Sunday, June 21, 2009

Welcome to the first installment of “Life in Iraq – Part Deux”. In this episode I am able to reflect momentarily on the fact that the last time I was here we were liberating the country and then building up the military footprint in the area as fast as possible. Also, we were just getting our feet wet on figuring out the culture and learning that stabilizing this place after the overthrow of a 30 year dictatorship by a mad-man was going to be far more difficult than first imagined. Now we are in the beginning process of pulling out our troops and trying to shrink the military footprint even faster than it went up. This isn’t to say at all that I believe we will be fully out of this place any time earlier than already planned. No significant numbers have gone home yet without replacements and I don’t think that’ll happen until after the elections at the end of the year. But inside the populated areas bases and the even smaller “Joint Security Stations” are closing down at a break neck pace.

In all reality the best case scenario would be a re-negotiation of the Status of Forces agreement to allow for US training and counter-terrorism forces to remain after 2011. Such a development would be a sign that, for starters, the Iraqis ARE successfully taking care of their own security AND that the attitude towards Americans and the security situation overall would allow such a residual force to exist. But that’s just me thinking out loud – let’s get to some pictures from our first week why don’t we?

I’m going to have to jump around in time a little and my next post should actually cover events prior to this trip posted below. But I need some more photos before I can go back in time (you’ll understand when I get that posted). For now, this photo set is from a trip I took on Saturday out to one of the remote Joint Security Stations close to the city of Nassariyah. The true purpose of my being there was to pay out a micro-grant to a local business man. The idea for these grants is to help local business people get a business going or expand a small business in order to help improve the overall economy and quality of life in their area. In this case the gentleman receiving the grant is a blacksmith by trade and is getting the money he needs to purchase welding equipment in order to run a business making doors that can be sold to Iraqi homes and businesses. If all works out, the roughly $3000 to buy quality work tools will enable him to support his family by providing something that most Iraqis lack – a decent front door…really. Below is a photo of the transaction taking place. The Soldier in the photo is the guy transporting the money. This is his last payment to make – after this it’s going to be my turn to start paying out the cash. And my first payment was today, Sunday (that was just a payment to a local hotel operator for use of the hotel for a 2 day agriculture seminar that our PRT orgainzed for the area). The guy next to him in the black hat is the translator, and the dude in the blue shirt is the businessman. The suit on the right is the Mayor of Nassariyah. He was basically there because of the base hand-over (next half of the story) and since we try and put an Iraqi face on everything we let him get his mug into the publicity as well. Personally, I wasn’t too thrilled with the idea of him being there or the Iraqi media filming for various reasons that I won’t go into detail on here – but it’s not my show – not till tomorrow.

Also – many of my photos will have edits to protect identities, be it name tapes or whole faces. Even though the Iraqi media was there I still edited this one, and here’s a story to illustrate why. We have an interpreter with our group who has been working with the Americans since May of 2003. He has been living in the city and coming onto base daily, virtually every day, since that time to help us win the fight in his country – even after nearly dying from injuries sustained while working for the Special Forces a couple years ago. The only thing he fears are the other local Iraqis that come to work menial jobs on the base (cleaning, painting, etc.) each day. And that’s because those are the people who might tell someone who he is and what he does and there-by endanger his family. Therefore, I will take measures to keep the identity of most Iraqis who work with us hidden even on a US blog. Because if you think the enemy doesn’t have internet, even here in Iraq, you are wrong.
As I mentioned previously – the other events at the JSS Saturday was the turn over of the station to the Iraqis. Below are photos from the ceremony which was quick and quaint but for reasons explained in the first paragraph pretty profound for me.
In this photo below you can see an American Army element and an Iraqi Army element in formation for the ceremony to turn over the small outpost. The units are at attention and saluting while each country's national anthem is played.

In this photo, the commanders of both military units sit at a table and the Americans sign purely ceremonial documents turning over control of the dirt-hole to the Iraqis. I promise you...none of the American's were sad about leaving, and I'm sure the Iraqis were thinking "Great - like we don't have enough dirt holes in our really, you can keep this one if you really want".
I'm only slightly kidding - again, it's the ceremony and the symbolizm that's important more than any single structure or location.

At this point in the ceremony, after the hand over was signed by both commanders, the Iraqis had a flag tied to this flag pole. They had a color guard march up, untie the flag, and then.....

...of course, raise it high on the flagpole to symbolize that this is now an Iraqi Army security station.

I, for one, have no illusions that this Army and these Police are ready to truly own their country in the manner that I’m sure most Americans would like. Terrorists will be able to move around here as freely as they do in Pakistan and Iran. Corruption and incompetence will continue to be a problem; but it’s a problem in Chicago, New Orleans, and plenty of other places in the US as the difference there is minimal really. But hopefully by the time we are ready to leave they can be formidable enough to keep the neighboring countries from crossing over the borders and the bulk of the society will be friendly to US interests and that – truly – is the main goal. And hopefully for the next 9-10 months I can help further achieve that goal. For now – thanks for all the thoughts and prayers and feel free to drop me a line at:

SFC Jason Hoyt (8974)
Wasit – PRT
FOB Delta
APO AE 09317

And have a great rest of the weekend.

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