March 24, 2008

The Liberation of Karmah, Part I

Girl Waving Hands Karmah.jpg

KARMAH, IRAQ – Just beyond the outskirts of Fallujah lies the terror-wracked city of Karmah. While you may not have heard of this small city of 35,000 people, American soldiers and Marines who served in Anbar Province know it as a terrifying place of oppression, death, and destruction. “It was much worse than Fallujah” said more than a dozen Marines who were themselves based in Fallujah.

“Karmah was so important to the insurgency because we've got Baghdad right there,” Lieutenant Andrew Macak told me. “This is part of the periphery of Baghdad. At the same time, it is part of the periphery of Fallujah.”

Karmah Iraq.jpg
Karmah, Iraq

Lieutenant Macak is not a veteran of Karmah, but Sergeant Jason Howell is. He was deployed in the city from March through October in 2006. “People weren't out in the streets,” he said. “They were very reserved. They were afraid to talk to us. They had the feeling that, especially in the smaller towns, they were constantly being watched. They were in real jeopardy if they interacted with coalition forces and, especially, the Iraqi Police.”

Lieutenant Macak arrived in Karmah in the middle of July 2007 when the city was still a war zone. “It was moving in the right direction, but it was still active,” he said. “2/5 [Second Battalion, Fifth Regiment], who we relieved, was part of the surge effort. Karmah was still a very dangerous place. The lollipop over here was a big deal.”

“You mean the traffic circle?” I said. The Marines refer to a large traffic circle down the street from the police station at the entrance to the market as the “lollipop.”

“Yeah,” he said. “It was basically IED Alley. The whole road out here in front of the station was just covered in IEDs. No one even went down the roads leading to the north of here. It was an insurgent stronghold. Before 2/5 came in there weren't many patrols. They didn't do a whole lot. The Iraqi Police didn't have any confidence. Their numbers weren't big and there wasn't a whole lot of organization. 2/5 came in and started patrolling, started doing what Marines do. They identified local leaders and started engaging them. Sheikh Mishan came back at about the same time from Syria.”

Sheikh Mishan Abbas, like many other sheikhs in Anbar Province, fled to Syria shortly after the U.S. invaded. He heads up the Jamaeli tribe, the largest in the area.

“Did he switch sides?” I said.

“Nah,” Lieutenant Macak said. “He's never switched sides. You mean did he work for the enemy? No, he never did that. He took off to Syria because he didn't want to get killed and he didn't want to be pressured into supporting Al Qaeda. He's basically the 'sheikh of sheikhs.' He's been known as the sheikh of sheikhs since the British were here in the 1920s.”

Fallujah was a minefield of IEDs, but Karmah was even worse.

“They hit a lot of IEDs out there,” he said. “One of the route clearance teams was reacting to one and got hit by a secondary. It took their Cougar, spun it over, and threw it so high in the air it flipped over the power lines before coming back down. Fortunately the men weren't hurt. The vehicle remained intact. The armor protected the Marines inside like it was supposed to. This was in the first week of September.”

Extensive Rubble Karmah.jpg

Corporal Caleb Hayes wanted to know who I was. He wasn't expecting to see a journalist. Reporters hardly ever visit Karmah, which is the reason you probably have never heard of it.

“I personally was hit with seven IEDs in the traffic circle alone,” he said. “It didn’t start quieting down until September.”

“Why did it take longer in Karmah than in the rest of the province?” I said.

“It was easier in Fallujah because that city has a hard perimeter,” he said. “There is no definite edge to defend in Karmah. Insurgents just kept coming in. They were pushed into Karmah by surge forces in Baghdad. We always knew we would be shot at when we rolled out of the station in Karmah.”

Anbar Province – which also includes the cities of Fallujah, Ramadi, Hit, and Haditha – is the heartland of Sunni Iraq. These places were the backbone of the Baath Party during the regime of Saddam Hussein. I was surprised, then, to hear so little about Baathists. What happened? Are they just gone?

“Here?” Lieutenant Macak said. “The primary threat was Al Qaeda. After the initial invasion Karmah wasn't exactly an afterthought, but it isn't the primary population center. The Marines went in and occupied Fallujah, and progressively moved out from that core.”

He is describing the oil spot counterinsurgency strategy, though he did not use that phrase. Andrew Krepinevich advocated this very thing in Foreign Affairs in 2005. “U.S. and Iraqi forces should adopt an ‘oil-spot strategy’ in Iraq,” he wrote. “Rather than focusing on killing insurgents, they should concentrate on providing security and opportunity to the Iraqi people, thereby denying insurgents the popular support they need. Since the U.S. and Iraqi armies cannot guarantee security to all of Iraq simultaneously, they should start by focusing on certain key areas and then, over time, broadening the effort -- hence the image of an expanding oil spot. Such a strategy would have a good chance of success.”

“I call it the snowball effect,” Lieutenant Macak said. “Anyway, there was a gap here that wasn't well covered at first. So Al Qaeda came in and started their murder and intimidation campaign. I don't know how many people liked Al Qaeda or fully supported them. Some people probably did. But other people didn't have their own AK-47s, armor, or tanks or anything, so they had no choice but to submit to them. Otherwise they would end up like their family members with their heads chopped off. If you didn't support Al Qaeda they would blow up your house.”

Rubble Karmah 1.jpg

Al Qaeda in Iraq waged a vicious murder and intimidation campaign all across Anbar Province as though they were an army of arsonists and serial killers.

“In June when Sheikh Mishan came back,” the lieutenant said, “and this was after two years of Al Qaeda forcing their will on the population – within one week of Sheikh Mishan coming back, three of his family members' houses were blown up. And a fourth family member's house was blown up while Al Qaeda kept the family members inside.”

Today Karmah is no more violent than Fallujah – which is to say, hardly violent at all.

“A lot has changed since just before we arrived,” Lieutenant Macak said. “I arrived in July just when the checkpoints were starting up. We expanded what 2/5 started. We took that snowball and made it bigger. As soon as they put that checkpoint up near the lollipop, the IEDs on IED Alley disappeared.

“That's all it took?” I said.

“Yes,” he said. “But within a couple of weeks of them putting the checkpoint up, they had a suicide car bomb attack. They assumed that no one would want to be out manning that checkpoint if it was just going to get blown up again. So the Marines went out there and fortified it. They maintained a squad-sized Marine element out there for about a month and a half. The Iraqi Police and Provincial Security Forces were out there manning it, as well. We slowly phased the Marines out of it, and now it's exclusively run by Iraqis. No one would ever go past that point. They had kill lines set up. If they saw any vehicle coming down that road, it would be engaged. They knew anything past that line was Al Qaeda. No vehicles were allowed to move from the east to the west toward that checkpoint.”

Fortification Karmah.jpg
Heavy fortification in Karmah

Implementing basic security measures wouldn't work in a counterinsurgency if a significant number of local civilians supported the radicals. But the locals were terrified and savagely murdered and tortured by the radicals on a regular basis. Al Qaeda in Iraq is the self-declared enemy of every human being outside its own members and loyal supporters. Nothing could possibly discredit jihad more completely than the jihadists themselves.

“Insurgent activity was a lot worse,” Sergeant Howell said. “Attacks with small arms fire were constant. IEDs were daily. The difference between this place now and when I first got here is day and night. There was no way kids would be playing soccer in the streets. When we patrolled last time we had a much more aggressive posture. It was a combat patrol.”

Marines Taking Cover Karmah.jpg

I'm accustomed to being in Iraq during the new normal. Sergeant Howell reminded me that it is indeed new in this town, as did so many others.

“Some civilians supported the insurgents,” I said to Lieutenant Macak. “Could you tell them apart from those who were intimidated?”

“No,” he said. “They were all really reserved. They stayed in their houses. But now they're everywhere. They come up to us and greet us, talk to us. The women aren't so scared and so guarded. Last year you would never see a woman outside the house. Now everybody is in the streets. Kids are playing, people are walking around. People are starting to live like it's a somewhat normal environment. You can tell just by looking that the environment is a lot safer than it was last year.”

Sideways Thumbs Up Karmah.jpg

Very few insurgents remain in the city. The remnants are thought to be exclusively locals. The Marines believe the foreign leadership cadre has been driven out.

“I had a good conversation with Iraqi Police Lieutenant Colonel Sattar about this last night,” Lieutenant Macak said. “I said Why are your family members the ones kidnapping you, beating you up, and killing your people?”

“It was his family members?” I said.

“Lieutenant Colonel Sattar was captured and held by Al Qaeda for over a year,” he said. “He was beaten and thrashed before they eventually let him go. And the guy who captured him was his cousin. The culture here – they lie, they deceive, they steal, they don't trust each other. In order to survive. That's what Saddam Hussein's era bred in them. If they wanted to survive and do well, they had to go behind everyone's back. After 20 or 30 years of Saddam, they can't break away over night.”

Garbage Mud and Buildings Karmah.jpg

A crucial aspect of General Petraeus’ counterinsurgency strategy is an alliance with local authorities as well as civilians. The Army desperately needed to transform itself from a bureaucratic occupation force to a locally integrated security force, but it’s the kind of thing Marines do instinctively when they arrive from abroad in a war zone.

“A lot of the security efforts are locally driven,” Lieutenant Macak said. “The Iraqi Security Forces [which includes the Iraqi Police, Iraqi Army, Provincial Security Forces, and the Iraqi Civilian Watch] go out there and find weapons caches. They dig up IEDs from the road even though we tell them not to. They go capture bad guys and bring them right to our doorstep. They're not looking for any kind of reward, they just want to do a good job.”

Iraqi Gunner Karmah.jpg

The counterinsurgency doctrines of the Army and Marine Corps are more similar now than they were. Sergeant Joseph Perusich told me how the Marines acquire local intelligence, but I had already seen the Army use the same tactics in Baghdad.

“Last time I was out here,” Sergeant Perusich said, “everything was real kinetic. It has calmed down a lot. We don't go around kicking in doors and throwing in flashbangs anymore. We used to to that a lot, go and bust doors in and run everything over.”

“Now we're more like FBI agents,” Lieutenant Macak said.

“It helps if you ask the neighbors,” Sergeant Perusich said. “Everybody is really close. So if you ask somebody next door about someone and they say something different, it helps us in our tactical questioning.”

“How cooperative are locals when you ask about other people?” I said.

“Very cooperative,” Sergeant Perusich said.

“Well, define cooperative,” Lieutenant Macak said.

“You mean as far as them not letting us in the house?” Sergeant Perusich said.

“I mean,” I said, “how much information can you actually get out of the neighbors?”

“They aren't going to just throw all the information out there until they feel comfortable,” Sergeant Perusich said. “If you bust in the house and knock everything over, they're going to be afraid of you. It all depends on how you conduct yourself. If you talk to them normally, they'll eventually open up.”

“They have to feel safe,” Lieutenant Macak said. “They don't want to say something and get themselves hurt. Sometimes they'll say yeah, go arrest that guy over there, he's an insurgent and no one has said anything about it. But you have to develop a relationship.”

“What is it that you get out of building a relationship?” I said. “Is it that they trust that you won't hurt them, or that they trust you'll protect them from the insurgents?”

“Both,” Sergeant Perusich said. “We have to convince them that we're here to protect them and their family. But we also have to convince them that we're not just blowing smoke. They need to know we aren't here to take anything, steal anything. We're here to find out who the bad guys are so it's safe here for us and their families.”

“I think a lot of it is that if they're going to say something, they want you to do something about it,” Lieutenant Macak said. “If they don't have the confidence that you're going to act on something, they're not going to put themselves at risk. Counterinsurgency is a broad term. If you go out there, get intelligence, and you don't act on it, you are not going to earn the trust of the people. It works partly because of the efforts of the previous units here, but also because they lived under the murder and intimidation of Al Qaeda for so long.”

Sergeant Perusich had seen fighting in Karmah before, and also in southern Iraq. He fought Moqtada al Sadr’s Mahdi Army militia in Najaf and told me the exact same dynamic works there as well as it does in Anbar.


American troops are not only given medals and recognition for killing the enemy and saving each other’s lives. They are also given medals and recognition for saving Iraqi lives.

Just around the corner from IED Alley, at the main station in town, four Marines – including Sergeant Perusich – were given the Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal for saving Iraqis who were wounded by an insurgent-laid IED on November 7, 2007.

The first man recognized was Hospitalman Joshua L. Flagg who works as a medic.

Hospitalman Flagg Karmah.jpg
Hospitalman Joshua L. Flagg and Captain Quintin Jones

“While conducting a security patrol in Al Anbar Province,” his senior officer said to all in attendance, “Hospitalman Flagg responded to an improvised explosive device strike that caused severe casualties. Upon arrival at the site, Hospitalman Flagg immediately set up a triage site and began prioritizing patients according to their injuries. He identified deteriorating conditions in two of the patients. Hospitalman Flagg was able to stabilize them both with intravenous fluids and pressure dressings in preparation for an air evacuation. Hospitalman Flagg's ability to perform under pressure, confidence, and knowledge of medical procedures were the key factors in the stabilization of casualties and the saving of two Iraqi nationals' lives.”

The lives of two others also were saved. Lance Corporal Joshua S. Varney, Sergeant Joseph M. Perusich, and Lance Corporal Jonathan L. Arden also were awarded and recognized.

Lance Corporal Varney Karmah.jpg
Lance Corporal Joshua S. Varney and Captain Quintin Jones

Sergeant Perusich Karmah.jpg
Sergeant Joseph M. Perusich and Captain Quintin Jones

Lance Corporal Arden Karmah.jpg
Lance Corporal Johnathan L. Arden and Captain Quintin Jones

“At ease,” Captain Quintin Jones said after each man was given his medal. “This is exactly the type of thing you need to be doing for our Iraqi brethren when they are in need. You couldn't save four of them, but you did save four others.”

On the same day just a few blocks away, local Iraqi leaders held a ceremony where they officially re-opened the market on the main street. Until very recently, almost every business in Karmah was closed. For years they had no security, no economy, and no city utilities. All now are recovering.

Every Iraqi leader in the city showed up, as did hundreds of civilians, Iraqi Police officers, and Iraqi Army soldiers. The Marines were there, too, providing security. Americans did not, however, have anything to do with organizing or sponsoring the event. “We’re just here in the background,” Captain Jones told me.

They wouldn’t remain in the background, however, if they were attacked. The Marines were ordered to place themselves as up-armored human shields around Sheikh Mishan.

“If shots are fired,” an officer said to his men, “collapse around the sheikh.”

Because the ceremony was so close to the station, we walked. I walked with Captain Jones and spoke to him on the way. Lieutenant Macak, the captain’s executive officer (XO), joined us.

“We're having a grand re-opening for Karmah,” Captain Jones said. “We're trying to start the governance process and the economic process. A lot of this stuff has been closed for a year or two due to the insurgency coming back in. They kept targeting the Iraqi Police station and blowing it up. Every time they brought in a car bomb, things shut down. They used a lot of these buildings to shoot at the Iraqi Police station.”

War Damage Karmah.jpg

Rough Corner Karmah.jpg

“We brought relative security to the region,” he continued. “We're trying to re-do these buildings here. A lot of these buildings were shot up. You can see some bullet holes in some of these doors. These buildings were all shot to hell.”

Just around the corner was the traffic circle.

“This is the entrance to the market?” I said.

“It is,” he said. “This is the gateway to Karmah.”

Lollipop Karmah 2.jpg

“As Captain Jones explained, we're in the background,” Lieutenant Macak said. “We've been supporting them, but they have an Iraqi face on everything. They set the conditions and do the legwork. We allow them to take the credit for it, basically, which is a lot of what counterinsurgency is. We provide them the legs to let them stand up and do it themselves.”

The ceremony was held at the so-called “lollipop.”

“This was IED Alley, right here,” Lieutenant Macak said as we arrived. “But not any more because of the efforts of coalition forces, the Iraqi Police, the Provincial Security Forces, the Iraqi Civilian Watch, and the sheikhs. For two or three years now we've been saying them, hey, if you're tired of Al Qaeda, stand up and get rid of them. And they're actually doing that now. The Iraqi Police now call IED Alley their Victory Circle. It's a physical representation of what they have accomplished.”

Hundreds of chairs were set up in front of a stage that had been erected on the circle itself. Local sheikhs, city officials, and business leaders sat beneath an awning in case of rain. They drank water poured into tall glasses from bottles. Regular citizens and mid-level leaders sat in plastic chairs exposed to the elements, but there was no rain.

Sheikhs Karmah 1.jpg

Crowd Lollipop Karmah.jpg

The community leaders dressed sharply, some in traditional Arab dress and others with Western coats and ties. Iraqi Police officers, Iraqi Army soldiers, and plainclothes Neighborhood Watch guys milled about. All carried AK-47s and pistols. Brand new Iraqi flags snapped in the wind.

Flag Minaret Karmah.jpg

A live band took the stage and belted out powerful Iraqi folk music indigenous to the province. A group of armed Iraqi men danced to the music in a circle. Some brandished rifles and knives. The passion and intensity of the music was startling.

Liberation of Karmah.jpg

Twenty or so minutes later, Sheikh Mishan stood at the podium and addressed the people of Karmah in poetic, perfectly pronounced, thunderous Arabic. His speech celebrating the end of the insurgency and the awakening of the city of Karmah would knock you back on your heels even if you could not understand one single word. The man was an obvious leader, and he packed a punch.

Sheikh Speech Karmah.jpg

Everyone listened intently. No one applauded. This was a serious affair, not a party. The Marines kept their heads on swivels. This would be the perfect time for any Al Qaeda remnants to execute a devastating act of mass casualty terrorism.

Sheikh Interview Zoomed Out.jpg
An Arabic-speaking journalist interviews Sheikh Mishan Abbas

Mayor Abu Abdullah took the podium as Sheikh Mishan stood down.

“Everything I do, I do with him,” Captain Jones whispered to me.

Captain Jones and Mayor Karmah.jpg
Captin Quintin Jones and Mayor Abu Abdullah

After the ceremony I joined Navy Rear Admiral Patrick Driscoll and Navy Lieutenant Commander Charles E. Summers on a tour of the market.

“Sorry about the dog and pony show,” Lieutenant Macak said to me quietly. “Later we'll get you out on the streets for real.”

The tour of the market did feel a bit like a dog and pony show, but the re-opened business district is real. Karmah isn't a fake potemkin city erected by the Marines to impress visitors. Iraqi shopkeepers and their customers aren't actors hired by the CIA.

Stores Karmah.jpg

I was a little bit bored. I've walked so many re-opened business districts in Iraq that I won't be impressed again until I see a Starbucks, night clubs, or bohemian hangouts. Beirut is full of such places, but Iraq isn't Lebanon. Admiral Driscoll and Commander Summers, though, were thunderstruck by the ordinariness of it all. They had never seen anything like it in this country. Admiral Driscoll works at Stratcom. Both he and Commander Summers are based in the Green Zone bubble in Baghdad, which is technically Iraq but so unlike everywhere else that seeing it hardly counts. Everyone who is marooned there knows that, or at least should.

Driscoll and Jones Karmah.jpg
Read Admiral Patrick Driscoll (left) and Captain Quintin Jones (right)

“Can you believe this place?” Admiral Driscoll said to me. He sounded like a bit like a kid on Christmas morning. I felt weirdly like a jaded old man who had seen it all even though he is older and more accomplished. I understood then what some American soldiers and Marines mean when they say the top brass lives and works at “echelons above reality.” I'm not blaming the admiral. His job requires him to be isolated from nuts, bolts, and the street most of the time.

The market looked ordinary enough to me, but the top officers weren't alone in their amazement. I had to remind myself of the ceremony I had just seen. The market was just now re-opening. The opening ceremony had concluded less than an hour before. Karmah recovered later than other cities in this part of Iraq, after all. When I covered the awakening in Ramadi last summer, Karmah was still a hell of insurgent warfare, though I did not know it.

The locals were ecstatic. Dozens of cars and minivans packed with young Iraqi men brandishing rifles and flags roared down the street. They honked horns, cheered as though they had just won a soccer game, and waved in thanks to the Marines and Iraqi Police. Others paraded on foot.

Truck Men Guns Karmah.jpg

Men Parading with Flag Karmah.jpg

The market area improved as we kept walking. The lower portion of the street was made up of simple places like generator repair workshops, butcher shops, and simple vegetable stands. The upper half of the neighborhood was a bit more upscale. A larger number of buildings had been refurbished. Clothing, cell phones, big screen TVs, and refrigerators all were for sale. This portion of the market was actually bustling for Iraq.

Crowded Market Karmah.jpg

Vegetable Stand Karmah.jpg

Pickles for Sale Karmah.jpg

Children ran up to me and the Marines, as they always do.

Two Boys Karmah.jpg

Kid Flag Angle Karmah.jpg

Shaking Hands w Marine Karmah.jpg

“This is a real education,” Commander Summers said. “There are no kids in the Green Zone.”

“We couldn’t have done this a few months ago,” one Marine said to Commander Summers.

Admiral and Kid Karmah.jpg
Lieutenant Commander Charles E. Summers poses with an Iraqi boy who borrowed his helmet

The Middle East beyond Israel strikingly lacks anything resembling political correctness. I hear much more severe denunciations of radical Islam there than I do in the U.S., and I don’t mean from Americans. I hear it from Arabs, and from Persians and Kurds. I hear it in Lebanon all the time, and in Iraq too.

Sabah Danou walked with Commander Summers and Admiral Driscoll. He’s an Iraqi who works for the multinational forces as a cultural and political advisor in Baghdad. “Look,” he said to me and gestured toward a local man with a long beard and a short dishdasha that left his ankles exposed. “He’s a Wahhabi,” Danou hissed. “He is linked to Al Qaeda. That’s their uniform, you know, that beard and that high-cut dishdasha. God, what pieces of shit those fuckers are.”

I never hear soldiers and Marines talk about Iraqis like that, but no one objected to what Sabah Danou said.

To be continued...

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Many thanks in advance.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at March 24, 2008 12:15 AM

I just wanted to compliment you on this article and the many others I have read over the past months. Thank you for your work, it is very much appreciated.

Posted by: Geronimo Author Profile Page at March 24, 2008 3:30 AM

>> “Look,” he said to me and gestured toward a local man with a long beard and a short dishdasha that left his ankles exposed. “He’s a Wahhabi,” Danou hissed. “He is linked to Al Qaeda. That’s their uniform, you know, that beard and that high-cut dishdasha. God, what pieces of shit those fuckers are.”<<

Admidt it. You must have been quite tempted to capture that sight in a picture. Wow! Pretty spooky ending (and nice segue) to a per usual great read. Awaiting in full anticipation to follow up...

Thanks again for all you do/did.

Posted by: anuts Author Profile Page at March 24, 2008 3:32 AM

Another great article. I have never been to Iraq, one of the few places in the Middle East I have not spent at least some time in. Kind of sad considered my wife's entire family comes from the Baghdad area.

"Sheikh of all sheikhs", isnt that a line from a movie? I dont remember whether it is in English, or Arabic (ash-Sheikh ash-Sheeukh)? Forgive my transliteration, it was never my strong part.

Posted by: Marc Author Profile Page at March 24, 2008 5:22 AM

The first time I heard of Karma was January 3rd, 2007- the first day that our route clearance team patrolled through the town (

A week or two later, Karma made #3 on Maxim magazine's list of the Top Ten Most Dangerous Cities, complete with a photo of a Marine dragging a buddy shot by a sniper.

A month after that first trip through Karma, my platoon lost 3 soldiers to a massive IED. Another platoon in our company awarded Purple Hearts to nearly one third of their soldiers because of Karma.

I am amazed by your pictures and story. That market looks nothing like the one I remember. The town looks little like the hellhole I worked in.

Posted by: Teflon Don Author Profile Page at March 24, 2008 7:35 AM


Thank you for posting the awards ceremony pictures. One of the things we can do right in the military is grant recognition for exceptional service. The NMCAM is the next step up from a letter of commendation, but it says a lot about the strength of the command that they make the effort to get recognition for their people.

Also it's nice you pointed out that the Navy HN did his part for the Navy-Marine Corps team.

Posted by: Patrick S Lasswell Author Profile Page at March 24, 2008 12:19 PM

Michael, great story, as always. You do such a wonderful job of conveying the viewpoints of the locals as well as those of our military. Question: Were any women allowed to watch this ceremony? Was there a place set aside for them so they could be there? I searched through your pictures but only caught a glimpse of one woman (from the back, with her husband(?))shopping at the market.

Posted by: PJW Author Profile Page at March 24, 2008 1:30 PM

awesome piece.Will come back here often to read abou t Iraq.
from your personal perspective how long do you think we will have to have a larger presence there?Do you think the Iraqi government will want a perm base?

Also,what about the plight of Christians(particularly the Chaldean)in Iraq?

How is the government handling protection of these ppl? Or at they simply letting them flee the country so there will be a largely Muslim pop?
BTW.I'll be glad to donate as soon as i'm able.

Posted by: boxerpaws Author Profile Page at March 24, 2008 2:03 PM


The Christians in Iraq have suffered with everybody else from the toxic existence and residue of the Hussein regime. As the country moves towards sanity after nearly forty years of fascist psychosis, the contributions of the Christians are being remembered and valued. What that means is that the insurgents are seeing Christians as something worth smashing; but how much reach they have left remains to be seen.

Outside of the more puritanical provinces, Iraq is a country of drinkers, and the Christians fulfill a vital role as the owners of liquor stores. Christians also serve as the hoteliers for the same reasons. Although Islamic hospitality is legendary, Christian hospitality includes Johnny Walker, so they are valued.

I think that Iraq is waking from a nightmare to remember that they used to be open to different cultures, and when they were, they thrived. This is good news for the Iraqi Christians, and maybe someday, the Iraqi Jews.

Posted by: Patrick S Lasswell Author Profile Page at March 24, 2008 4:27 PM


This article was published in today's Washington Post (you may have already seen it). Do you know the reporter? Have you dealt with the police chief? Is this article credible?

Many thanks, as always. Your reporting is the next best thing to being there.

Posted by: amagi Author Profile Page at March 24, 2008 8:29 PM

As nice as it is to see smiling children in Iraq these days it doesn't erase the immense opportuntiy cost of the Iraq war. When I think of all the things that our country could have better spent its treasure on it is astounding. S-CHIP could have been fully funded for 7 years for one month in Iraq, stem-cell research could have been funded an on its way to possible drug trials by now, thousands of teachers could have been trained, our crumbling infrastructure could have been repaired, college scholarships could have helped a new generation invent the technology that will keep our country on par with other industrialized nations.

Instead, Iraq has been leveled and we are paying to rebuild it. What an utter failure this misadventure has been. I would much rather have seen smiling faces of American children who have access to medical care without the worry of bankrupting their parents. Call me provincial but I think we should take care of our own before we try to take care of others (while at the same time killing immense numbers of them).

Michael you will be seen on the wrong side of history for your cheerleading of this war and then pawning off your writing as "journalism". You are a low-level propagandist hoping to climb a few rungs, nothing more. When you look back on this period of your life you will realize how much you sacrificed to be on the wrong side of history. A pity.

Posted by: Graham Author Profile Page at March 24, 2008 10:16 PM

Graham: You are a low-level propagandist hoping to climb a few rungs

That would be true if I published lies. You aren't seriously accusing me of lying, are you?

I remember years ago when you apologized to me for writing crap like that in my comments. Looks like you've reverted to form.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten Author Profile Page at March 24, 2008 11:13 PM


>>"...stem-cell research could have been funded an on its way to possible drug trials by now..."<<

So wait...will federal funding magically change the 'science' involved that will yield new positive results to make this an actual investment? How fickle can those stem cells get? Sheesh!

Scholarships, infrastructure, academic training, technology, and smiling children are also contingent upon federal funding? Are we serious?

Since the pattern above seems to rely heavily on whether our federal government pays or not, why is it so 'historically-wrong-sided' to expect them (us) to pay for the one thing they (we) directly influenced, caused and/or created? It seems to me,...responsible.

Is gaining an important ally (strategically, geographically, culturally) in such a place not something we should be interested in?

Posted by: anuts Author Profile Page at March 25, 2008 1:04 AM


"I would much rather have seen smiling faces of American children who have access to medical care without the worry of bankrupting their parents."

Children are worried about that? :)

So would I but what Iraq got to do with it?
Those gigadollars currently spent (or even teradollars spent overall) in Iraq are puny in comparison to what will be required for 'socialismized' medicine. And in the end we all will end up with bigger bill and poorer quality.

"Call me provincial but I think we should take care of our own before we try to take care of others"

This is exactly what we are doing in Iraq. We are taking care of ourselves. Oil and security. Wait, oil is our security too. Not having it will cost you more than running war in Iraq. And you may forget about smiling faces of our children.

Posted by: leo Author Profile Page at March 25, 2008 6:37 AM

Michael you will be seen on the wrong side of history for your cheerleading of this war and then pawning off your writing as “journalism”. You are a low-level propagandist hoping to climb a few rungs, nothing more. When you look back on this period of your life you will realize how much you sacrificed to be on the wrong side of history. A pity.

For some reason, I think history will look less kindly on your comment, Graham -

Via Ace:

Michael Totten Gets Iraqi Prisoners Fed

"His scandal turns out to be real. And so the US Military promptly corrects it, based on his report."

"Maybe because he really went to the location instead of relying on stringers to phone in tips. Which then get "verified" by... talking to other stringers on the phone."


"Now there's one of them newfangled, bleeding edge ideas that the MSM should look into. I realize it's controversial and paradigm-shifting, but what the hell. Give it a shot. Actually go to the places you're reporting on."

"It's so crazy it just might work!"

Posted by: maryatexitzero Author Profile Page at March 25, 2008 10:12 AM

Awesome work Michael!

I very much appreciate your reporting.

Posted by: james Author Profile Page at March 25, 2008 11:21 AM

The Thunder Run has linked to this post in the blog post From the Front: 03/25/2008 News and Personal dispatches from the front lines.

Posted by: David M Author Profile Page at March 25, 2008 11:25 AM

Graham - Your stupid ASSertions of Michael's reporting shows baised and ignorant you are. I don't even know why you'd want to read an accurate representation of what's going on in Iraq. Maybe, deep down you got tired of the one-sided BS coming from CNN or MNBC. If Michael has ever been a cheerleader for this war, prove it. Give me some quotes or something I can read an judge myself. Otherwise leave a comment that's halfway interesting or have a cup of "Shut the Fuck up!".

Posted by: PeteDawg Author Profile Page at March 25, 2008 11:27 AM


You're never going to get that much ass off your boot. Nice kick, though.

Posted by: Patrick S Lasswell Author Profile Page at March 25, 2008 12:23 PM

Michael, great reporting as always.

I share amagi's interest in your reaction to the WP piece, which was linked at Harry's Place.

I think one of the commenters there linked your new post on Fallujah also.

Posted by: Asher Abrams Author Profile Page at March 25, 2008 4:40 PM


Enjoyed the report! I first learned of Karmah in December 2006 when my son called to report that they were at the IP station there next to the lollipop. Before they left in June 2007, his squad had a group photo made at the lollipop to show the flag.

In your picture with the minuret in the background you can see a chunk missing. The guys have a movie of what happened to it back in April 2007.

He called the lollipop the most dangerous place in Iraq.

They called it Karmahgeddon.

Posted by: bulldog76 Author Profile Page at March 25, 2008 6:12 PM

Karmah or Karma? Can you hear the difference, could you try to explain it? (Translation with a different alphabet is really tough).

Fantastic pictures, great story, stupendous work, Michael. I really wish Roger Simon or somebody would put your articles in a daily newspaper, or weekly magazine.

(Is Graham even worth a reply? Well, mine is different)
I remember 1974, and the "wasted cash" argument against staying in Vietnam. In the Naval Academy without TV, I don't remember the details of the Dem Party voting to not allow troop deployments (running), and then later voting to reduce cash to our pro-Freedom ally in S. Vietnam (cutting).

I don't remember the live stories of the N. Viet commie takeover, nor much complaining about the Killing Fields genocide in Cambodia, 75-78. But I'm sure Democrats have their rationalizations for their acceptance of it.

At least there were a couple stories of boat people. (Palo Alto had a 15 min Vietnamese radio news in 1978, KFJC)

I do remember a Dem President, with a Dem majority in Congress, using all that extra cash after 1976. Carter, that was his name (I even voted for him!); and stagflation was his game. Not happy children. Yechh.

Those unwilling to learn from history, are doomed to repeat it. Tragedy, but the second time as farce.

Posted by: Tom Grey - Liberty Dad Author Profile Page at March 25, 2008 8:25 PM

How much am I bid for turning a festering source of abuse and regional disruption into a stable and sane ally? The bidding will start at $5 trillion, a bargain considering the payoff that can be expected, bidders!

International politics are played on a scale not comfortable for the domestically obsessed, and as Frost said, "... what are wars but politics
Transformed from chronic to acute and bloody?"

And if there's one thing that politics is, it's "inescapable".

Posted by: Brian H Author Profile Page at March 26, 2008 11:55 AM

Love the shots of the gobstruck admiral! ;)

Posted by: Brian H Author Profile Page at March 26, 2008 11:56 AM

My son LCpl Phil Martini was killed 2 years ago in Karmah. From all accounts I have heard it to be a hellhole. Thanks for the encouraging update.

Posted by: Martini Author Profile Page at March 26, 2008 3:46 PM

I'm terribly sorry to hear that, Martini. Karmah really is a lot better now, thanks in part to your son. Check in again on Monday and I'll have another article published here from that city. Best wishes to you.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten Author Profile Page at March 26, 2008 3:51 PM

Michael, Thank you for sharing the positive news from Iraq, and giving our troops some well deserved news that their efforts have not gone unnoticed. The troops are the true peace keepers of this world. They have the guts to go out and physically help the process instead of sitting in a comfortable home and doing lip service like so many...Graham..are you listening??
My son, CPL Jake, was deployed with Phil Martini in Karmah in 2006. Phil gave the ultimate sacrifice. Jake has just returned from a second deployment and says Iraq is moving forward. It was great to see Karmah looking so nice and calm. Marines like Phil Martini helped pave the way to turning IED Alley in Victory Circle. He must be smiling down on Karmah...thanks again for a great story! Marta

Posted by: MarineMomMarta Author Profile Page at March 28, 2008 10:37 AM

I was part of a route clearance team that worked Karmah from 06-07. I don't know the town your talking about. I wish I could go and see this place. I was engulfed in an IED made up of 30 gallons of gas and a 155mm arty round just 50 meters north of "the circle". I thank you for writing this. It adds to my belief that we of Task Force Pathfinder didn't loose our men in vain.

Posted by: Badger2-2 Author Profile Page at March 29, 2008 12:37 AM

Mr. Totten,

Thank you for the encouraging story regarding Karmah. I would like to offer a quick correction however: 3/3, the unit mentioned in the story, replaced 2nd Battalion, 7th Marine Division not, as mentioned, 2/5.
Once again, thank you for the positive reporting.

Very respectfully,

A. R. Guedry

Posted by: ARGuedry Author Profile Page at March 31, 2008 12:10 AM


I thought your article was very enlightening. My son is a Marine Sgt and was part of the 2/5 infantry unit that was deployed to Karmah in the spring and summer of 2007. As dangerous and challenging as the city was in those months, he never shared with me any of the true details of the dangers he encountered in duty there. Your article has filled in many blanks many of which I am glad I was not aware of at the time. As it was, as his mother, I spent many days praying for the safety of him and his fellow Marines but also hoping they could make a real difference in doing what Marines do best and get the job done. Thank you for the insight. I am so proud of our military and the job they do and am grateful for journalists like you who can tell those of us who are so far removed what the situation how it has improved because of the commitment of the men and women in uniform. Thank you and I thank the US military.

Posted by: scw1947 Author Profile Page at March 23, 2009 2:20 PM


I thought your article was very enlightening. My son is a Marine Sgt and was part of the 2/5 infantry unit that was deployed to Karmah in the spring and summer of 2007. As dangerous and challenging as the city was in those months, he never shared with me any of the true details of the dangers he encountered in duty there. Your article has filled in many blanks many of which I am glad I was not aware of at the time. As it was, as his mother, I spent many days praying for the safety of him and his fellow Marines but also hoping they could make a real difference in doing what Marines do best and get the job done. Thank you for the insight. I am so proud of our Marines and the job they do and am grateful for journalists like you who can tell those of us who are so far removed what the situation how it has improved because of the commitment of the men and women in uniform. Thank you.

Posted by: scw1947 Author Profile Page at March 23, 2009 2:21 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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