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September 05, 2007
"We like you!"

Posted by Bill

I'm still in the middle of my Civil Affairs (CAG) embed, and the ongoing missions plus intermittent power and internet access in my current billet make writing difficult. Polished commentary will be a few days out. But a quick teaser: the positive change in Fallujah since my January visit is astounding.

I've attended a Fallujah City Council meeting, a recruiting day for the "Fallujah Protectors" (neighborhood watch), the establishment of the city's last police precinct and a meeting of "muktars," traditional cultural leaders of specific neighborhoods who work with Marines to improve infrastructure. Tomorrow, the CAG unit will distribute food bags downtown. Almost none of this access or interaction was possible in January, and the cooperation with American personnel is widespread and animated.

The surreality of the change can be summed up by this afternoon. I sat chit-chatting in a downtown precinct with Iraqi cops and newly-minted neighborhood watchmen, junior security officials drawn from the same labor pool that previously drove the insurgency. As was the case last visit, the Iraqis ask if I'm an Arab when they first see me, and express amused fascination when they discover I'm American. Apparently I look like a member of a tribe that lives northwest of the city, whose members sport full beards, lighter skin and light eyes. I always respond that there are plenty of Americans who look just like them, because America welcomes all races. Coupled with my prominent camera and status as "a journalist," I rate somewhere between a bemusing curiosity and a very minor celebrity.

Through a local interpreter, we talked about their changing opinion of Americans, Iraq's prospects, the misery of living under al Qaeda, the joys of kabob and favorite soccer teams. Their open and friendly nature is hard to reconcile with the violent history of American-Iraqi interaction in Fallujah, and many of them charitably chalk it up to a "misunderstanding."

Towards the end of a long conversation with one group, I said, "Well, I wish you luck. And I want you to know, besides the marines and soldiers that you meet here in the city, there are many civilians back in America who hope for Fallujah's success."

The afternoon's joking died down as the interpreter translated and each of them earnestly told me "shukran" ("thank you"). And one young guy blurted out in halting English, "We like you!"

Backatcha, buddy. Now I'm off to hit that kabob.

Extended commentary to follow.

Posted by Bill at September 5, 2007 09:42 AM | TrackBack (0)

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I rate somewhere between a bemusing curiosity and a very minor celebrity.

So, no groupies then?

Posted by: TallDave at September 5, 2007 02:39 PM

Ignorance is the fuel of war, what did the guys say "a misunderstanding", case in point. Learning of their fate took place once they realized we were not fighting to literally take away their homes but to give them a healthier, smarter and ultimately a safer home, one they would govern not us. Invasion by U.S. troops was a huge success, its planning and tactics. The State Department under Powell f***ed up the rest, telling the military what to do; essentially hide in these cities behind these walls while we deal with reform politically. for 2 and 1/2 years those military generals that followed these orders from Powell eventually were given to pasture. Powell's policies were the most ignorant you or I could ever imagine. It was based on a doctrine two decades old, that saw the Iraqi's ready to self govern. I can not ever forgive Powell for his sheepish answers which were to point the finger away from himself as a terrible statesman, has any military general ever been a good statesman?

Why everyone blames Bush is because Powell is not man enough to shoulder his failures. The media is not concerned with Powell, they are only concerned with anti-victory for America so a Democrate will win the office.

Ironically after reading this below many times I have to ask you is He telling another lie? or is his wife?

...this crisis also demonstrates, unfortunately once again, that Saddam Hussein remains an impediment to the well being of his people and a threat to peace in this region and the security of the world. We will continue to contain the threat that he imposes by working for the elimination of Iraq’s Weapons of Mass Destruction capability under UNSCOM, enforcing the sanctions of the no-fly zone, responding firmly to any Iraqi provocations. However, over the long term, the best way to address that threat is through a government in Bagdad, a new government, that is committed to represent and respect its people not repress them, that is committed to peace in the region. Over the past year we have deepened our engagement with the forces of change in Iraq, reconciling the two largest Kurdish groups, beginning broadcasts of a Radio Free Iraq throughout the country. We will intensify that effort, working with congress to implement the Iraq Liberation Act which was recently passed, strengthening our political support to do what we can to make the opposition a more effective voice for the aspirations of the Iraqi people. ...Let me say again, what we want and what we will work for is a government in Iraq that represents and respects its people not represses them, and one committed to living in peace with its neighbors. In the century we are leaving America has often made the difference between tyranny and freedom, between chaos and community, between fear and hope. In this case, as so often in the past, the reason America can make the difference is the patriotism and professionalism of our military. Once again, its strength, its readiness, its capacity, is advancing America’s interest and the cause of world peace. We must remain vigilant, strong and ready, here and wherever our values and interests are at stake. Thanks to our military we will be able to do so.

Bill Clinton ~ November 15, 1998

D- I look forward to reading your posts, keep safe.


B.A. Hokom

Posted by: B.A. Hokom at September 5, 2007 05:20 PM

It's a pity there isn't a way to communicate to the average Iraqis how many Americans wish them well and hope they succeed.

It might help.

Posted by: chiropetra at September 5, 2007 07:53 PM

Actually, the new Dem talking point is that our success in al Anbar proves that the mission is a failure.

Our incompetent troops (as inferred by Chuckles Schumer today) couldn't protect the Sunnis, so they had to organize themselves to fight al Qaeda.

See? Victory is defeat. Freedom is slavery.

Somewhere Orwell is nodding sagely, saying, "See? Did I call it or what?"

Posted by: Tom W. at September 5, 2007 08:38 PM

There is a way to tell the Iraqi civilians. I send packages of various items to a platoon leader and he hands the stuff to Iraqi families in need. Helps the Iraqis and the troops to become friends.

Posted by: Azygos at September 5, 2007 08:39 PM

Yeah, Norm Geras linked a drive to help nascent Iraqi trade unions get organized with donations of old cellphones and laptops. I sent in a few.

Hey, Solidarnosc beat the Soviets in the end.

Posted by: TallDave at September 6, 2007 12:44 AM

I recently returned from an embed with the 82nd Airborne in Bayji, which is in Salah-ah-din province, north of Baghdad...I attended the same types of tribal meetings and have to agree 100 percent that the Sunni shiekhs and residents are supportive of the 'neighborhood watch' the meetings - including one with a shiekh once detained for harboring Saddam Hussein himself! - they were animated and engaged and laughed at the company commander's jokes (he spoke pretty good Arabic). Make no mistake, though, they can NOT be trusted. They do NOT like Americans, and that was very evident in the sly glances and body language from their bodyguards...I suppose it was a mirror image of the hard looks our soldiers gave them...there's not any sort of 'like' going on there, but from the Iraqis there is a total understanding that Al Qaeda is friggin' nuts and brings nothing but chaos and violence.
Of course, these are areas that are exclusively Sunni, without any real sectarian violence (on account of the few Shiites got ethnic cleansed over the last few years) it's anybody's guess how this will work elsewhere.
I went to Iraq pessimisitc and returned optimistic - but we need to be prepared to invest three or four years in the country (the commander's words, not mine) and I'm not sure the U.S. has the stomach for it - and that's all Bush's fault, for so pathetically mismanaging the war at every level. Yell if you want, but you know that's right.

Posted by: Nathan at September 6, 2007 04:17 PM

Nathan -

You bring up a worthy point, so just to be clear: this anecdote is not meant as an overall assessment that the Fallujans all love Americans, by any means - it does illustrate a stark change from what the interaction was like before.

Agreed, there are sly glances, and plenty more taciturn tolerance ("rebuild things and get the hell out, soon") to be sure. But there do exist many glimmers of genuine "like" among folks, specifically some average Fallujans who interact with friendly Americans on an ongoing basis, like the IP.

In all instances, as you'd agree, the bottom line and good news is that they will deal and have developed intersecting interests with coalition forces.

Posted by: Bill from INDC at September 6, 2007 06:35 PM

Totally agree, Bill...

I should have clarified my intent wasn't to contradict you at all, but to make clear to those who want to paint your observations as "hooray! The Sunni's love us! We've won!" that that is an unreasonable intepretation of's nowhere near that cut and dry...YOU know the truth, since you saw it firsthand, but in this war people on both sides want to deal in abolutes.

I was in Bayji, incidentally, where many of the shiekhs were hardcore Baathists, who have 'legitimate' (in their eyes) grudges against the U.S., in some ways it's really remarkable they are having a sit-down dialogue with us - but they are terrified of Al Qaeda...

But the IPs were showing up to work every day, despite a few serious attacks and things seemed to be moving in a positive direction.

Bottom line for me is I went expecting the worst, but after a month there I felt myself buying what they were selling - and I didn't talk at lenght to anyone higher ranking than a major, so I can confidentley say nobody tried to spin me.

Posted by: Nathan Webster at September 6, 2007 08:39 PM

I should have clarified my intent wasn't to contradict you at all,

It was indeed a helpful observation.

but in this war people on both sides want to deal in absolutes.

That, they do ..

Posted by: Bill from INDC at September 6, 2007 09:05 PM

I did my part. I earmarked donations through the Redcross and to the Christian Children's Fund to help families and children in Afghanistan. Every donation brings about a greater peace.

Posted by: at September 7, 2007 01:14 PM

Sorry, posted my email incorrectly above.

Consider donating to Afghanistan and Iraq families and children in need through charitable donations or with care packages through the troops themselves. You too can prevent terrorism.

Posted by: jeepndesert at September 7, 2007 01:16 PM

great stuff Bill

Posted by: Jane at September 8, 2007 12:02 AM

Spammed! Or is that all D-speak & code & acronyms?

Posted by: Brian H at September 9, 2007 01:25 AM



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