April 8, 2008

Builders of Nations

Builders of Nations.jpg

“This is my hardest deployment,” Marine Sergeant Cooley said as he unfastened his helmet and tossed it onto his bed. “We weren't trained for this kind of thing.” He's been shot at with bullets and mortars, and he's endured IED attacks on his Humvee, but post-war Fallujah is more difficult and more stressful than combat. He isn't unusual for saying so. Many Marines I spoke to in and around the Fallujah area said something similar.

“We're trained as infantrymen,” Captain Stewart Glenn said. “But here we are doing civil administration and trying to get the milk factory up and running.”

“We make up all this stuff as we go,” Lieutenant Mike Barefoot added.

While most Americans go to school, work traditional day jobs, and raise their families, young American men and women like these are deployed to Iraq, Kosovo, and Afghanistan where they work seven days a week rebuilding societies torn to pieces by fascism, terrorism, ethnic cleansing, and war. It is not what they signed up to do. Some may have geeked out on nation-building video games like Civilization, but none of the enlisted men picked up any of these skills in boot camp.

Officers pick up some basic relevant skills, though, as well as a more complete education. Lieutenant Nathan Bibler runs a Joint Security Station in the slums of Fallujah and works with local authorities every day.

JSS Jbail Fallujah.jpg
Lieutenant Nathan Bibler's Joint Security Station, Jbail, Southern Fallujah

He has a Bachelor’s degree in Political Science. “In a lot of ways it helps me analyze and interpret,” he said. What helps more than anything, though, is a training program Marine officers go through in 29 Palms, California, before they're deployed.

“We were living in a town they built out in the desert with Iraqis.”

“Really,” I said. “Iraqi-Americans?”

“Yeah,” he said. “I don't know if they were all U.S. citizens, but Iraqis who were already in the U.S. We were living in this town that they built. We lived in the town with the Iraqi Police right next door. Actually they lived with us part of the time.”

Enlisted men don't go through role playing training in 29 Palms, but every officer who mentioned it to me said those exercises were eerily effective, that actors from Iraq hired to play Iraqis in Iraq during counter-terrorist warfare turned out to be surprisingly like real Iraqis in a real counter-terrorist war.

Most of a Marine officer's training revolves around fighting, of course, but they do pick up some of the basics they need to build nations.

Humvee Driver Fallujah.jpg

“There was so much stuff to learn about,” Lieutenant Bibler said. “Generator power, water treatment plant filtration. One of our big tasks – besides security, which is number one – is keeping our pulse on the infrastructure here and getting an accurate picture of what Fallujah is actually like. Our training was good, and this is what it was like. They couldn't mimic it to this scale, but this is what it was like. We also trained for kinetic warfare, of course – shooting and all that.”

Just down the street from Lieutenant Bibler’s station is a massive construction site. A local Iraqi contracting company is building a water treatment plant with American money.

Walking Toward Water Plant Fallujah.jpg

Water Plant Fallujah.jpg

Solar-powered street lights are being erected all over Fallujah to take strain off the failing electrical grid and keep the city well-lit during outages. Locals are hired to pick up trash that accumulated during the periods of heavy fighting, and new weekly garbage collection contracts are being awarded. The city government is being rebuilt from scratch. Micro loans are given to local shopkeepers to jumpstart the economy.

“We hire day laborers for twelve dollars a day to clean up certain areas,” Captain Steve Eastin said. The average monthly salary in Fallujah is around 300 dollars, so twelve dollars a day isn’t as stingy as it may sound. “We’re paying to have the mosques repaired. Iraqi Police Chief Colonel Faisal helped convince the imams to trust us. He’s well-educated and speaks the language of justice and democracy.”

Colonel Faisal Fallujah.jpg
Iraqi Police Chief Colonel Faisal (left)

Every mosque in the city was anti-American during the peak of the insurgency, but every single one has flipped in the meantime. Every day the imams exhort the people of Fallujah to support the American effort. The Marines know this because they have Arabic-speakers who sit in and listen to what gets said.

“What's the most interesting thing you've seen since you got here?” I asked Lieutenant Bibler.

“How the people interact with Marines,” he said. Almost everyone I spoke to in Fallujah said the friendliness of the local people amazed them. They expected unrelenting hostility, and for good reason. Fallujah used to be vicious.

Painting School Fallujah.jpg
Iraqis painting a school

“What's the most discouraging thing you've seen?” I said.

“Just the magnitude of what they need,” he said. “Health care. Jobs. That's the biggest one for me, getting them long-term work. It's not something I have much control over, or any control over, really. That's the most frustrating part. I see these kids every day and I want them to have health care and income so they don't have to be so worried. It's very frustrating.”

“How long do you think you need to stick around?” I said. “Assuming everything goes well.”

“What do you mean by well?” he said.

“Assuming there isn't another insurgency,” I said. “How much is there left to do before you can say, okay, we don't need to be here anymore and we can go home, to Baghdad, to Afghanistan, or wherever.”

“The gauge is, is the security and infrastructure that has been established here in Fallujah strong enough to stand once we leave?” he said. “I can't vouch for the rest of the city, but the police here have the security. The police know what's going on.”

Inside JSS Jbail.jpg
Inside Lieutenant Bibler's Joint Security Station

“What do you suppose would happen if you had to leave right away,” I said, “if Washington ordered you out right now?”

“I can't vouch for what would happen in the rest of the country,” he said. “Because things have been so quiet here, no one in my platoon has fired a shot in anger. Normally you would expect a new unit to be less familiar with things and be an easier target. We haven't been shot at once or had a single IED go off since I've been here. The last one was in July. So it's hard to gauge what the insurgency – Al Qaeda in Iraq – is trying to do right now. So if we pulled out...ah, man, that's a tough question. Right now I'm not sure.”

I suspect he hedged a bit because he feared I was asking him to talk “out of his lane.” American troops are told not to talk above their pay grade to journalists, so I reformulated the question.

“What do you suppose is the weakest point you need to work on and help them with most?” I said.

“Okay,” he said. “Well, we've got the security piece pretty good. There haven't been any shots fired. We just need to build up the governmental side and jump-start the system enough to make it so it can run on its own efficiently enough that it can last.”

“What's the current state of the government?” I said. “If it still needs to be built up, what's it like now?”

“All I can really speak about is the Fallujah government,” he said. “What they're really trying to work with is getting the community leaders to buy in to the system. The money is there. We're trying to distribute it as efficiently as possible.”

“How many people in the current government are old Baathists?” I said. Fallujah is an old Baath Party stronghold.

“I don't know,” he said. “There is just speculation. Some of the community leaders were probably Baathists, but I've never had a conversation with one who I know is a former Baathist.”

“Do you guys even care at this point?” I said. There hasn’t been any Baathist violence in Fallujah for a long time, so perhaps it’s not that big a deal. Besides, many Iraqis joined the Baath Party out of necessity, not because they drank the Kool-Aid.

“Well,” he said, “it has to matter at least a little bit. It's something I would consider if I knew it about someone. But instead of just sweeping everybody aside and building a community structure from the bottom up, they've used the one that existed already, the mukhtars. How many of them are former Baathists, I don't know.”

“Maybe all of them,” I said.

“Perhaps,” he said. “But I can understand a survivalist mentality among them. We're working with them to build faith in this system. Every day we try to push more and more of it onto them.”

*

I accompanied Captain Eastin to a town hall meeting where various mukhtars met with community leaders, including Fallujah’s chief of police. Several other Marine officers also attended, as did representatives from the Army Corps of Engineers. We sat on plastic chairs in a circle in a room mostly devoid of furniture.

Town Hall Meeting Fallujah.jpg

Iraqi Police Chief Colonel Faisal showed up in a Western suit and tie to much pomp. Everyone stood, including me. He sat first, at a small table in the center of the room. Two Iraqi Police officers videotaped the meeting with hand-held camcorders.

The mukhtars looked like a shady and inscrutable bunch. All are rich. None are elected. The City Council appoints them. Fallujah tried to move away from the tribal political system some time ago and adopted the mukhtars to edge out the sheikhs.

Muktar House Fallujah.jpg
A mukhtar's house

“Mukhtars are sort of like mayors of neighborhoods,” Second Lieutenant Gary Laughlin explained to me earlier. “There are five in the Jolan sector. Three are good. Two not so much. They all come from powerful families. They enrich themselves with graft from various contracts. A few in the past got some big contract money, then fled to Jordan with their families.”

Town Hall Meeting Circle Fallujah.jpg

The meeting was held at a rented house next to Captain Eastin's Joint Security Station. The station was being dismantled rack by rack and sandbag by sandbag because a brand-new station was opening up down the street. Marines next door tossed sandbags onto the roof of the meeting house.

Captain Eastin Fallujah.jpg
Captain Steve Eastin

Combat operations are finished in Fallujah, but this was still a mission of war. If the Marines and city leaders cannot get Fallujah back on its feet, the city could fall again to the insurgency.

Most mukhtars gulped from cans of Pepsi and orange soda. Half smoked cigarettes.

Drinking and Smoking Fallujah.jpg

“You all smoke too much,” Captain Eastin said. Everyone laughed. No American in the room lit a cigarette, but many looked like they could use a beer. American military personnel aren’t allowed to drink while deployed overseas. There isn’t much drinking in Fallujah anyway. Alcohol isn’t banned like it is in Iran and Saudi Arabia, but there is only one bar in the city, and there is no sign out front.

The Marines and the mukktars discussed the electrical grid. Iraqis did most of the talking, which is what I was told to expect.

“The mukhtars used to talk and direct their comments toward us,” Captain Glenn had told me earlier. “Now they direct it toward each other and toward the sheikhs. They used to focus on asking the Marines to do this and do that. Now it's the police talking to the mukhtars and the mukhtars talking to themselves. At this point we pretty much jot down the notes.”

Two Iraqis Town Hall Meeting Fallujah.jpg

Iraq’s electrical grid is a world-famous piece of crap. The engineers who built it were incompetent. It has been sabotaged for years by insurgents. Even in areas like Fallujah, where there is no more insurgent sabotage, civilians inadvertently sabotage it themselves in a perfect example of the tragedy of the commons. When transformers blow out, residents move their wires to another transformer where they can temporarily get more electricity. After a while that transformer gets overloaded and blows out. More residents then move their wires. And so on.

Major Kenneth Gudgel said he was concerned that much of the equipment given to Iraqis by Marines is not being installed.

Major Kenneth Gudgel Fallujah.jpg
Major Kenneth Gudgel (left)

“I've seen Iraqis buying electrical transformers with money out of their own pocket,” he said. “Why are they doing this? We've given you money for all the transformers you need. It isn't fair that people have to pay for these things when the United States government has already paid for them.”

“Yes,” said one of the mukhtars. “You are right. We will look into it.” From the look on Major Gudgel’s face, I don’t think he was convinced.

Holding Court Fallujah.jpg

An expensive-looking chandelier hung over our heads. Rooms were connected by arches. But the floor was made of uneven cracked concrete, like a sidewalk in need of repair. The floor was wet, too. The place leaked. Most windows were broken. Those facing west onto the street were sandbagged.

Fallujah Meeting From Outside.jpg

Sandbagged Windows Meeting House Fallujah.jpg

Every fifteen seconds or so another sandbag landed with a loud THUMP on the roof as Marines next door took down the station and prepared to move. I don’t know why they tossed sandbags from one roof to another instead of into the yard. The house shook. Unbroken windows rattled. I half-expected the ceiling to come down on our heads.

This part of Fallujah reminded me of what Halabja looks like these days – the now-infamous Kurdish city up north that Saddam Hussein all but destroyed with chemical weapons, artillery, and air strikes. It's not quite as bad as all that – the houses are bigger and at one time were nicer. But the decrepitude and cash-poor economy are similar.

Only two women showed up at the start of the meeting. Both were Marines. An Iraqi Army soldier sitting next to me stared at both. Most likely he didn't realize that staring is considered more rude to Americans than it is to Arabs.

He offered me a sip from his water bottle. I declined because I was nursing a cold and did not want him to get sick. He asked my name, then asked the name of the more attractive of the two female Marines.

“I don't know,” I whispered to him. “I haven't met her.”

“Will you take my picture with her after the meeting?” he said.

“Uhhhh,” I said. “I don't know. You will have to ask her if that's okay.”

I didn't want to do it because I didn't want to embarrass the poor woman. I'm sure she gets too much unwanted attention from Iraqi men as it is. I hoped the soldier sitting next to me would lose interest or forget about the whole thing by the time the meeting was over.

A few minutes later, a local woman stopped by. Every Iraqi Police officer in the room with a cell phone took her picture with their built-in cameras. Women make up slightly more than fifty percent of the population in Fallujah, but they are perhaps only two percent of the visible population.

She wore a hijab – the modest Islamic headscarf that covers the hair of conservative women – and sat next to a female American Marine captain.

Women Town Hall Meeting Fallujah.jpg

She came from a school. Captain Eastin suggested she start a Parent Teacher Association, like the PTA in the United States. It's highly unlikely that he was trained to say such a thing. He was just making it up as he went along, which is typically what Americans in nation-building roles do. Hardly any Marines have experience running cities in the United States. Very few, if any, served on their local city councils. Probably none have ever been mayor. But they live in the United States. They all know how a modern society is supposed to work simply from being immersed in one for most of their lives.

Americans in Iraq try to replicate what they know. Sometimes it doesn't work. What they suggest sometimes can’t work. Their ideas often baffle the locals. Iraq will never become a distant suburb or colony of America with Arabic characteristics. No one is trying to turn it into one. They're just bringing their American experience to Iraqis and saying “here's how we do it, maybe something similar will work in your country.”

Iraqis aren't stupid just because their society is dysfunctional. They may be confused by some American ideas, but Iraq likewise bewilders Americans. It takes a long time to learn how to navigate the alleyways of this complex and opaque society.

Stairs Through Broken Doorway Fallujah.jpg

Iraqis will often Iraqify, so to speak, ideas that Americans come up with. When Americans and Iraqis put their heads together they often resolve problems in ways that neither would have thought of on their own.

“Iraqi solutions are sometimes weird,” Captain Glenn said. “But it's almost always more effective than the Western solution we would come up with.”

“Give me an example of a weird solution,” I said.

“Some of the day labor projects,” he said. “We give a little bit of money to unemployed guys for some work, like cleaning the streets, rubble removal, things like that. You and I might say, hey, let's get some people and go out there and we'll pay them. They'll do that, but they just go about it in a really roundabout sort of way. They'll hire a couple of people to pick up trash, but then they'll just pick up a little trash and then go paint barriers or something. Meanwhile I'll be thinking, let's just go pick up rubble and trash. They are very non-linear. Also, like providing the trash cans. We purchased some trash cans. We wracked our brains about the accountability of the trash cans – we were thinking militaristically about accountability, the ten digit grid and where, exactly, these trash cans should go. The mukhtars said here's what we'll do. We'll get these trash cans and we'll talk to the senior man, the elder or the hajji in the area where the trash cans will go. We'll have him sign for it, then it's his trash can and he manages the trash can. That's not something we would have thought of.”

I visited a school in the city of Karmah, between Fallujah and Baghdad, with Lieutenant Schroeder and Corporal Gasperetti. They needed to speak to the chief administrator about school supplies.

Lieutenant Schroeder Karmah.jpg
Lieutenant Schroeder

“Please don't take any picture of women in here,” Corporal Gasperetti said. “We tried taking their pictures during a census, but they asked us not to. So please don't.”

“Ok,” I said. I knew already that most Iraqi women don’t like to be photographed. There are more women in public than you might think from looking at my pictures.

The school was squat with few windows. All the windows were barred. Trash was strewn in the yard. A sad-looking flag pole was all that decorated the courtyard.

The school had opened up again just recently after the insurgency was put down. Getting the place cleaned up and stocked was an on-going process that had barely begun. Corporal Gasperetti was in charge of the project. He barely outranks a private, but this was his job. Too much work needs to be done to leave it all to the high-ranking officers.

Gasperetti School.jpg

He rapped on the door of the administrator’s office. She opened the door and said “Salam” a bit glumly. She was overweight, as many Iraqis are, and she did not wear a headscarf. A poster of a Bavarian mountain village hung on the wall behind her desk.

Corporal Gasperetti asked her which school supplies she needed most. After a few moments, he turned to Lieutenant Schroeder and said “You guys are making me nervous.”

“Why?” the lieutenant said with genuine surprise.

“Because you’re my boss,” Corporal Gasperetti said. “And because I’m not used to be around a reporter.”

“Don’t worry about me,” I said and laughed. “I am not going to make you look stupid.”

I might make him look stupid if I thought he deserved to look stupid, if he were screwing up his job in some way. But nothing I heard him say or saw him do justified any bad press.

We left after a few minutes.

“She’s an old Baathist,” he said. “I'm trying to win her over by helping her out.”

“Have you made any progress?” I said.

“She’s loosened up a bit,” he said. “She used to be hostile.”

Gasperetti is “just” a corporal. And he's in charge of building a school. He's responsible for flipping a Baath Party functionary into the American column. And he's younger than I was when I finished college.

Corporal Gasperetti.jpg
Corporal Gasperetti

Winning over Iraqis is hard. It takes time, but it can be done.

After the town hall meeting in Fallujah, Mukhtar Hamid Hussein approached Captain Eastin.

Man with Glasses Fallujah.jpg
Mukhtar Hamid Hussein

“We appreciate the security you provide to us,” he said. “And how you watch over us as we also protect you.” Mukhtar Hussein was the chief of Fallujah’s mukhtars. “For a long time we were enemies. But now we are friends.”

“It was a miscommunication,” Captain Eastin said. That was a serious and generous understatement.

“There were mistakes on both sides,” Mukhtar Hussein said. “But now we are brothers.”

Post-script: I don’t get paid for these reports by anyone but readers of this Web site, and I can't afford to do this for free. If these dispatches are worth something to you, please consider a contribution and help make true independent journalism economically viable.

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Posted by Michael J. Totten at April 8, 2008 1:54 AM
Comments

Stunning photo journalism, Michael. It doesn't get better than this. Thank you.

Posted by: Webutante Author Profile Page at April 8, 2008 3:24 AM

Is there a way we can send school supplies to the school Corporal Gasperetti is working with? If there is something specific the school needs, perhaps folks can just send it over? I'd like the opportunity to do that...

Posted by: rrsafety Author Profile Page at April 8, 2008 7:14 AM

Two thoughts:

1) Michael, your articles deserve to be read into the Congressional record today-or any day. Fantastic reporting!

2) This isn't the Marines' job. I don't know if anybody could do it better right now, but at some point you get the Marines out and Civil Engineers, teachers, city managers, etc. in. The security situation is under control; it's the infrastructure-physical and societal- that needs to get rebuilt. I will say, though, that with the Marines, thinks are less likely to get sideways.

Michael, have you considered embedding with a Reconstruction Team?

Posted by: MartyH Author Profile Page at April 8, 2008 8:59 AM

Fantastic reporting.

“We make up all this stuff as we go,” Lieutenant Mike Barefoot added.

It's the State Dept's job to have a plan so that the Marines don't have to make it all up. Many things have already been tried around Iraq and have worked -- where is the "best practices" to help generate already-proven ideas?

The Muktars that get US money and perform well should get more money, and those that don't should get less (or no) money. The US, as the "customer", should be more discriminating in giving money for the best value.

Jobs.

Jobs come from entrepreneurs, who have an idea for a business big enough to involve organizing other people (hiring AND firing) to produce and sell something. Plus some initial, usually loan, capital for start up investment.

Mike, don't you ever talk to any entrepreneurs? Even small business owners?

Posted by: Tom Grey - Liberty Dad Author Profile Page at April 8, 2008 9:17 AM

"The Muktars that get US money and perform well should get more money, and those that don't should get less (or no) money. The US, as the “customer”, should be more discriminating in giving money for the best value."

I fear this may do more harm than good. Disgruntled mukhtar may prove to be much worst than lazy one. Besides, the ones, which do bad will eventually have no choice but to shape up so they would not be treated as fools by their peers.

Posted by: leo Author Profile Page at April 8, 2008 10:52 AM

rrsafety,

There are a number of charities associated with the military that are helping build and supply schools in Iraq. One that appears to be doing some good is the Mike Stokely Foundation. links deliberately broken up to escape Michael's spam filter

Information here: http :// www. mudvillegazette. com/archives/029882.html
http :// www. mudvillegazette. com/archives/003956.html

Mudville Gazette has a number of charities listed on the right sidebar. A lot of the milblogs link charities. The military is well aware that the better things are in Iraq, the less people shoot at them or try to blow them up. Also, it is really hard to go there and not do anything.

Posted by: Patrick S Lasswell Author Profile Page at April 8, 2008 11:15 AM

You can donate money to projects like this through Spirit of America. I did a bit of work for them years ago, and they are very solid. The founder is a friend of mine.

Only a tiny amount of money goes to overhead because they use the US military for logistics, and that costs them nothing. Money you donate goes to projects like these, and you can specify which project you want to fund on the Web site.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten Author Profile Page at April 8, 2008 11:47 AM

"He was just making it up as he went along, which is typically what Americans in nation-building roles do."
"They all know how a modern society is supposed to work simply from being immersed in one for most of their lives."

I think this is a small observation that means a lot.
Maybe it is just me, but the first time MJT said this to me it really made an impact on the way I had been thinking about the difficult and complex job our military is doing. It would be like me being tasked with designing and building a working airplane, because since I have been in an airplane, I at least know what one looks like and that it is possible.
And then pulling it off.

Posted by: Lindsey Author Profile Page at April 8, 2008 12:31 PM

Well I don't know if anyone cares for my two cents here or not, but here it is.

This particular post is special to me, because April 8th happens to be the one year anniversary of my last combat mission in Fallujah. So its good to read such a thing, even though I know it comes from quite a while ago.

First off, I can't believe there's a bar in Fallujah, sign or not. That certainly was not there a year ago. One year ago in some of the worst neighborhoods, Iraqis were smoking in secret and worried about Americans leaving their butts behind because they were getting their fingers cut off for smoking. One old man switched to Grizzly Wintergreen, and the next time we saw him he had had his teeth pulled out.

One year ago, we were wondering why there was so much trash and rubble, and so many Iraqis lining up on the streets with shovels waiting for dayjobs. Why so much work to be done, and yet no one working? We discovered that AQI was assassinating anyone who paid money to other Iraqis to do work. The entrepreneurs you ask of, were being killed in a campaign to keep poor Iraqis poor and therefore desperate.

I bring up these anecdotes to highlight the huge difference between one year ago and when MJT was there. Its just incredible.

Marines indeed do not receive the proper training for what they are doing over there. But regardless, I challenge anyone else to do the job better, trained or not, than a Marine Infantryman.

Lastly, I know Cpl. Gasperetti, so that was pretty cool to see.

Posted by: PDK Author Profile Page at April 8, 2008 12:40 PM

Well I don't know if anyone cares for my two cents here or not, but here it is.

This particular post is special to me, because April 8th happens to be the one year anniversary of my last combat mission in Fallujah. So its good to read such a thing, even though I know it comes from quite a while ago.

First off, I can't believe there's a bar in Fallujah, sign or not. That certainly was not there a year ago. One year ago in some of the worst neighborhoods, Iraqis were smoking in secret and worried about Americans leaving their butts behind because they were getting their fingers cut off for smoking. One old man switched to Grizzly Wintergreen, and the next time we saw him he had had his teeth pulled out.

One year ago, we were wondering why there was so much trash and rubble, and so many Iraqis lining up on the streets with shovels waiting for dayjobs. Why so much work to be done, and yet no one working? We discovered that AQI was assassinating anyone who paid money to other Iraqis to do work. The entrepreneurs you ask of, were being killed in a campaign to keep poor Iraqis poor and therefore desperate.

I bring up these anecdotes to highlight the huge difference between one year ago and when MJT was there. Its just incredible.

Marines indeed do not receive the proper training for what they are doing over there. But regardless, I challenge anyone else to do the job better, trained or not, than a Marine Infantryman.

Lastly, I know Cpl. Gasperetti, so that was pretty cool to see.

Posted by: PDK Author Profile Page at April 8, 2008 12:41 PM

Well I don't know if anyone cares for my two cents here or not, but here it is.

This particular post is special to me, because April 8th happens to be the one year anniversary of my last combat mission in Fallujah. So its good to read such a thing, even though I know it comes from quite a while ago.

First off, I can't believe there's a bar in Fallujah, sign or not. That certainly was not there a year ago. One year ago in some of the worst neighborhoods, Iraqis were smoking in secret and worried about Americans leaving their butts behind because they were getting their fingers cut off for smoking. One old man switched to Grizzly Wintergreen, and the next time we saw him he had had his teeth pulled out.

One year ago, we were wondering why there was so much trash and rubble, and so many Iraqis lining up on the streets with shovels waiting for dayjobs. Why so much work to be done, and yet no one working? We discovered that AQI was assassinating anyone who paid money to other Iraqis to do work. The entrepreneurs you ask of, were being killed in a campaign to keep poor Iraqis poor and therefore desperate.

I bring up these anecdotes to highlight the huge difference between one year ago and when MJT was there. Its just incredible.

Marines indeed do not receive the proper training for what they are doing over there. But regardless, I challenge anyone else to do the job better, trained or not, than a Marine Infantryman.

Lastly, I know Cpl. Gasperetti, so that was pretty cool to see.

Posted by: PDK Author Profile Page at April 8, 2008 12:41 PM

The Thunder Run has linked to this post in the blog post From the Front: 04/08/2008 News and Personal dispatches from the front lines.

Posted by: David M Author Profile Page at April 8, 2008 12:48 PM

Environmentalists might be heartened by the practical application of solar powered energy in Iraq. Abandon Iraq now, then global warming wins. "Not on MY WATCH," Al Gore might say.

Posted by: lee Author Profile Page at April 8, 2008 2:40 PM

In this post, you make it sound like Faisel convinced the immans to support America through argument. But in this Washington Post makes it sound like they were simply ordered to be pro-American

>Zobaie ordered imams at mosques to stop preaching in support of the insurgency and against American troops. The mosques have long been a breeding ground for insurgents. Sheik Abu Abdul Salman, an influential 67-year-old imam, didn't like Zobaie's order. "He's worse than Saddam Hussein," Salman said.

When Zobaie heard of the remark, his voice rose in anger. "Sometimes people are just saying that I did this, I did that. . . . Okay, I tell them, 'Where were you when al-Qaeda was running this city?' "
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/03/23/AR2008032301990_pf.html

How do you square the two stories?

Posted by: earlsofsandwich Author Profile Page at April 8, 2008 5:05 PM

Earl - Here's one way to square it. Michael reported this from Fallujah a matter of hours ago.

Michael - Great photo of the Mukhtar's house. I've always thought the coolest houses on the planet are in the mideast (except for the squat toilets). Back in OIF I, I pointed out a similarly styled house and asked my interpreter how much a home like that would cost. I think he said the equivalent of about 30K or 40K. He could clearly see that I was surprised at this small amount. He asked how much it would cost in America. I estimated at least 10 times that amount, probably more, and perhaps 50 times that amount depending upon the location. He looked at me with a perfectly straight face and with absolute sincerity and responded, "you and I must figure out a way to build these homes and ship them to America." And then an RPG blew up a tomato stand across the street. Ah, memories.

Posted by: Saint in Exile Author Profile Page at April 8, 2008 5:48 PM

Earl - Here's one way to square it. Michael reported this from Fallujah a matter of hours ago.

Earl, a second way to square it is tht the WaPo both makes up and prints lies. I'm surprise after this many years of print media - including WaPo - being unmasked and hooted at, you're still offering them up as exemplars of anything.

Michael, would you at some point discuss a little more deeply the interaction of Iraqi men with women, both American and Iraqi females? I'm fascinated by the brief little snippet you gave during the meeting; why do you think the Iraqi male wanted his picture taken with the American woman soldier? After all this time, you'd think it wouldn't be that remarkable to see American women in positions of authority.

Was he just angling for an introduction so he could swoop her off her feet, marry her and immigrate to America? Or is it some sort of counting coup thing so that a picture of an American woman would be a sexual scalp on a man's belt? Or something else that I totally haven't thought of.

Why would all the men in the room take pictures with their cell phones of the Iraqi female? I've heard of this sort of behavior in strictly segregated Saudi Arabia, but surely in Iraq with women shopping and marketing on the streets and being in schools, etc etc., seeing a Muslim woman in public shouldn't be that big a deal.

Posted by: NahnCee Author Profile Page at April 8, 2008 6:42 PM

Earl of Sandwich,

It's perfectly appropriate for the chief of police to order imams to stop supporting terrorism and violence. That's his job.

Saying he's worse than Saddam is preposterous, and gives the speaker away as a Saddam-supporter. There were lots and lots of those in Fallujah. Saddam's worst was dished out elsewhere.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten Author Profile Page at April 8, 2008 6:49 PM

Saint in Exile,

I'm not actually in Fallujah right now. I wrote it hours ago, but didn't gather the material hours ago.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten Author Profile Page at April 8, 2008 6:50 PM

Colonel Faisal is too rough with insurgent detainees, as are most Iraqi Police. I've written previously that the Americans are trying to rein them in on this. But the whole Middle East is like that. Colonel Faisal isn't "worse than Saddam," he is typical for his region except that he wears an American leash. She he's actually more mellow than average for the region for that reason.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten Author Profile Page at April 8, 2008 6:54 PM

Nahncee,

I don't know why Iraqi men do what they do around Iraqi and American women. Really, your guess is as good as mine.

I do know that one reason Iraqi women don't want me to take their pictures is partly because they're tired of Iraqi men taking their pictures. At least that's the case in Kurdistan, according to Kurdish men who explained it to me. Seems like Arab and Kurdish Iraq don't differ much when it comes to this.

I have heard, though, that American women are treated very respectfully in Kurdistan when they travel alone. That's also the case in Lebanon and Syria. Western women are treated terribly in North Africa, especially in Egypt. I can't explain the regional differences, I'm just aware of them.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten Author Profile Page at April 8, 2008 6:59 PM

It has been fascinating reading the work in Fallujah unfold from some of the earliest combat reports to the second assault to the initial rebuilding and now through to civil society standing up again. Those reports from Michael Yon, Bill Ardolino, Bill Roggio and Michael Totten have offered us a rare glimpse of how Fallujah survived to its current recovery.

There actually is a type of soldier suited to the work of city management and Yon described them in Bird's Eye View posting 25 JUL 2007. The reason those men can and do succeed is through their work prior to Iraq: they were base commanders. One of the reasons many high-flying plans from State Dept. don't work, is that they are coming from a bureaucracy with set assumptions about society and how it runs. Base commanders get to see all the things that fall apart, don't run well and then figure out how to solve them in complex environments. State Dept. is not set up to run 'bring order to chaos' deals, while DoD is set up to do so.

Base commanders know that when problems are at a 'dull roar' everything is running smoothly and getting it to that point of normal, everyday, background complaints is essential: it keeps the lights on, the water running, the phones working, and the streets clean. A base will never run 'perfectly', but if it runs 'well', then things are being handled. It is one of the post-war insights on the ground that the armed forces need to examine for immediate post-conflict operations and stabilization deployments. And just as not all front line soldiers make good COIN soldiers, not all commanders make good base commanders.

Thank you for your work, Mr. Totten! The story of Fallujah is amazing and it is far from over, although the worst days may be receding. I suspect that it will always be the 'bandit city' talked about in 1920's tour books... at least at heart.

Posted by: ajacksonian Author Profile Page at April 9, 2008 8:00 AM


I do know that one reason Iraqi women don't want me to take their pictures is partly because they're tired of Iraqi men taking their pictures. At least that's the case in Kurdistan, according to Kurdish men who explained it to me. Seems like Arab and Kurdish Iraq don't differ much when it comes to this.

I don't buy it. That sounds like one of those facile explanations that women give to men just to shut them up and avoid a fight. Like, "I didn't ask for my picture to be taken, Achmed! And I'd just as soon not have it taken any more either, thank you very much," because Achmed has been asking why Abdullah and Mohammad and Omar have been busily snapping away at her as she walked through the bazaar.

Maybe it is just a guy/techie thing playing with their new toys, combined with the thrill of breaking millennia-old rules.

Posted by: NahnCee Author Profile Page at April 9, 2008 3:52 PM

Nahncee;

I assumed the Iraqi soldier wanted a picture of the Marine because a female soldier is probably a strange fish in that part of the world. I have no idea why they took snapshots of the Iraqi women.

My theory about why the women don't want to be photographed is that they don't know where that picture will end up or the malevalent honor-wrecking uses it might be put to. Considering the obsessive focus on female honor over there, it's a valid reason.

Posted by: Boojum Author Profile Page at April 10, 2008 9:58 AM
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