Wednesday, September 07, 2005

A Line In The Sand

It's been a long time since I've last reported. Partly out of growing cynicism towards the population, partly due to a generally poor attitude since returning from a wonderful vacation to the states, and partly due to my camp at Abu Ghraib being taken over by the Iraqi Government and beginning anew...........again.

I've been at this new camp now for one month and I'm still reaching for ways to describe it. You see, unlike the other camps that I've been to where the officers are pretty much just grabbed from the street and an officers brand is applied, these guys have been officers for a while. In fact, some have been officers for over 20 years. When I first came to this camp, I expected the normal fistfight during meal time and the mongrel hordes coming through our wire as has been the case since I've gotten to this country. The first meal I observed was quiet and orderly. I leaned over to my translator and whispered "I've landed in the Twilight Zone....." His reply was somwhat discomforting, albeit, I was happy....."You don't know the half of it" he whispered.....

After attending several meals with the same result and meeting some of the officers(polished and shaved) , I longed to know just what the hell was going on here! An officer, who I now consider a friend then asked me one evening if I'd take part in one of my favorite pastimes....... shooting. I gladly grabbed my weapons because I was feeling a little out of practice anyway. My translator, myself, his translator and the Captain headed for the range. I wasn't sure where the range was on the base and I quickly found out that it wasn't on the base at all! My heart raced as we drove through the front gate out into 'The Wilds'. "God, I'm an Idiot!!" I thought to myself. The officer quickly noted my fear and looked at me in the rear view mirror and smiled. "Mako Mushkala Grieso" (No Problem) they have a hard time pronouncing my name so they all call me Grieso now. It seems that Grieso is a dragon from T.V.'s past that wanted to be a fireman instead of starting fires. Anyway......

The Captains translator rolls around in the front seat to face me in the back. "Nothing will happen to you........trust me........" his voice trailed off as he turned around again. All I could do was sit and watch all these people watching us drive by. We got to the range and there were various people, mostly children, milling about. Again, I was panicking and again, the Captain assured me that we would not encounter ANY problems here. I learned later exactly why we would not have ANY problems from the locals. I shot my AK and my Shorty AK as well as my pistol. The Captain was satisfied with my ability and we joked a little when I wasn't lookin over my shoulder. When we got back to camp, he invited me to eat with him. My translator, myself and Captain G had a good dinner and when the Chai was brought we started into legitimate conversation. He asked me about various things concerning the way things are being handled here and how the new government is shaping up. I asked him questions about his history and what he did before the war.

When he started answering my questions, I thought he was joking. He's telling me about protecting the president and stopping assasination attempts and different things and I'm thinking......'Why isn't he still protecting the President?' and the whole time my translator's eyebrows keep giving me that 'Do you get it yet?' look...........The President?.......My translator says THE President.....Oh....Oh my... When we first invaded this country, the military knew they would receive little resistence in the far provinces but they knew the closer they got to Baghdad, the more 'Republican Guard' units they would meet and the resistance would grow. The Republican Guard was responsible for keeping Saddam alive at any and all costs, to derive intelligence from the local population, disimenate it and find out who is who and what the heartbeat of any local population was, and to carry out Saddams orders whatever they may be.

I thought these guys were all in hiding! I'm sitting across the table and chatting with and.......OH my......I'm surrounded by..!!! Republican Guard Members!!!!!! Everything said in passing and the way they acted about different things especially their demands that the food be of the utmost quality and that it be served properly and the fact that they were said to be 'experts' in 'intelligence' all came flooding in.......Who was going to mess with these guys at the firing range? Only a Lunatic!! At first I thought "I'm in real deep now" but upon further Q&A, I've discovered that their pride doesn't lie in the fact that some were in the next room from Saddam, but rather that they were all very good at what they did. They are still good at what they do. This time around, they are using their talents for the good though. I've sat through various stories that they tell and I'll tell you, any American that knows anything about this country and the history of the past 35 years would salivate at the thought of hearing them in person!!!!!

So, fast forward two weeks. We're all one big happy family. I'm making new and exciting friends and my staff is working like crazy and then one night, my translator and I sit down with an upper level member of the group and here's where things get sort of weird. My new friends love to talk politics and in this country, religion and politics go hand in hand. Well, exactly put, religion is the very first and all other things just occur because that is the way it's deemed by God. So my Shitte translator is translating the officers words and he begins to explain to me that a lot of these things we heard in America were made up by the 'guilty' parties. We're talking about kicking in doors of innocent people in the middle of the night for nothing more than refusing to attend a rally supporting their leader or refusing to join the Army. My translator begins to stammer at this point and I don't really notice his anger until the conversation turns to the officers explaining that, for instance, a man was arrested and he told the government that he did nothing but it ended up that he had a brother that was trying to lead a revolution movement from another country. This man was Shia. "The Shia are not really smart enough to run the country and THAT is why it's in such turmoil.".

It's just the three of us in a small room and I can see my translator trying to maintain and the officer just continues to talk. "So many of these 'innocent' people were guilty of many crimes under the rule of law and the rule of Islam." he continues and now my translators hands are shaking so I look at my watch and yawn......time to go!!! We get out of site and he starts jumping up and down and making the international sign for I Could Just Choke The Shit Out Of Something!!!!!! I'm like "What??!!". "Did you hear that.....that....Shit!!!!!?????". "Is he right?" I ask like an idiot. "WHAT???" he says! Okay.... I get it but I didn't think it would be right up front like that. I thought the differences between Sunni Muslims and Shitte or Shia(I have found both to be correct depending on the writer)Muslims were known like Catholics and Methodists but you don't just go digging at another like that. I've always lived in camps where it's US and THEM in the same camp. My staff and the Iraqis we are feeding, fueling, etc but this kind of throws a new wrench into the gears. We're all supposed to get along in the New Iraq but the more that time goes by, I see my Shitte staff and our new Sunni friends drawing.................
A Line In The Sand......... to be continued........

3 comments:

KT said...

Hope you are safe and all is well.

strykerdad said...

Just came across your blog. some great stuff and I appreciate the effort, both on your blog and your work in Iraq. I have been considering trying out such work myself and yours is a great resource to get some idea of what it may be like. Keep it up and be safe.

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