February 12, 2008

The Final Mission, Part III

Humvee Dubat Fallujah.jpg

ANBAR PROVINCE, IRAQ – The United States plans to hand Anbar Province over to the Iraqis next month if nothing catastrophic erupts between now and then. The Marines will stick around a while longer, though, and complete their crucial last mission – training the Iraqi Police to replace them.

The local police force would collapse in short order without American financial and logistics support. “The biggest problem they have is supply,” Corporal Hayes said to me in Fallujah. “They're always running out of gas and running out of bullets. How are they supposed to police this city with no gas and no bullets?”

What they need more than anything else, though, in the long run anyway, is an infusion of moderate politics. Fallujah is in the heartland of the Sunni Triangle. The city was ferociously Baathist during the rule of Saddam Hussein. It is surly and reactionary even today. Even by Iraqi standards. Even after vanquishing the insurgency. Fallujans may never be transformed into Jeffersonian liberal democrats, but young men from New York, California, and Texas are taking the Iraqis by the hand and gently repairing their political culture.

I accompanied Lieutenant Andrew Macak and Lieutenant Eric Montgomery to an ethics class they taught to members of the Anbar Provincial Security Forces (PSF). PSF members are police officers who operate at the provincial level rather than the city level, much like state police in the U.S. The class was held at a station in Karmah, a small city wedged between Fallujah and Baghdad. Coursework included the ethical responsibilities of police officers, the importance of human rights, and the permissible rules of engagement in counterinsurgency operations. The material was the same as that taught by Marines everywhere in Al Anbar – in Fallujah, Ramadi, Hit, and Haditha.

“We’re teaching them about the Law of Armed Conflict,” Lieutenant Montgomery said. “If they become a police state, people are not going to support them.”

IP with glasses and AK Fallujah.jpg

Post-Saddam Iraq is not a police state. Even so, while it's orders of magnitude more moderate and humane than the genocidal and fascistic regime it replaced, many individuals in the government and police departments have rough authoritarian habits that are rooted in Arab culture itself as much as they are legacies from the previous era.

“If we find Al Qaeda guys or weapons traffickers, we capture them,” Second Lieutenant Gary Laughlin said. “Iraqi Police, though, are too rough with detainees, more than I think is morally acceptable. They are rough before anything has been proven. They aren't hitting them, necessarily, but they are pushing them and throwing them around. We report this to Captain Jamal in Jolan. He takes care of it.”

Many Iraqi government officials and police officers have a hard time adjusting to the standards expected of them, but a small number are real stand-up guys who want to do the right thing.

“Captain Jamal is very pro-active,” Second Lieutenant Mike Barefoot said. “That's not a typical trait among Iraqis, except, unfortunately, among the insurgents. He's pro-active in building up the community, not just in fighting insurgents. He throws parties. He holds town hall meetings. He rents a tent, chairs, loudspeakers, cameramen, everything that matters. He spends money out of his own pocket. Where he gets that money, I don't know.”

The regions of Iraq that suffered most from the insurgency are, perhaps not surprisingly, more strongly anti-terrorist than other parts of the country. Likewise, Iraqis from these regions who suffered the most tend to be more committed to responsible moderate politics.

“Captain Jamal's brother's house was blown up and he was killed,” Lieutenant Barefoot said. “He was targeted because his brother is an Iraqi Police captain. It was a highly motivating experience.”

I rode with four Marines in a Humvee to the Karmah station for the human rights class. On the way we heard gunshots.

“I'm hearing heavy gunfire,” our gunner said. He stood in the open-air turret on top of the vehicle and could hear better than we could. All I heard was the roar of the engine.

“Where's it coming from?” Lieutenant Montgomery said.

“From the south,” the gunner said. “It sounds like a heavy fire fight, sir. I think it might be at the sheikh's house.”

Well, I thought. I was just outside Fallujah and getting closer to Baghdad. Something dramatic was bound to happen sooner or later if I stayed in the area long enough. Right?

Not necessarily.

While trying to figure out what was going on, we pulled into the parking lot at the station and found the local sheikh in an argument with Anbar Provincial Security Force officers and Marines. He was trying to secure the release of several Al Qaeda ringleaders and IED makers who had just been captured and who were partly responsible for the vicious murder and intimidation campaign that had only recently ended.

“You have to let them go,” the sheikh said.

Trying to Secure Release Iraq.jpg

“We can't let them go,” Lieutenant Montgomery said

“You have to release these people so they will be less mad,” the sheikh said. “Otherwise they might start it all up again.”

“That is completely unacceptable,” Lieutenant Macak said. “They are members of Al Qaeda. They killed coalitions forces. And they can't start anything up again if they're in prison. If they're guilty, they won’t be released any time soon.”

Most low level insurgents are placed into the Iraqi criminal justice system when captured, but detainees face American military justice if they’ve killed Americans.

It was a bit strange to hear how local authorities will sometimes abuse detainees before they are even charged with a crime, and then minutes later hear a sheikh plead on behalf of a high-level insurgency leader.

“It's such twisted logic,” Lieutenant Montgomery whispered to me.

Is it, though? Earlier I was told that the very people who inform on insurgents will unseriously go through the motions of trying to secure their release. They do this to prevent retaliatory attacks from insurgents still at large in the area. Perhaps that's what was happening here, but it's hard to say.

Someone in Iraq was obviously happy these alleged Al Qaeda leaders were captured. The gunfire our gunner had heard just a few minutes before wasn’t a fire fight. It was a celebration.

“They're firing off all the ammo we gave them,” Lieutenant Montgomery said. Our gunner had said the shots sounded like they were in front of the sheikh's house. I seriously had to wonder then: did the sheikh really want these insurgents released from custody? Franky, I doubt it. But I don't know, this is Iraq. The wheels are on crooked, and there are no straight lines in this country.

*

I stood outside the classroom and drank tea with Lieutenant Macak, Lieutenant Montgomery, and our Palestinian interpreter who called himself Tom. While I stirred and sipped my tea, Tom chain-smoked Gauloises cigarettes imported from France.

“Tom, do you have a lighter?” Lieutenant Montgomery said.

“Tom doesn't need a lighter,” Lieutenant Macak said. “He just lights one from the other.”

Tom laughed and handed over the lighter. Lieutenant Montgomery lit a Camel and inhaled deeply.

“If we can get the Iraqis to not beat detainees,” he said, “that's a big step.”

Meanwhile, Americans back home argue about whether water-boarding is torture and if it should be outlawed. I’ve had no exposure to interrogators who are tasked with extracting information from high-level terrorists like Khaled Sheikh Mohammad – who reportedly really was water-boarded. But I can say, for whatever it’s worth, that I heard nothing but “liberal” opinions about how ordinary detainees should be treated from every soldier and Marine who talked about it, both on the record and off. Military justice, I suspect, is more in line with the values of domestic liberals and Democrats than many probably realize.

Prisoner abuse is a serious violation of the Uniform Code of Military Justice. American Marines spend a great deal of time and energy trying to eradicate the practice in Iraqi Police departments.

The class was about to begin, so we set aside our glasses of tea and put out our cigarettes.

Twenty or so Iraqi Provincial Security Force officers filed in and sat on hard wooden benches facing the white board. I took an empty seat in the front.

It was no warmer inside the classroom than outside. Windows were broken and sand-bagged.

Broken Sandbagged Windows Fallujah.jpg

The power was out and the heat was off. Iraq got cold fast. It was warm when I arrived, hot a mere two weeks before I arrived, and then it was very suddenly freezing. Summer is long, winter is short, but spring and fall only last about two weeks apiece. Iraq is one of the least physically comfortable countries on Earth.

Some of the Iraqis had sore throats. While they made tea for themselves and for us, one of the Marines gave them packets of Vitamin C to boost their immune systems against the virus that was going around.

Before getting into the ethics of policing and warfare, Lieutenant Montgomery discussed weapon safety. “Don't point your weapon at anything you don't intend to shoot,” he said to the Iraqis seated in front of him. He said that with a straight face. The Iraqis listened and kept straight faces of their own as if they were actually taking him seriously.

PSF Training Class Board 2.jpg
Lieutenant Eric Montgomery

PSF in Class.jpg
Anbar Provincial Security Force officers

It was a laughable moment from a bizarro world where the Americans pretend to be teaching and the Iraqis pretend to be learning. The Iraqis have heard this hundreds of times, but they are not going to change their behavior any time soon. They will point their weapons at me. They will point their weapons at their American allies and teachers. They will point their weapons at their fellow Iraqi Police officers. They will point their weapons at you if you ever go to Iraq. They recklessly wave the barrels of their rifles in every direction. Those rifles are almost always in Condition One – ready to fire – even though they ought to be in Condition Three or Four. I was more likely to be shot by an Iraqi Police officer on accident than by an insurgent on purpose.

But the Marines drive the point home over and over again anyway. The Iraqis know what they're supposed to do. They know how to do it even if they don't want to do it. At some point, though, they might say enough after accidentally shooting each other too many times and decide it's time to implement those safety regulations they've heard so much about.

Lieutenant Montgomery spent most of his time in the classroom talking about human rights and the very restrictive rules of engagement that apply to American and Iraqi combatants. (Police officers, unfortunately, are often counterinsurgent combatants. They aren’t handing out speeding tickets like regular officers in countries that are not at war. They are part of the multinational coalition in Iraq, and their rules of engagement are dictated to them by Americans.

Bullet Holes Iraqi Police Truck Fallujah.jpg

The Marines are not imposing American values per se on the Iraqis. They’re grounded in international law, and they’re deadly serious about it. Lieutenant Montgomery didn’t give a lecture on the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights, or anything else that is particular of or exclusive to the United States. Instead, he taught the U.N. Code of Conduct for Law Enforcement Officials.

“The human rights in question are identified and protected by national and international law,” the Code of Conduct says. “Among the relevant international instruments are the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the Declaration on the Protection of All Persons from Being Subjected to Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, the United Nations Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, the International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid, the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, the Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners and the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations.”

Iraq Police with Radio.jpg
An Iraqi Police officer in Fallujah

“No law enforcement official may inflict, instigate, or tolerate any act of torture or other cruel, inhumane, or degrading treatment or punishment,” Lieutenant Montgomery said. He read it off the white board.

Later, I cross-referenced what he said with the Code of Conduct itself. As it turned out, he was quoting from it verbatim.
No law enforcement official may inflict, instigate or tolerate any act of torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, nor may any law enforcement official invoke superior orders or exceptional circumstances such as a state of war or a threat of war, a threat to national security, internal political instability or any other public emergency as a justification of torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.
Lieutenant Macak had some words of his own for the class. “If someone confesses under torture,” he said, “that confession is useless.”

According to planet-wide conventional wisdom, United States soldiers and Marines are on an abusive rampage in Iraq. Relentless media coverage of prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib – which really did occur, but which the United States didn’t sanction or tolerate – seriously distorted what actually goes on in Iraq most of the time. The United States military is far from perfect and is hardly guilt-free, but it’s the most law-abiding and humane institution in Iraq at this time.

PSF Training Class Board.jpg

“Human rights are legal tools in the hands of citizens against abuse of power by an oppressive state,” Lieutenant Montgomery said. “If human rights are not respected, sooner or later it will lead to violence and instability…Human rights are rights that derive from the inherent dignity and worth of the person, and they are universal, inalienable, and equal. They are the foundation of freedom, justice, and peace. They belong to people simply because they are human.” Again, he read from it the white board. All Iraqi Police officers in Al Anbar are exposed to this material.

It is imparted to Iraqi Police and Provincial Security Force officers through instruction. It is demonstrated to Iraqi civilians by example.

Lieutenant Macak told me about a local woman some Marines met who was missing a leg. Needless to say, she had a hard time getting around. These Marines pooled their resources and bought her a wheelchair with money from their own salaries.

Such people do not wish to recklessly fire their weapons and harm civilians. Their rules of engagement are sharply restrictive, much more so than most American civilians have any idea. The rules are certainly more restrictive than Iraqi civilians expected when the Americans showed up in force in 2003.

Some Marines complain about the rules which might even be a bit too restrictive. “You can't defend yourself out here,” one sergeant told me. “If you're manning a checkpoint, and a car is coming at you going 90 miles an hour, you can only shoot after it’s less than 25 meters away. You have less than one second to legally stop it, and it could be a VBIED [a Vehicle-borne IED, or a car bomb]. If you shoot quicker than that, you go to jail.”

Lieutenant Montgomery went over several what-if scenarios with his students.

“You're in a convoy,” he said, “and you see a man crouching behind a tree 100 meters off the road. You see a garbage bag on the side of the road with wires sticking out of it. What can you do?”

Three Iraqis partially answered the question. All answered correctly. None said it would be okay to shoot the guy even though it is very possible that he’s an IED trigger man.

PSF in Class 2.jpg

If the police officers sitting in that classroom ever believed it was American policy to indiscriminately shoot at Iraqis, they certainly know better now.

I've said before that American soldiers and Marines aren't the bloodthirsty killers of the popular (in certain quarters) imagination, and that they are far less racist against Arabs than average Americans. They are also, famously, less racist against each other, and they have been since they were forcibly integrated after World War II. This is due to sustained everyday contact with each other and with Iraqis. The stereotype of the racist and unhinged American soldier and Marine is itself a bigoted caricature based almost entirely on sensationalist journalism and recklessly irresponsible war movies.

Liberal journalist George Packer has spent a lot of time in Iraq and is a reliable critic of the Bush Administration and the war. He, like me, has his opinions and doesn't conceal them. But he reports what he sees honestly and comprehensively. You can trust him whether you agree with his views or not.

In a current World Affairs article he pans some of Hollywood's recent anti-war box office flops. “[T]he films...present the war as incomprehensible mayhem,” he wrote, “and they depict American soldiers as psychopaths who may as well be wearing SS uniforms. The G.I.s rape, burn, and mutilate corpses, torture detainees, accelerate a vehicle to run over a boy playing soccer, wantonly kill civilians and journalists in firefights, humiliate one another, and coolly record their own atrocities for entertainment. Have these things happened in Iraq? Many have. But in the cinematic version of the war, these are the only things that happen in Iraq. At a screening of The Situation, I was asked to discuss the film with its director, Philip Haas. Why had he portrayed the soldiers in cartoon fashion, I wondered. Why had he missed their humor, their fear, their tenderness for one another and even, every now and then, for Iraqis? Because, Haas said, he wanted to concentrate on humanizing his Iraqi characters instead.”

It's not hard to humanize Iraqis and Americans. A competent writer or director can do both at the same time. In fact, it requires deliberate effort or willful ignorance for a writer or director to humanize Iraqis while at the same time dehumanizing Americans. Packer humanizes both because he's a good writer, he's honest, and he actually works in Iraq. He leaves his fortified hotel compound and makes an effort to get it right, unlike so many writers, directors, and journalists in the stereotype-manufacturing industries.

Marines in Window Fallujah 2.jpg

You know who else is in Iraq and therefore knows what the country is really like? Iraqis. (Of course.) They see and experience much of the same kinds of events George Packer and I have seen and experienced. They don't learn about Iraq from Reuters and Hollywood. And they are less anti-American than they were during the initial invasion in 2003 – at least many of those who have had sustained contact with Marines and soldiers. Sustained contact with the “other” breaks down bigotry all around, even in war zones.

The violent strain of anti-Americanism in Fallujah and the surrounding area has ebbed almost completely. People here know Americans are not the enemy. They know Americans protect them from murder and intimidation from the head-choppers and car bombers. They know Americans provide medical care to Iraqis hurt by insurgents and even to insurgents wounded in battle.

Marine Holding Boys Hand Fallujah.jpg

If the Iraqis who listen to the Marines' lectures on human rights and the rules of engagement ever took seriously the once common comparison between the American invasion of 2003 and the bloodthirsty Mongol invasion of the 13th Century, they certainly don't anymore. They may not absorb all the lessons of their coursework, and they may still resent the American presence on principle to an extent, but at least they know what Americans really are like as people and warriors. The class taught by Lieutenant Eric Montgomery wasn’t designed with public relations in mind, but it has that effect all the same.

“If the police are dishonest and corrupt,” Lieutenant Montgomery said, “the entire government will be viewed as dishonest and corrupt. Of all the agents of the government, you are the ones the people will have the most direct contact with. So it's more important for you to be honest than it is for anyone else.”

Many Iraqi Police officers, though, are not honest.

“One police chief is thought to be smuggling weapons in,” Captain Stewart Glenn said to me back in Fallujah. “Trouble is we can't prove it. So we’re not doing much at the moment. We can't arrest him. He is widely respected in the community for helping secure the area. So we don't want to arrest him because the locals would go what the hell? We're in a tough spot with this guy.”

“Iraqi Police said they couldn't go on patrol with us because they were out of fuel,” said another Marine whose name I didn't catch. “So we bought them fuel. The very same day we saw them selling that fuel on the side of the road. We give them guns, and the guns disappear. Now we make them put a deposit down on the weapon before we give it to them. That took care of the problem.”

“There can be no abuse of power by the state,” Lieutenant Montgomery said to his class. Iraqis certainly didn't get that civics lesson from the regime of Saddam Hussein. They did, however, acquire many bad habits from the regime of Saddam Hussein.

After class, the Marines led the Iraqis outside and showed them how to search potentially dangerous suspects.

The Iraqis laughed as they tried out their new moves. It looked like they were only half serious.

“These guys aren't the sharpest tools in the drawer,” a Marine said to me as I snapped some pictures.

“Well,” I said. “Hopefully some of it sticks.”

“Some of it does,” he said. “It does.”

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Posted by Michael J. Totten at February 12, 2008 12:39 AM
Comments

Another brilliant read. Thanks, Mr. Totten.

On the topic of anti-American movies: I think if they made a movie based on the stuff you write, it would fare much better. It could include the mistakes and the corruption, but it should feature the human element, the bond between soldiers. They could include the chaos that they love so much in war movies, but if they weren't so obsessed with magnifying the bad things about Iraq, they could sway public opinion and maybe give our troops more time to finish the mission over there. At least the box-office flops show that Americans aren't ready to put down real American dollars to have their own country insulted and their soldiers demonized.

Posted by: James Author Profile Page at February 12, 2008 1:26 AM

Good stuff, as usual.

I am not a fan of the war and was against it before it begain. However, those who claim our troops are nothing but thugs randomly shooting have never served with nor know much about our troops.

We have the best trained troops in the world doing the hardest job in the world. No matter what you think about the war I think one must admit they have done a great job under terrible circumstances.

For me my opposition to the war has never been about the actions of our troops, but about the facts that led us into the war and the effects this war will have on the region.

The actions and bravery of our troops has been about the only bright spot in this conflict.

Posted by: Marc Author Profile Page at February 12, 2008 6:20 AM

The Iraqi men in the pictures look very young. What's the average age of the police over there? Perhaps there's not enough older cops to get the younger ones in line.

Those anti-american movies will be popular overseas, I'll wager. The Turks actually produced a movie that had American troops harvesting the organs of dead Iraqis.

Posted by: Boojum Author Profile Page at February 12, 2008 6:30 AM

"An Iraqi Police truck riddled with bullet holes."

I registered just to muse about the picture of the bullet holes in the truck. No bigger point here really. Just looks like the truck has a story all its own, which is almost funny.

At first glance, the assumption is this U.S. provided truck has been in a serious fire fight. But then, on second glance, note the odd pattern of the bullet hole, level groupings high and low on the door. Combined with Totten's lament of the all-to-common accidental discharge of Iraqi Police rifles, I wonder if those are actually exit holes.

It could be the truck got strafed (or whatever), but imagine, for a moment, an IP sitting in the in the truck with his rifle resting across his lap, finger on the trigger, and pointed towards the door. A few bumpy roads and accidental discharges later -- we get the top line of holes. Then imagine an IP sort of wedging his rifle between the door and seat, muzzle pointed downward, making for an improvised gun rack, but the IP maintains his absentminded habit of keeping his finger on the trigger. Four accidental squeezes later -- we get the bottom grouping of bullet holes.

Plus, the paint chipping looks more consistent with and exit hole to my entirely untrained eye. I suppose, if this were the case, it lends to Totten's idea that, now, Iraqi incompetence is becoming more dangerous than the insurgency. Anyway, just thought I'd share my thought.

Amazing post as always Totten. You continue to inspire and awe.

Yo

Posted by: yojimbo Author Profile Page at February 12, 2008 11:35 AM

Boojum: What's the average age of the police over there?

30, maybe.

yojimbo: I wonder if those are actually exit holes.

That's funny. Hadn't thought of that. There are no holes anywhere in that truck except in the doors. Could be because insurgents shot at the doors with good aim trying to kill the police inside...but the insurgents can't aim for shit.

I don't know how to tell an exit hole from an entrance hole, though. Does anyone around here know?

Posted by: Michael J. Totten Author Profile Page at February 12, 2008 12:03 PM

Michael;

I noticed those holes (only the top three in the front door) in a photo in a previous article, and was going to ask if they were bullet holes, but since they didn't appear very random, I figured they probably weren't.

Posted by: Tom in Texas Author Profile Page at February 12, 2008 12:39 PM

“Summer is long, winter is short, but spring and fall only last about two weeks apiece. Iraq is one of the least physically comfortable countries on Earth.”

Sounds like South Texas.

Posted by: Tom in Texas Author Profile Page at February 12, 2008 12:46 PM

If the hole opens into the truck, entry.
If it opens outside of the truck, exit.
Also entry holes tend to be smaller than exit. Provided the bullet wasn't tumbling when it hit the target. Having never seen a 7.62 entry hole, those in the truck still look rather large to be entering the truck.

Posted by: Kevin Author Profile Page at February 12, 2008 1:13 PM

There is certainly a preconceived notion about the American military throughout the world. In the South Korean flim "The Host" Arrogant American officals in Korea order hapless Koreans to dump chemicals down the sink, which gives birth to a monster that wrecks havoc.

I take most anti war sentiments from abroad (espeically Asia) with a grain of salt. Many prominent anti Iraq voices in Korea are either radical conservatives or nationalists in their own nations, or just netizens who are spoon fed baseless anti American conspiracy theories.

I lived in the United States for almost 20 years now. I've lived in their company. I can only laugh at the stuff many Asians have made up about America, and their preconceived notions about this country or Iraq. Some Koreans buy into romantic notions of Al Qaeda as independence fighters.

Posted by: lee Author Profile Page at February 12, 2008 1:15 PM

They will point their weapons at their American allies and teachers. They will point their weapons at their fellow Iraqi Police officers. They will point their weapons at you if you ever go to Iraq.

They're like that in Jordan too. During every interaction with border police and roadside cops (who pulled taxis over for some unspecified reason) there were always guns pointed in my face. Then there was the Lebanese soldier who dropped his gun. At least his friends knew that was bad, and joked about it.

Sustained contact with the “other” breaks down bigotry all around, even in war zones.

It does if both sides are open to the idea of breaking down bigotry. Our troops and the Iraqis deserve a lot of credit for making this work. Thanks, as always, for going over there and reporting it.

Posted by: maryatexitzero Author Profile Page at February 12, 2008 1:25 PM

Tom,

The regularity of the holes struck me as well, but that doesn't mean that they aren't bullet holes. I've seen a lot more AK-47's in Iraq than drills. Since Michael was bringing up the cavalier attitude of many Iraqi's towards negligent weapons discharge, I do not think it impossible that the holes are deliberate shots.

The best muzzle discipline I saw in Iraq was by a revolutionary communist Kurd guard. I disliked his politics, but loved his professionalism.

Posted by: Patrick S Lasswell Author Profile Page at February 12, 2008 1:33 PM

Totten: "That's funny."

Glad to know I got a laugh out you Totten.

Tom in Texas: "I figured they probably weren't."

Since I spun this little yarn about the bullet holes, I went checked out the photo Tom in Texas mentioned in the earlier post. The bullet holes are virtually the same, but it's a different truck! The truck in this post is #160. In Part 1 its truck # is partial but ends in 22. As much as I would like to think my theory holds water (cough), I'm thinking that these are not bullet holes at all. The pattern repeats almost exactly on each door (back and front door on both trucks). I'm guessing they are bolt holes for some sort of up-armor add on. Thoughts?

What I think is amazing is that, if this is the case, Totten's mild photo caption error is reflective of the down turn in violence. A couple of rusty holes in an IP truck are now more often than not just that -- rusty holes. I had fun with my theory though.

Yo

Posted by: yojimbo Author Profile Page at February 12, 2008 1:40 PM

Just freaking fantastic work. Thank you Michael.

Posted by: Ray robison Author Profile Page at February 12, 2008 2:10 PM

yojimbo: The bullet holes are virtually the same, but it's a different truck!

You're right. I hadn't noticed. Now I have no idea what those holes are. Maybe armor was bolted to the doors and is no longer necessary?

Posted by: Michael J. Totten Author Profile Page at February 12, 2008 3:22 PM

I deleted the caption since it was apparently wrong.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten Author Profile Page at February 12, 2008 3:23 PM

Michael, great work. I'd like to ask if you know how the Iraq War and US soldiers are portrayed on Arabic TV? The Iraqis and the people in Anbar definetly know that the Americans are there to help. Do the Iraqis stick up for the Americans?

Posted by: PeteDawg Author Profile Page at February 12, 2008 4:03 PM

Pete, it depends on the channel. Al Arabiya is better than Al Jazeera. But I don't follow either all that much, so I'm really not the best person to ask.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten Author Profile Page at February 12, 2008 4:12 PM

Hi Michael. I don't know if it's because you linked to George Packer's piece or what (I love his writing also, and loved the Assassin’s Gate) but this came across, for me, as one of your strongest pieces yet. I really enjoyed the central theme of ethical policing in Iraq. Incidentally, or not, if anyone has any publishing connections, I wrote a novel about my trip to Iraqi Kurdistan that I have been pitching to literary agents in New York City. I like to think it includes both the “mistakes & the corruption, but...” also, “...the human element.” (I was there in December, 2006) and I stressed the relationship between my protagonist, an American civilian (um...me) and my Kurdish-Iraqi counterpart. James said that it would be nice if films antithetical to Redacted et al “…could sway public opinion and maybe give our troops more time to finish the mission over there.” Without being too self-important, this is exactly what I had hoped with my book. And (again) not incidentally, I'm aiming to convert it into a screenplay in coming months. Though, it's dialogue-heavy. So it would be, I've thought, something like 'My Dinner with Andre,' only, in Suleimaniya.

Anyway, I felt ambivalent about 'advertising' thusly on Michael's site, but after I read the aforementioned comment, I couldn't resist. So, if anyone can help me make this dream a reality...hit me back.

Best to all, and again, Michael, wonderful work.

Posted by: scottmoshen Author Profile Page at February 12, 2008 4:39 PM

Regarding your comment "Military justice, I suspect, is more in line with the values of domestic liberals and Democrats than many probably realize"

Wrong. Military values and humane treatment of detainees is a conservative value.

(US) Liberals in the US would have bail for prisoners, miranda right demands, warrants from a judge before each attack on the enemy, second-guessing of every move, etc. etc.

The military is the last great institution in the US which liberals do not yet control. With luck it will remain that way for a long time.

While I enjoy your writing, and have contributed $ in support of your efforts, I've noticed your understanding of politics is quite naive.

Posted by: Max Author Profile Page at February 12, 2008 4:47 PM

Max: Wrong. Military values and humane treatment of detainees is a conservative value.

I didn't say or even suggest otherwise. I didn't bring up conservative values one way or the other.

Many liberals think the military operates with Jack Bauer rules of engagement, that Abu Ghraib was typical. And they're wrong. That was my point.

I can't make that point with liberals as easily by saying "humane treatment is a conservative value" because they have convinced themselves otherwise. And I am not trying to be partisan, I'm trying to explain what is happening in Iraq. That is my job. Arguing for conservative values is not.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten Author Profile Page at February 12, 2008 5:30 PM

That, by the way, is why I put "liberal" in quotation marks.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten Author Profile Page at February 12, 2008 5:31 PM

Michael

What caught my eye was the reference to "domestic liberals and Democrats" (big D).

If we turn it around it's more accurate (and less political) to say that liberals and Democrats would agree with day to day military justice more than they realize.

The distinction is important because liberal 'values' tend to blow with the wind. Whereas the military values of duty, honor and country remain steadfast through the generations. We have a professional fighting force that behaves professionally. Torture and abuse of prisoners is taught, accepted or tolerated.

What happened to a few illegal combatants in Gitmo (or elsewhere by the CIA) is another discussion altogether.

Anyway, I don't mean to beat up on ya but I hope the distinction is clear. You're right, no need to mention conservatives but I can tell you (as one) that the values are in sync.

Hang in there and keep up the good work!

Posted by: Max Author Profile Page at February 12, 2008 7:13 PM

Correction:

Torture and abuse of prisoners is NOT taught, accepted or tolerated.

Sheesh

Posted by: Max Author Profile Page at February 12, 2008 7:16 PM

Max,

I would prefer to say that excessive partisanship invites abusive fraud. The right in the United States has more recently and more thoroughly been cast out into the wilderness, forcing it to accept reasonable feedback. There certainly are any number of scoundrels in the US right engaged in abusive fraud, but they regularly get caught and vigorously outed. What is deeply disturbing about the US left is their willingness and ability to engage in cognitive dissonance about their frauds.

I am not going to name the left's practicing frauds in this post because the worst ones are so provocative as to derail any conversation about them. The point is about the process, and today the right looks for converts and the left looks for betrayal. The rigid lockstep one must stay in to remain accepted on the left is a disaster for their culture because it destroys cognitive acuity.

The lemmings on the left are running full speed towards the edge of the cliff over Iraq. None of them dare turn about for fear of being trampled and they will maintain solidarity all the way to the edge. One could maintain that there is some kind of courage associated with that course of action; regrettably the lasting value is integrity.

Go lemmings, go!

Posted by: Patrick S Lasswell Author Profile Page at February 12, 2008 7:40 PM

Patrick: today the right looks for converts and the left looks for betrayal.

There are plenty of heretic-hunters on the right. Have you forgotten about McCain Derangement Syndrome? Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Ann Coulter, etc., are all furious about McCain's mere 80 percent conservative rating.

At least the wilderness-wing of the GOP lost the primary. McCain, no doubt, is looking for converts, as is Obama.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten Author Profile Page at February 12, 2008 8:16 PM

If the Iraqis all love us so, why do they continue shooting at us, planting bombs, and driving VBIEDs at our forces. Answer me that, why don't you?

The place is a damned quagmire. The Sunnis and SHia still hate each other and fully intend to tear each other apart as soon as we leave. Our bayonets keep them apart, but how long can this go on?

Not much longer, hopefully; there's a change coming in Washington.....

Posted by: Carl_W_Goss Author Profile Page at February 12, 2008 9:51 PM

Michael,

I chose not to put down the crazy witch hunters of either extreme because their actions detract from the norm.

I promise you this, if the Democratic party does not have a clear nominee by mid-March, the hysteria of the anti-McCain tantrum will appear coldly lucid compared to the behavior on the left. I hope the police in Denver are developing their riot control skills because come August, they are going to need them if this is not a done deal.

Posted by: Patrick S Lasswell Author Profile Page at February 12, 2008 10:00 PM

Great work as usual, Michael.

There must be some way to get wider exposure for these kinds of stories. Maybe an aspiring bloggy filmmaker out there who'd want to accompany you on your next trip?

Posted by: Andrew Author Profile Page at February 12, 2008 10:45 PM

I dont really trust any Arab media. Al Arabiya is owned by a member of the Suadi royal family, as is much of the Arab media. Asharq al Awsat, al Hayat, al Riyadh (of course), LBC, MBC are all either owned or controled by Saudis.

Having said that, I read them all. They arent really so much good for news as for getting an idea who is leaning in what direction. For the moment al Arabiya, like most other Saudi new outlets, is leaning in America's direction.

Posted by: Marc Author Profile Page at February 13, 2008 6:18 AM

Carl_W_Goss,

If the Iraqis all love us so, why do they continue shooting at us, planting bombs, and driving VBIEDs at our forces. Answer me that, why don't you?

Why does Code Pink do what it does? They are fanatics who refuse to listen to reason. Same thing over there, only generations of really crappy ordnance handling gives them a lot more high explosives to work with and their culture is more tolerant of murderous violence.

Perhaps in the future Code Pink and their supporters will return to the kind of murderous violence we saw sporadically in the US in the early 1970s, but I doubt it. Our forensics skill, the competence of Code Pink, and the unavailability of military explosives combine to make it extraordinarily unlikely that the fanatics against the war will successfully engage in a bombing campaign. I regret to say that nothing in the integrity or character of Code Pink significantly prevents them from the slippery slope of explosive violence. Culturally they may be less likely to engage in that behavior, but the utter lack of integrity and reason in their leadership makes them truly loose cannons.

You can only hug Hugo Chavez so many times before you become him.

Circling back to the central question: AQI still engages in violence because there is still money in it and they still hold sway in some areas. Most of the militias are starting to notice that the tall nail draws the hammer, especially now that the hammer is better organized and more prevalent.

As for the change coming to Washington, a sudden increase in naivety is not necessarily a desirable change. Wouldn't it be better to dream of improvements instead of just change?

Posted by: Patrick S Lasswell Author Profile Page at February 13, 2008 8:40 AM

Where I spent some time growing up we used to go out shooting in the desert. Lots of times people would dump old vehicles there which soon became part of target practice.

Those hole look like they were incoming because the metal seems to be rounded on the outside, not the ragged edges of metal from an exit hole. It is hard to tell because the picture is not configured to enlarge when you click it.

So I doubt the shots came from the interior of the vehicle. If they did I feel sorry for the people in the truck. I remember coming home once from shooting as a teenager and a person who came with is accidently discharged a Tech 9 through the floor board of the vehicle. I think we all almost lost our hearing.

I was told Tech 9s have a feature where the gun can have a round chambered and with the safety on, you can pull the trigger to release the pressure on the firing pin. It is supposed to do this without discharging, problem is it didnt always work right.

Posted by: Marc Author Profile Page at February 13, 2008 9:47 AM

Marc: I was told Tech 9s have a feature where the gun can have a round chambered and with the safety on, you can pull the trigger to release the pressure on the firing pin.

Wow, I would never use a feature like that. I wouldn't even buy a gun that had a feature like that because I wouldn't want to be tempted.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten Author Profile Page at February 13, 2008 10:04 AM

Michael,

Nor would I. I shot the Tech 9 and Tech 22 a few times and was not impressed at all.

I was always taught to the leave a firearm unchambered with the safety on. I dont think there is ever a situation where you couldnt chamber a round quick enough to get a shot off when you needed to.

When I was younger I did competitive shooting. My coach used to say that "it is 'unloaded weapons' that kill hundreds of people every year". It is true.

I had one such friend at High School who was in the N-JROTC unit I was in. He was on the drill team and was doing the "manual of arms" on a rifle he thought was unloaded. Unfortunately it was loaded and when he tapped the butt against the ground it discharged and entered below his chin and excited out the top of his head.

Every weapon should be treated as if it is ready to fire.

Posted by: Marc Author Profile Page at February 13, 2008 10:35 AM

Michael, I think you're mistaken in comparing the Bush Derangement Syndrome to the conservative attacks on McCain. The conservatives are mad at McCain on a policy level. He was wrong on Campaign Finance Reform, the gang of 14 coalition and the biggest one was amnesty for illegals.

Bush Derangement Syndrome is for real. You've heard it before: "It's Bush's illegal war. He lied about the intelligence. Bush invaded Iraq in retaliation for the assassination attempt on his father. Bush knew about 9/11. Bush brought down the towers. Bush is a fascist. Bush is Hitler. Bush hates black people. Bush eats babies alive. blah...blah...blah....

Sorry no comparison.

Posted by: PeteDawg Author Profile Page at February 13, 2008 10:42 AM

Pete: The conservatives are mad at McCain on a policy level.

Some, yes. Others, no. I've seen much crazier comments than those about policy. Please don't make me dig them up...

Posted by: Michael J. Totten Author Profile Page at February 13, 2008 11:14 AM

Now, Michael I can say with 100% assurance that Limbaugh and Hannity haven't attacked McCain on a personal level. Now in regards to Ann Coulter (She's known to go off the deep end.) and etc. etc. I'm not so sure, but I'd wholeheartedly codemn and disagree with them if they did.

So find me quotes so I can condemn...;P

Posted by: PeteDawg Author Profile Page at February 13, 2008 11:38 AM

I been listening to Limbaugh yesterday.

He was talking about not endorsing McCain because his endorsment might scare off some Independents and centrist Democrats.

It sounds like RL bit his lip and went with 'lesser of two evels'.

Posted by: leo Author Profile Page at February 13, 2008 12:05 PM

By the way Michael, have you ever visited the site of Colonel Patrick Lang? He is a retired senior Army intelligence officer, member of the Green Berets. He was a DoD SES and was the first Arabic instructor at West Point. He worked with the DIA as an IO for the Middle East.

I have a lot of respect for the man and he has a lot of insight to offer. You ought to check it out if you havent:

http://www.turcopolier.typepad.com/

Posted by: Marc Author Profile Page at February 13, 2008 1:03 PM

"Relentless media coverage of prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib – which really did occur, but which the United States didn’t sanction or tolerate"

Michael, there's evidence that strongly suggests that the abuse at Abu Ghraib was sanctioned by the Pentagon.

http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2007/06/25/070625fa_fact_hersh?printable=true

http://andrewsullivan.theatlantic.com/the_daily_dish/2007/06/what_did_rumsfe.html

Posted by: phil Author Profile Page at February 13, 2008 2:21 PM

Hersh offers reliable EVIDENCE? LMAO

-

Posted by: deesine Author Profile Page at February 13, 2008 3:13 PM

Can you offer proof that Gen. Taguba is a liar?

Posted by: phil Author Profile Page at February 13, 2008 4:10 PM

That's not how it works, Phil. The burden of proof is on the party making the assertion.

Where does Gen. Taguba say Rumsfeld knew about it? I skimmed the article, and all I got out of it is that Sy Hersh wants to make it look like Rumsfeld should have known. Maybe he should have known, but that's a very different thing than showing that he knew.

Did I miss it?

Posted by: rosignol Author Profile Page at February 13, 2008 4:25 PM

Dear Michael Totten,

I remember a long time ago you wrote an article for the WSJ complaining about how your fellow liberals don't care about history. Since then you've gone on to join the right-of-center Pajaamas Media, the neocon Commentary, and now have resorted to using the term liberal in quotation marks. Your readership seems to be majority Republican.

In what way are you still a liberal?

Posted by: earlsofsandwich Author Profile Page at February 13, 2008 10:51 PM

earlsofsandwich,

Michael writes for the people who offer him money. When he cannot agree with the editor on the content of what he writes, he withdraws his articles. Michael's articles are invariably factually based and honestly researched.

That liberal publications aren't routinely offering Michael Totten work is not Michael's fault. The problem is that Michael refuses to tailor his facts to meet a pre-arranged agenda. That left of center publications do not value that kind of integrity is not an indictment on Michael Totten's politics.

Take a moment and reflect on the fact that Michael cannot find paying work for quality product in left of center publications. Think about what that says regarding the material you are reading from the sources you are comfortable with.

Posted by: Patrick S Lasswell Author Profile Page at February 13, 2008 11:14 PM

My work has appeared in left-of-center publications, just less often. Earlier today I submitted an editor-solicited article to the biggest left-of-center publication in the United States.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten Author Profile Page at February 14, 2008 12:46 AM

If the Big MSM (NYT?) publishes your stuff, that would indeed be a great Valentine's day gift (even if not for a while does it see print).

Patrick's point is well taken, there's no excuse for not having such excellence in print. I even think Roger Simon should try to get a "Best of PJ Media" weekly out, to start competing -- but I can understand the shyness of any investors into dead tree publishing.

Carl does make a common Leftist pseudo-truth: "If the Iraqis all love us..." but of course, nobody claims they ALL do, nor even that those Iraqis who are positive for America can be said to love America.

Here's a logical truth "If false then false (or true) (it doesn't matter)" << is a Logically TRUE statement.
If the moon is made of green cheese, Michael will become president. This is a logically "true" statement, because the if A portion is false.
If A than B >> if not B than not A (contrapositive) yada yada.

Carl and Leftists are silly, not serious, if they expect ALL Iraqis to love America. Heck, a good third of Americans don't love the real America, the one that elected Bush.

The Liberal Fascists who demand lock-step "unity" for the particular fad of the year don't read Michael because he reports what he sees. He also, often, expresses opinions and evaluations, which so far seem fully substantiated by the reality he's reporting.

Of course, when it comes to pro-abortion, Michael & I disagree strongly -- yet I'd guess far more pro-life folk read the blog here than pro-Obama. Tho I wish I was wrong.

“Captain Jamal's brother's house was blown up and he was killed,” Lieutenant Barefoot said
The Iraqi survivor leaders will choose to make Heros out of some Iraqis murdered by the terrorists. This is a big part of nation building.

One I actually don't think would have happened so well had Shinseki's 300 000 boots on the ground occupied Iraq and accepted the responsibility for stopping all crime. In fact, Bush (& Rumsfeld) have been weak at pointing out, over and over, how it is the Iraqis who have to stop the terrorists. Successful terror bombing means Iraqi failure, not American failure. (And the success of the surge, which McCain will claim, is actually Iraqi success.)

And it is movement towards Victory and Freedom in Iraq that McCain is going to run on. Rather than changing to Surrender and Killing Fields, which is what the Dem Party did in 1974-75 after Nixon won in Paris in 1973.

Posted by: Tom Grey - Liberty Dad Author Profile Page at February 14, 2008 10:40 AM

Michael,

That publication previously got its ass repeatedly and thoroughly kicked for its editorial position, although they have one of the best reporters ever.

You should brace yourself for some ugly hate mail if they publish your article. I know you tried to be neutral and they didn't give you enough rope to actually hang yourself, but that publication reaches a lot of people who have EDS. (Everything Derangement Syndrome)

Posted by: Patrick S Lasswell Author Profile Page at February 14, 2008 11:03 AM

Tom Grey,

One I actually don't think would have happened so well had Shinseki's 300 000 boots on the ground occupied Iraq and accepted the responsibility for stopping all crime.

I am constantly amazed how people who've never had command of a squad can blithely assume the ease of commanding a multiple-army force. Adding bodies does not mean adding effectiveness. We had strategic flaws in our doctrine in 2003 because our planners were not omniscient. Having more people to execute strategic flaws does not make for success.

Requiring all planners be the Archangel Michael before we commit to battle is the alternative to going forward with flawed doctrine. (Sorry, I just had a mental picture of what Archangel Candidate School looked like..."You call that halo glowing, maggot?")

We acted, observed, oriented, decided, and acted again. It took too bloody long to change our orientation, but I can hardly see how adding encumbrance would improve that situation.

Thank God we have block unit rotation in place so we could re-orient away from battle and shift posture without telegraphing onsite. Can you imagine trying to change with the individual replacement process they had in Vietnam?

Posted by: Patrick S Lasswell Author Profile Page at February 14, 2008 11:19 AM

Carl- You're kidding, right???? "If the Iraqis love us so much? Why do they...(fill in blank).

Let's try this with the Leftist/Liberals/Democrats in America?

If the Liberals love everybody, why do they hate conservatives so much?

If the Liberals love to say we need allies to defeat terrorism, why are they so eager to throw the Iraqis overboard?

If the Liberals love free speech so much, why do they try censor conservatives from giving speeches on college campuses? Why do they want to bring back the Fairness Doctrine?

If the Liberals love Affirmative Action, why doesn't the rich white woman (Hillary Clinton) just move over so the poor black guy (Obama) can be the Democrat nominee?

If the Liberals hate fascism, why do they love Hugo Chavez, Fidel Castro and hate George Bush?

If the Liberals love the troops, why were the Marines called unwanted intruders in Berkeley?

We as Americans can't even get united when comes to defending America and defeating terrorism? And you want a country like Iraq that has had 20+ years of fascism to be united. Give me a break...

Posted by: PeteDawg Author Profile Page at February 14, 2008 11:49 AM

Patrick: You should brace yourself for some ugly hate mail if they publish your article.

I will not get any hate mail. It's a book review, and it's short. The book was written by a liberal journalist named Sandra Mackey, and I gave her a very positive review. Her book is excellent and nearly devoid of factual errors. She has no partisan or ideological axe to grind, and she knows her subject (Lebanon) very well indeed. She's a straightforward writer and I gave her a straightforward positive review.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten Author Profile Page at February 14, 2008 12:34 PM

Well the bullet holes in the truck conversation sparked my interest enough to dig up a picture I have of a different IP truck, also from Fallujah.

Lo and behold: My picture shows a blue armor plate, bolted to the door with three bolts, evenly spaced and in line with the letters "LS" on the door. The two holes closer to each other are also from bolts, it appears, albeit smaller ones. Crazy. If I knew how to attach the photo, I would. Good work, Michael, on the article as well as the hypothesis.

Someone's been watching too much CSI...

Posted by: PDK Author Profile Page at February 14, 2008 1:02 PM

IP truck/PDK

The Iraqi police are trashing the trucks as well. In the photo - the passenger side quarter panel has a crease left from an over extended door. Someone left the door open and then backed the car up, when doing so the door probably caught a bollard or post and hyper extended the door/hinges leaving the crease on the Q panel.

Field fix for that involves shoving a 2×4 into the door jam and slamming the door shut.. someone did this to get the door un-tweaked but now (upon zoomed in inspection) the door hangs slightly downward and ajar. ;P

Posted by: 13times Author Profile Page at February 14, 2008 2:16 PM

Michael,
Your blog was just passed on to me about a week or two ago.

I am now passing it on to anyone who will listen and everyone that cares.

You have a gift. You get it better than most and articulate what so many of us never could. Thank you.

Joel M. Wood
SGT/USMC 0321

Posted by: JWood Author Profile Page at February 14, 2008 10:30 PM

Michael,

They won't give you hate mail for what you wrote, but when they look you up EDS will kick in because you do not toe the line.

Care to wager? JW Gold for me if I'm right, an equivalently priced red for you if I'm wrong?

Posted by: Patrick S Lasswell Author Profile Page at February 14, 2008 11:56 PM

The Thunder Run has linked to this post in a blog post From the Front 02/15/2008 Due to lax posting this week I’m bringing you ALL of the front line posts for the week today in a separate post. Grab a cup of coffee and enjoy.

Posted by: David M Author Profile Page at February 15, 2008 10:34 AM
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