to trade war stories, but to confirm what you already know, that when it comes to journalists and soldiers those comments are pretty universal...

As for the "Have a Plan" sign, I think the soldiers I met would have 100 percent agreed with its sentiment...

I'm an avid reader...good luck in the New Year.

Posted by: NS Webster Author Profile Page at January 2, 2008 1:49 PM

You and Bill Whittle today. The New Year is starting off with riches.

BTW I linked at Classical Values and Power and Control.

I love the fact that you bonded well with the Marines. Semper Fi. And your bit about taking up weapons in a fire fight was a hoot. BTW I have been asked a similar question in a different context. I told the guy, no.

From an Old Navy Guy.

Posted by: M. Simon Author Profile Page at January 2, 2008 1:52 PM

This man could not have been a combatant. I was certain the odds of him trying to kill us were zero. I couldn’t help wondering: was it really necessary to have a plan to kill everyone? But complacency kills. You never know who might attack you in Iraq. I imagined bashing his head into the sidewalk.

The entire article does an excellent job of contrasting the civilian outlook with the marine/peacekeeper point of view, but this image really makes the point. I can't imagine having to regard everyone as an enemy, but Marines in a war zone have to think that way.

I heard a comment once about the Irish that I have always thought worked well for the Arabs as well. It is said that the Irish are the nicest people in the world, except when they are trying to kill you.

I was in Ireland for a while during the troubles and I'd have to agree with that. Of course, every nationality/cultural group has done some killing here and there. Other cultures like the Brits, the French and the Germans have killed a lot more people, but they're generally not as nice..

Posted by: maryatexitzero Author Profile Page at January 2, 2008 2:27 PM


There are people who think the "Prime Directive" from Star Trek is the law of the land. There are others who just act like it is. There are a lot of people who feel morally superior when they allow others to live in misery so that they are not inconvenienced. I'm not sure why this is, because the concept is alien to me; but from a remove it appears indistinguishable from laziness.

Long after the UN has become a joke intellectually, there are still a lot of people emotionally tied to the belief that this excruciatingly flawed institution is not only functional, it is without sin. Blame Star Trek or just gullibility, but at the end of the day, the UN just doesn't resolve conflict lastingly or well.

Posted by: Patrick S Lasswell Author Profile Page at January 2, 2008 3:27 PM

"Try imagining what what would happen in the United States if the police behaved so fearfully?"

The sign isn't in the United States and the USMC aren't police. That you would make such a comparison is a testament to how far their victory has progressed thus far.

That they still react the way Michael documents to practice gunfire is a testament to how far there is yet to go.

Posted by: Keith Author Profile Page at January 2, 2008 3:57 PM


The sign isn't in the United States and the USMC aren't police.

Police departments don't know crap about directing organic air support and artillery for maximum time on target effect. Also, police departments never perform amphibious assaults in larger than platoon force. There are other ways you can tell the police from the United States Marine Corps...

Posted by: Patrick S Lasswell Author Profile Page at January 2, 2008 5:49 PM

Great article, Michae. You deserve your Weblog Award.

What do you (or the Marines) think about the notion that this is just a tactical retreat by the bad guys and they will regroup after we leave? I suppose the jihad or criminal violence will never totally go away, but it seems to have been tamped down in Iraq.

Posted by: PJ Author Profile Page at January 2, 2008 7:04 PM

Anbar, Jan 1, (VOI) – An improvised explosive device (IED) went off near a police patrol in southern Falluja, Anbar province, an Iraqi police source said on Tuesday.
"The roadside IED blew up just after an Iraqi police patrol pushed deep into al-Tameem neighborhood, southern Falluja, damaging one of the patrol vehicles," the source, who declined to be named, told the independent news agency Voices of Iraq (VOI).

Posted by: Tom in Texas Author Profile Page at January 2, 2008 7:26 PM

Michael, that was a great read. The statement that caught my eye though was, "We go out there and eat chow with the guys who were shooting at us a year ago." Was First Lieutenant Barry Edwards exaggerating, or did he really fraternize with known combatants, or did they just claim to be combatants as a boast? Socializing with someone who tried to kill you recently, and still would if the opportunity presented itself, is eerie.

Posted by: Dadmin Author Profile Page at January 2, 2008 7:52 PM


I don't know if LT Edwards has eaten with known former insurgents, but I know many Marines who have, and yes it is eerie.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten Author Profile Page at January 2, 2008 8:35 PM

Excellent post. I appreciate reading your experiences in Iraq - and the photos.

About the "Have a Plan" sign, and the comments: I have a hard time imagining a Marine walking around "like a scared rabbit." Also, although I'll grant that the sign is blunt, the message is hardly stupid.

"Try imagining what what would happen in the United States if the police behaved so fearfully?" This comment seems to confuse fear with prudence. Two points: The United States Marines in Fallujah are not police officers in Indianapolis. And, even here in America, police tend to have a hand close to their sidearm in some situations. This is not fear, it's not paranoia: It's a procedure born out of the sad reality that some people are not nice.

Finally, I took the liberty of quoting the first paragraph of your current post, with a link to your blog, in my 'anotherwaronterrorblog.blogspot.com' - if this is not acceptable, please leave a comment there.

Posted by: Norski Author Profile Page at January 2, 2008 10:52 PM

"Have a Plan to Kill Everyone You Meet", actually has been around for a long time--it was part of the conditioning back in Viet Nam. And it still stays with me and many others even though it has been over 38 years. It may have been around even before then, I don't know.
Great article, makes me proud of the young men and women that serve our country in the military.
And a special Thanks to you for not judging my Marines as evil people.

Posted by: Oldsalt1947 Author Profile Page at January 2, 2008 11:23 PM


You are being quoted by Fox.

For all the people that are clueless. Even the police have their fire arms out or hands on during traffic stops. Too many have been shot without warning in the past, when the vehicle turned out to have armed felons in it. That is in peacetime USA.

Paranoia is a survival trait in a counter-insergency...

P.S. Have your ID and documents already removed from your wallet when the police approach. There is a wallet hidden .22 cal in existence and you might be shot by mistake because you have your wallet in hand. I got that from a saftey brief by a Mississippi State Trooper to the crew of the USS Yorktown (CG48) in 2001. He carried one as his triciary backup weapon...

Posted by: DJ Elliott Author Profile Page at January 3, 2008 12:23 AM

For those that are curious. There are also single shot Pen-guns and four shot Lighter-guns. Most are made in Serbia...

Posted by: DJ Elliott Author Profile Page at January 3, 2008 12:26 AM

A somewhat more politically-correct version of "that sign" might be: "Have a plan for surviving combat. Update it with every person you meet. Do not let your guard down for even a moment, as the enemy is still out there among the people, and will be looking for a moment of lapsed attention." It is not an intent to kill, or a desire to kill. It is a state of preparedness, because when things go bad it happens suddenly, and never without blood on the street. Given that reality, the Marine's job is to ensure it's not American blood. A Marine must be ready to kill, and cannot afford to make assumptions about who, or when, or if.

What people consistently forget, as World War II fades from living memory, is that in post-war occupied Germany and Japan there remained active insurgents for many years who were taking shots at American, British, Canadian, Soviet and French soldiers. Some of those soldiers died. It took almost a generation for things to finally fully settle down, and even then we had Baader-Meinhoff and the Red Brigade and their ilk to deal with (terrorist groups who did not begin with the occupation, but for whom post-war governments and soldiers were targets). It is the same here, albeit with the insurgents better supplied and with well-heeled foreign sponsors. If it took a generation then, why would it take less than a generation now?

We're in it for the long haul. We have to be. It cannot be made to work in less time. Consider that most insurgents are at that young, aggressive post-adolescent phase when violence is the most appealing. That age group, which grew up with the major combat and exposed to the bravado of Hussein and his ilk as role models, will have to age to maturity with children of their own. Those who are in the "testosterone years" of 14-25 will have to be those who have only known post-war life, have seen Westerners trying to keep the peace, and have seen the insurgents not as heroes but as the ones doing the killing.

Ten years from now, there will still be American soldiers on Iraqi soil (though in much-reduced numbers, and not running the country in any meaningful way). Twenty years from now, they will either be gone or will be the genuine guests of the Iraqi people just as our soldiers are now in Japan and Germany. The four-year cycle of American politics makes this much more difficult (and foreign nations know very well that they cannot make too many hard plans for dealing with the U.S. that outlast an election cycle), but the reality is that the draw-down will be slow.

How slow will depend as much on the Iraqis as it will on the Americans. Either can mess it up in either direction (too quickly or too slowly). Let's hope that objectivity rules the day... and the decade... and that the situation on the ground, not in Washington, is what dictates the draw-down rate that brings all this to a successful conclusion for everyone involved.

Well, everyone except the guys using the IEDs.

Posted by: LRund Author Profile Page at January 3, 2008 2:22 AM

Great read, great reporting.

Posted by: Michael_B Author Profile Page at January 3, 2008 5:26 AM

As usual, a great read. I can relate to the "Being on Edge" attitude of these Marines, as I spent 22 years running around to strange places and lands. It has nothing to do with, as Mr. Thompsons view, of "Being Paranoid"...it's being prepared. It's obvious that he has NEVER put is butt in harms way, let alone put his butt in harms way to tell the TRUE story. Should he ever get the courage up to go to some strange and exotic land where there ARE people there intent on his destruction, he would understand. As for Fallujah, it most definately a quiter place...my nephew was there with the Marines the first time...and I'm the ONLY person he'll talk to about it...because he knows...been there...done that...GREAT story Michael...keep up the god work and I'll definately continue to read.

Posted by: baluga32 Author Profile Page at January 3, 2008 11:40 AM

"What people consistently forget, as World War II fades from living memory, is that in post-war occupied Germany and Japan there remained active insurgents for many years who were taking shots at American, British, Canadian, Soviet and French soldiers...It took almost a generation for things to finally fully settle down...If it took a generation then, why would it take less than a generation now?

"We're in it for the long haul. We have to be. It cannot be made to work in less time."
(from LRund, above)

I wonder if President Bush took this into account when he decided to invade Iraq. Did he know what he was getting into?

I still don't know why we're there. I'm not convinced that it's about oil, but I can't imagine that our administration was foolish enough to have done it for some theoretical strategic reasons. A "domino effect" that would spread democracy to the rest of the region? They had to be kidding. Some say it was a vendetta against Saddam, or a desire to "finish" what was left undone in 1991. I don't find any of these explanations particularly convincing. And forget about the "war on terror." That was evidently a pretext.

Why are we there? Especially as we were so clueless regarding what would be required after the initial invasion. And now we're now losing the upper hand in Afghanistan, where warlords control much of the country and the Taliban is making a comeback.

I admire the soldiers for their strength of character and steadfastness. I just wish that their earnest efforts weren't wasted on a war that should never have been.

Posted by: Joanne Author Profile Page at January 3, 2008 5:22 PM

Actually, George W. Bush has been telling it this would be a long haul since 2001. We just keep trying to forget that part.

Posted by: StephenB Author Profile Page at January 3, 2008 8:24 PM

>>>“Have a Plan to Kill Everyone You Meet.”

Absolutely. That's just another way of saying hope for the best, plan for the worst.

Posted by: Carlos Author Profile Page at January 3, 2008 10:05 PM

If someone offers you a gun, take it. When the time comes for you to need one, that person will be too busy dealing with other things. You may, unfortunately, need it for yourself. Same reason I always gave one to our chaplain and our Surgeon when they were outside the wire.
Second, Wear the best body armor you can find. If it's too heavy to move in, you'll move in it anyway. When the shooting starts, you won't notice it so much.
Third, next time you see someone going up to a suspected IED to see if it really is an IED, be sure to tell them about a guy you know who left 1/2 his berries, part of his hands, most of his lap, and both his eardrums floating in a sewage canal. We have TTPs for "suspected IEDs." Step 1: all suspected IEDs are real IEDs. Treat them as such. What would he have done if it were a real IED?
Sounds like the Marines are enjoying the vision I had for my little slice of Iraq. Good on them. Sounds like they have their heads on straight about COIN.
Be safe, don't do anything stupid. When you are on a patrol, mounted or walking,your eyes and ears matter, don't be afraid to mention if something seems suspicious--you may be the only one who notices. Eventually, when you come back home, you'll lose the habit of swerving to avoid bits of rubbish on the road because it might blow up. But having a plan to kill everyone you meet is a good skill to acquire, you can keep that when you come home.


Posted by: Chuck Ziegenfuss (TCOverride) Author Profile Page at January 4, 2008 1:39 AM


We are five plus years into the war with Iraq and Afghanistan. The decision to invade Iraq occurred years ago and though those decisions may be flawed/disputed can we move past that point and have a discussion about what to do now?

May I ask you a few questions?

After reading Totten's post do you believe Iraq is improving?

Whats your impression of the Marines currently deployed in Fallujah?

Should NATO [read European nations] send more combat troops to Afghanistan?

Posted by: 13times Author Profile Page at January 4, 2008 2:05 AM

Michael Totten,

Great post. Your comment about body armor also applies to armoring vehicles and aircraft. There is always a tradeoff between protection, agility, and endurance. Sometimes less armor is actually safer.

David T and Derek,

It is not "over the top" or "running like a scared rabbit" to train the Marines to be ready at any time for someone to shoot at them, just because statistically the chances are relatively low that it will occur. I suppose you think it is "over the top" or "running like a scared rabbit" for them to always be wary for IEDs? Question: did you ever teach someone to drive a car? Did you teach them that they didn't really have to pay attention when they were driving down the street, because it was very unlikely that a child would run out in front of them?

Posted by: exhelodrvr Author Profile Page at January 4, 2008 9:42 AM


My parents and I read your journal and appreciate the insight you give us. My younger brother is a Marine and part of India Company currently stationed in Fallujah. The cities you speak of he has mentioned in our conversations. Seeing the pictures you post and the information you provide really give us a perspective into where my brother is and the environment he is living everyday. It is refreshing to hear someone say that where he is stationed is calmer than other areas and a "war free" zone. He is there for a mission and it does not surprise me to hear about the posted signs. That is his job. He is one of the many brave soldiers fighting for our freedoms. Thank you for sharing your experiences. For those of with loved ones in the very area you were writing from, it brings us some comfort.


Posted by: amurphy78 Author Profile Page at January 4, 2008 12:45 PM

Joanne: You ask why we went into Iraq? Think about the phrase "the banality of evil." Then think about the many billions of dollars that have gone toward reconstruction. Think about how much of the work has been wasted, by fraud, diversion, overcharging, under-delivering, or being blown up by insurgents. Much of that work has been done several times over. And all of that work, including the work that wasn't done, was paid for.

Listening to anti-war liberals in casual conversation, I hear a lot more about oil than I do about Halliburton. It's easy to believe that we went in for ill-considered national self-interest--"for the oil" is a sound-bite story that spreads easily. But it is too trite to satisfy me.

It may be a little harder to wrap one's brain around the idea that we went in because it would make a few billion dollars for the war profiteers.

Does anyone think that Cheney didn't know that Halliburton was going to make a bundle on this war? In my opinion, Cheney had--at least--a conflict of interest.

To those who say the decision happened years ago and is irrelevant today... it will stay relevant until the last neocon is out of power.


Posted by: Chris Phoenix Author Profile Page at January 4, 2008 2:54 PM

Joanne asks why we went to Iraq.

There are many reasons, the most significant of which are as follows.

1) To prevent Saddam from reactivating his nuke work.

2) To prevent Saddam getting other forms of WMD.

3) To stop Saddam from sharing WMD with Islamic terrorists.

3) To free 27 million people from a brutal dictatorshp.

4) To establish democracy in the Middle East as a counter measure against the extreamism that has grown out of the repressive rule in that part of the world.

Posted by: Mike E Author Profile Page at January 4, 2008 3:28 PM

Chris Phoenix,

Does anyone think that Cheney didn't know that Halliburton was going to make a bundle on this war? In my opinion, Cheney had—at least—a conflict of interest.

It is hard not to make fun of you for this, but I will try. Dick Cheney has decades of government service in a variety of roles including congressional aide, congressman, Secretary of Defense, and Vice President. To predicate that the handful of years he spent as CEO of Halliburton defined his existence and decision structure is at best flawed reasoning.

I do find it reasonable that Dick Cheney would realize that the drawdown in military logistics effected by the Clinton administration would require civilian support in case of emergency. I do find it reasonable that as CEO of Halliburton he would position the company in his charge to provide logistics support for the diminished military in the event of a war. I do think it was obvious that we were going to war with somebody after the Clinton administration because we were due. The world situation was clearly declining and the UN solutions were clearly not working.

Are you saying that that Clinton administration built an entire house of cards so that Halliburton could make a profit when it collapsed? That is roughly as logical a position to take as to accuse Dick Cheney of controlling the US policy so he could make money for a company he no longer worked for and never built.

If it makes you feel any better, the fraud, waste and abuse under Halliburton and other civilian contractors is much less than we would be facing if this was all handled by military conscripts.

Posted by: Patrick S Lasswell Author Profile Page at January 5, 2008 11:59 AM

Patrick, you wrote:
"If it makes you feel any better, the fraud, waste and abuse under Halliburton and other civilian contractors is much less than we would be facing if this was all handled by military conscripts."

.. or by the UN, for that matter.

Michael- great piece once again. Here's to an even more peaceful 2008!

Posted by: MisterH Author Profile Page at January 5, 2008 2:54 PM

Just came across your blog. Thanks for a great article. You have some big kahuna's.

Posted by: Doug64 Author Profile Page at July 29, 2008 12:17 PM

As a father who has lost a son in Iraq, a couple of things:

First, thanks for telling it straight. It's nice to see journalism without an agenda coming from Iraq. Can't contribute just now (copays for my cancer doctor and hospital are first in line) but will when I can, because you do good work;

Second, Mr. David Thurman, you're an idiot.
My son and his squad bought it outside Taji, Iraq in January 2005 when their Bradley ran over three 155mm artillery shells buried in the road. It was the second time that they'd had an IED go off under them in two weeks, but this time the thing rolled them over and all of their hatches were jammed. A full combat load of ammunition went off inside that track and everyone was killed. My son didn't have a face when they sent him home for his funeral services.

So when you bloviate about "paranoia" in ANY Iraqi town, inside or outside the wire, I conclude that you do not have the first idea of what is really going on. This is Indian Country. Men are, in that same little town those Marines are stationed, sitting around hoping a Marine will NOT have a plan to kill them when they appear out of nowhere with infantry weapons or hand grenades, dressed as civilians (no Geneva Convention regulates THEIR actions) and strongly motivated to kill themselves an American.

Mr. Thompson, you are full of Bravo Sierra. Anyone who has loved ones outside the wire in Iraq knows it, too. But let's hang YOUR stupid ass outside the perimeter for a day in Anbar Province or Kurdistan, or even in most of Baghdad, and see how idiotic that sign is THEN.

The problem with the world today is that, unlike Heaven in the old song, the streets are not guarded by United States Marines.

Posted by: Vance Frickey Author Profile Page at August 24, 2008 10:01 AM

Correction: My vitriol was intended for "David Thomson," not "Thurman" or "Thompson."

Mr. Totten, I can't imagine how you manage not to have typos in your copy after coming in from a day of walking around in mortal danger, day in, day out.

THAT's professional journalism.

Posted by: Vance Frickey Author Profile Page at August 24, 2008 10:08 AM

It is amazing how much Al Anbar has changed in the last year and a half. Al Anbar Awaking has really taken off. Now if only the Iraqi government could figure out how to use that $79 billion budget surplus.... maybe one day.

Posted by: joncollie Author Profile Page at August 29, 2008 2:49 AM

This line on their sign comes from military humor comparing the rules of different U.S. forces for a gunfight. The Marines rules are (rule 5 provides the line):

1. Be courteous to everyone, friendly to no one.
2. Decide to be aggressive enough, quickly enough.
3. Have a plan.
4. Have a back-up plan, because the first one probably won't work.
5. Be polite, be professional, but have a plan to kill everyone you meet.
6. Do not attend a gunfight with a handgun whose caliber does not start with a "4."
7. Anything worth shooting is worth shooting twice. Ammo is cheap. Life is expensive.
8. Move away from your attacker. Distance is your friend. (Lateral & diagonal preferred.)
9. Use cover or concealment as much as possible.
10. Flank your adversary when possible. Protect yours.
11. Always cheat; always win. The only unfair fight is the one you lose.
12. In ten years nobody will remember the details of caliber, stance, or tactics. They will only remember who lived.
13. If you are not shooting, you should be communicating your intention to shoot.

Posted by: Shawn Author Profile Page at September 30, 2008 12:56 PM

good job mike,dont get shot, look me up some day,we will break bread and make toast.

Posted by: lj Author Profile Page at October 19, 2008 11:49 PM
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Winner, The 2008 Weblog Awards, Best Middle East or Africa Blog

Winner, The 2007 Weblog Awards, Best Middle East or Africa Blog

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