Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Go Jimmie!

Stolen from ESPN.COM...

Wanted to post a congratulatory note- Jimmie's won the last 2 races, and is only 9 points back with 3 races to go. So he's in a good position to repeat last year's title. But I hear that Jeff Gordon guy is pretty good, too, so it should be an interesting 3 races. I even watched a bit of it live thanks to an AFN (armed forces network) box- a device which lets us pick up satellite transmission signals from U.S. military broadcasting system.
As Lucas used to yell, "Lowe's Car! Lowe's Car! Lowe's Car!" Woo-hoo!

Monday, October 29, 2007

We were soldiers once....

From the co-author of We were soldiers once... and young, this article is interesting in that it profiles the attitudes and decisions of young officers in the army. Despite the many articles and claims about higher than ever retention, especially among the deployed, I find them less than credible when balanced against the larger bonuses, increased waivers, and the hard data about these junior officers voting with their feet. To me it is interesting that a coauthor of a book by the above named title is in this case again covering "soldiers once... and young."

I think we also need to parse out what we mean by "high morale"- there are a large number of people who feel good about their efforts- that they are working hard and doing their best. As far as the effects of those actions, and the overall efforts at reconstruction, winning hearts and minds, establishing democracy, and the like, I'd argue that many of us are a but more circumspect. But there are plenty, especially with the more recent substantial decrease (yet still deadly) in violence against U.S. forces.

Raleigh News & Observer
October 28, 2007
Pg. 31

A Fading Fighting Force
Army battles big shortages, low standards
By Joseph L. Galloway


McClatchy-Tribune Information Services

BAYSIDE, TEXAS - Although they seem to have faded out of the headlines and been put on the back burner by the politicians in the nation's capital in recent weeks, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan grind on, whether we're paying attention or not.

Last week we had a new estimate that those wars ultimately may cost the American taxpayer a whopping $2.7 trillion, this with a national debt that already tops $9 trillion. That's a tidy sum for a foreign adventure that its architects thought would be over in six months and mostly paid for by Iraqi oil revenues.

Also last week, the new chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Michael Mullen, hit the road to talk to the Army captains and majors who, along with the lieutenants, sergeants and enlisted soldiers, bear the brunt of repeated combat tours in the mountains of Afghanistan and the sands of Iraq.

The admiral got a real earful during stops at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., and Fort Sill, Okla., when he asked those line officers what was on their minds.

He told the officers that our military today has an incredible wealth of combat experience at their level after so many officers have pulled two, three and even four tours of hard duty, and that his job is to keep all that experience on duty in the years to come.

The captains and majors told their boss that a policy of repeated combat deployments for 15 months in the war zone with only 12 months, at best, back home simply isn't good enough. Many said the long absences are a threat to their marriages and family life, and that the divorce rate among junior officers is soaring.

Mullen told them he's working to balance things a little better so that after 15 months in combat they'd be guaranteed at least 15 months back home, but even so modest a goal would take time to implement in a force stretched as thin as this one is. Some responded that even that wasn't good enough; that 24 or even 36 months at home is needed after a combat tour.

The Army reportedly has a shortage of 3,000 captains and majors this year, and recently began offering them bonuses of up to $35,000 if they'd agree to remain on duty for an additional three years. The shortage was forecast to rise to 6,000 by 2010 as the Army tries to grow by 65,000.

Even with the offer of the cash bonus or free graduate school or their choice of assignments, the exodus of young officers continues to grow at a pace that worries commanders. The U.S. Military Academy at West Point was founded to educate career officers for the Army, and upon graduation each officer owes Uncle Sam five years on active duty. The hope is that most will remain for a full career, and historically just 28.8 percent have opted out after five years.

A total of 35 percent of the West Point Class of 2000 left the Army in 2005; 46 percent of the Class of 2001 left in 2006, and a staggering 58 percent of the Class of 2002 left active duty when their obligation expired this year.

Those figures are mirrored among officers who are commissioned through university ROTC programs, with attrition rates now at a 30-year high. The Army Reserve reports that the situation is even worse for critical ranks and specialties: The Reserve has only 58 percent of the sergeants first class it needs, 53 percent of the captains and 74 percent of needed majors.

It's clear that we're grinding up our seed corn in Iraq and Afghanistan. For much too long, the administration and former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld sought to fight their wars on the cheap, without adding desperately needed but expensive manpower to an Army that started with only 486,000 troops on active duty.

By the time the powers that be agreed to begin adding an additional 10,000 per year in a "temporary" increase, on top of the 80,000 it must enlist each year just to replace departing soldiers, getting young men and women to sign up had already become such a serious problem that the Army started paying enlistment bonuses of up to $20,000 for new recruits.

To make the numbers, the Army also has lowered its standards and begun accepting high school dropouts and offering waivers to recruits with criminal records or physical problems and even some who scored in the lowest quarter on the armed services vocational aptitude test.
That's only made more trouble for those captains Adm. Mullen talked to. One complained to Mullen that he was forced to spend 80 percent of his time dealing with the 13 "problem children" in his 100-man company.

Mullen told the junior officers that his service dates back to the Vietnam War, and he remembers vividly how our military was broken at the end of that war, and how hard it was to repair the damage. He said he doesn't want to see the current wars break the force again.

But that's precisely what is happening as troops, families and equipment are ground down by asking too much of too few. Just over half a percent of our 300 million citizens carry the entire burden and make all the sacrifices in an inexcusably unfinished war of necessity in Afghanistan and a costly war of choice in Iraq.

There seemingly is no relief in sight, even after George W. Bush leaves office on Jan. 20, 2009, and that's bad news for our nation and a crying shame if you're wearing the uniform and serving it.

(Joseph L. Galloway is a military columnist for McClatchy Newspapers and co-author of "We Were Soldiers Once ... and Young.")

* 35 percent of the West Point Class of 2000 left the Army in 2005.
* 46 percent of the Class of 2001 left in 2006.
* 58 percent of the Class of 2002 left active duty when their obligation expired this year.

Going back to my brief period in my MBA program, what's the ROI on that investment?

Saturday, October 27, 2007

News that is interesting perhaps only to me and certain others

'I Don't Think This Place Is Worth Another Soldier's Life'
After 14 months in a Baghdad district torn by mounting sectarian violence, members of one U.S. unit are tired, bitter and skeptical.

By Joshua Partlow
Washington Post Foreign Service
Saturday, October 27, 2007; A01


BAGHDAD, Oct. 26 Their line of tan Humvees and Bradley Fighting Vehicles creeps through another Baghdad afternoon. At this pace, an excruciating slowness, they strain to see everything, hoping the next manhole cover, the next rusted barrel, does not hide another bomb. A few bullets pass overhead, but they don't worry much about those.

"I hate this road," someone says over the radio.

They stop, look around. The streets of Sadiyah are deserted again. To the right, power lines slump down into the dirt. To the left, what was a soccer field is now a pasture of trash, combusting and smoking in the sun. Packs of skinny wild dogs trot past walls painted with slogans of sectarian hate.

A bomb crater blocks one lane, so they cross to the other side, where houses are blackened by fire, shops crumbled into bricks. The remains of a car bomb serve as hideous public art. Sgt. Victor Alarcon's Humvee rolls into a vast pool of knee-high brown sewage water -- the soldiers call it Lake Havasu, after the Arizona spring-break party spot -- that seeps in the doors of the vehicle and wets his boots.

"When we first got here, all the shops were open. There were women and children walking out on the street," Alarcon said this week. "The women were in Western clothing. It was our favorite street to go down because of all the hot chicks."

That was 14 long months ago, when the soldiers from the 1st Battalion, 18th Infantry Regiment, 1st Infantry Division, arrived in southwestern Baghdad. It was before their partners in the Iraqi National Police became their enemies and before Shiite militiamen, aligned with the police, attempted to exterminate a neighborhood of middle-class Sunni families.

Next month, the U.S. soldiers will complete their tour in Iraq. Their experience in Sadiyah has left many of them deeply discouraged, by both the unabated hatred between rival sectarian fighters and the questionable will of the Iraqi government to work toward peaceful solutions.
Asked if the American endeavor here was worth their sacrifice -- 20 soldiers from the battalion have been killed in Baghdad -- Alarcon said no: "I don't think this place is worth another soldier's life."

While top U.S. commanders say the statistics of violence have registered a steep drop in Baghdad and elsewhere, the soldiers' experience in Sadiyah shows that numbers alone do not describe the sense of aborted normalcy -- the fear, the disrupted lives -- that still hangs over the city.

Before the war, Sadiyah was a bustling middle-class district, popular with Sunni officers in Saddam Hussein's military. It has become strategically important because it represents a fault line between militia power bases in al-Amil to the west and the Sunni insurgent stronghold of Dora to the east. U.S. commanders say the militias have made a strong push for the neighborhood in part because it lies along the main road that Shiite pilgrims travel to the southern holy cities of Najaf and Karbala.

American soldiers estimate that since violence intensified this year, half of the families in Sadiyah have fled, leaving approximately 100,000 people. After they left, insurgents and militiamen used their abandoned homes to hold meetings and store weapons. The neighborhood deteriorated so quickly that many residents came to believe neither U.S. nor Iraqi security forces could stop it happening.

The descent of Sadiyah followed a now-familiar pattern in Baghdad. In response to suicide bombings blamed on Sunni insurgent groups such as al-Qaeda in Iraq, the Shiite militias, particularly the Mahdi Army, went from house to house killing and intimidating Sunni families. In many formerly mixed neighborhoods of Baghdad, such as al-Amil and Bayaa, Shiites have become the dominant sect, with their militias the most powerful force.

"It's just a slow, somewhat government-supported sectarian cleansing," said Maj. Eric Timmerman, the battalion's operations officer.

The focus of the battalion's efforts in Sadiyah was to develop the Iraqi security forces into an organized, fair and proficient force -- but the American soldiers soon realized this goal was unattainable. The sectarian warfare in Sadiyah was helped along by the Wolf Brigade, a predominantly Shiite unit of the Iraqi National Police that tolerated, and at times encouraged, Mahdi Army attacks against Sunnis, according to U.S. soldiers and residents. The soldiers endured repeated bombings of their convoys within view of police checkpoints. During their time here, they have arrested 70 members of the national police for collaboration in such attacks and other crimes.

The Interior Ministry, which oversees the national police, has said that officials are working hard to root out militiamen from the force and denied that officers have any intention of participating in sectarian violence.

But in one instance about two months ago, the American soldiers heard that the Wolf Brigade planned to help resettle more than 100 Shiite families in abandoned houses in the neighborhood. When platoon leader Lt. Brian Bifulco arrived on the scene, he noticed that "abandoned houses to them meant houses that had Sunnis in them."

"What we later found out is they weren't really moving anyone in, it was a cover for the INP to go in and evict what Sunni families were left there," recalled Bifulco, 23, a West Point graduate from Huntsville, Ala. "We showed up, and there were a bunch of Sunni families just wandering around the streets with their bags, taking up refuge in a couple Sunni mosques in the area."
As the militiamen and insurgents battled it out, the bodies mounted up. U.S. troops said that earlier this year it was common for them to find at least half a dozen corpses scattered on the pavement during their daily patrols.

Militiamen in BMWs rode around the neighborhood with megaphones, demanding that residents evacuate. Mortar rounds launched from nearby Bayaa, a Mahdi Army stronghold, began crashing down regularly in Sadiyah. Three mosques in the neighborhood were rigged with explosives and destroyed.

The national police erected checkpoints outside other mosques and prevented Sunnis from attending services. The U.S. soldiers began facing ever more sophisticated armor-piercing roadside bombs known as EFPs, short for explosively formed penetrators. Some of them were linked in arrays that blasted out as many as 18 heated copper slugs.

Over time, the neighborhood became a battleground that residents fled by the thousands. Hundreds of shops shut down, schools closed, and access to basic services such as electricity, fuel and food deteriorated. "The end state was people left. They felt unsafe," said Timmerman, the operations officer.

"We were so committed to them as a partner we couldn't see it for what it was. In retrospect, I've got to think it was a coordinated effort," Timmerman said. "To this day, I don't think we truly understand how infiltrated or complicit the national police are" with the militias.

Lt. Col. George A. Glaze, the battalion commander, says his soldiers are playing the role of a bouncer caught between brawling customers. Alone, they can restrain the fighters, keep them off balance, but they cannot stop the melee until the house lights come on -- that is, until the Iraqi government steps in.

"They're either going to turn the lights on or we're all going to realize they've moved the switch," he said.

"I'm frustrated. After 14 months, I've got a lot of thoughts in my head. Do they fundamentally get giving up individual rights and power for the greater good?" Glaze said. "I'm going to leave here being skeptical of everything."

Over the past two months, the U.S. soldiers have recruited more than 300 local residents, most of them Sunnis, into a neighborhood defense force. This has proved more controversial in Sadiyah than elsewhere; the Iraqi government has openly accused the force's members of abusing residents and has limited their freedom of movement. In September, after Glaze led an eight-month campaign to kick out the Wolf Brigade, soldiers from the Iraqi army's Muthanna Brigade, which has clashed with Sunni volunteers in the Abu Ghraib area, arrived in Sadiyah.
The Iraqi army's arrival and the emergence of the Sunni volunteers have coincided with some positive signs, the soldiers said. Some of the shops along the once-busy commercial district of Tijari Street now open for a few hours a day. The number of violent incidents has dropped, although it rose again over the past two weeks, officers said.

"This is a dangerous place," said Capt. Lee Showman, 28, a senior officer in the battalion. "People are killed here every day, and you don't hear about it. People are kidnapped here every day, and you don't hear about it."

On Oct. 14, Washington Post special correspondent Salih Saif Aldin was killed while on assignment in Sadiyah.

Those who patrol the neighborhood every day say the fight has left them tired, bitter, wounded and confused. Many of their scars are on display, some no one can see. Sgt. 1st Class Todd Carlsrud has a long gash on the right side of his neck and carries a lump of shrapnel lodged against his spine that his doctors would not risk cutting out. Another sergeant felt the flaming pain of a bullet tearing through his cheek and learned the taste of his own warm blood. He was one of three soldiers that day to get shot in the head -- a fourth was hit in the biceps -- when his squad walked into a house and found two gunmen waiting.

"The closer we get to leaving, the more we worry about it," said Alarcon, 27, sitting at a plastic table with several other soldiers outside their outpost in Sadiyah. "Being here, you know that any second, any time of the day, your life could be over."

"Gone in a flash," said Sgt. Matthew Marino.

"We had two mechanics working in the motor pool get hit by mortars," Alarcon said. "You would have never thought." Both died.

Many of the soldiers from the battalion are on their second tour in Iraq. Three years ago, they were based in Tikrit, the home of Saddam Hussein, a city they entered expecting to fight a determined Sunni insurgency. By the end of their tour, with much of the violence contained, many of them felt optimistic about progress in Iraq.

"I honestly thought we were making a difference in Tikrit. Then we come back to a hellhole," Marino said. "That was a playground compared to Baghdad."

The American people don't fully realize what's going on, said Staff Sgt. Richard McClary, 27, a section leader from Buffalo.

"They just know back there what the higher-ups here tell them. But the higher-ups don't go anywhere, and actually they only go to the safe places, places with a little bit of gunfire," he said. "They don't ever [expletive] see what we see on the ground."

What makes this interesting to me beyond the fact that it captures reactions of the "folks on the ground" is the reference to the National Police (NP) and the Wolf Brigade. As I train the National Police here at NNPA, I like to follow how things go once they leave here. For example, in an earlier post I shared my joy that 6th Bde, after some early challenges, did well in Samarra. This current article's comments about the Wolf Bde, well, obviously not so positive. That brigade went through two cycles before I got here, so while we clearly didn't change their lives with our training, I'm not taking it personally. This article is also interesting because I know what NP units are slated to go there next. I hope they will make a better impression- but they have to work through the negative experience from the previous brigade.

The soldier's comment about the worth of the American soldier's life led me to think of the worth of the Iraqi civilian's life. This topic has been one of import lately following the most recent and highly publicized Blackwater incident. But after 4 plus years here, it is not a new topic....

What's an Iraqi Life Worth?
By Andrew J. Bacevich
Washington Post
Sunday, July 9, 2006; B01

In Iraq, lives differ in value -- and so do deaths. In this disparity lies an important reason why the United States has botched this war.

Last November in Haditha , a squad of Marines, outraged at the loss of a comrade, is said to have run amok, avenging his death by killing two dozen innocent bystanders. And in March, U.S. soldiers in Mahmudiyah allegedly raped a young Iraqi woman and killed her along with three of her relatives -- an apparently premeditated crime for which one former U.S. soldier has been charged . These incidents are among at least five recent cases of Iraqi civilian deaths that have triggered investigations of U.S. military personnel. If the allegations prove true, Haditha and Mahmudiyah will deservedly take their place alongside Sand Creek, Samar and My Lai in the unhappy catalogue of atrocities committed by American troops.

But recall a more recent incident, in Samarra . On May 30, U.S. soldiers manning a checkpoint there opened fire on a speeding vehicle that either did not see or failed to heed their command to stop. Two women in the vehicle were shot dead. One of them, Nahiba Husayif Jassim, 35, was pregnant. The baby was also killed. The driver, Jassim's brother, had been rushing her to a hospital to give birth. No one tried to cover up the incident: U.S. military representatives issued expressions of regret.

In all likelihood, we will be learning more about Haditha and Mahmudiyah for months to come, whereas the Samarra story has already been filed away and largely forgotten. And that's the problem.

The killing at the Samarra checkpoint was not an atrocity; most likely it was an accident, a mistake. Yet plenty of evidence suggests that in Iraq such mistakes have occurred routinely, with moral and political consequences that have been too long ignored. Indeed, conscious motivation is beside the point: Any action resulting in Iraqi civilian deaths, however inadvertent, undermines the Bush administration's narrative of liberation, and swells the ranks of those resisting the U.S. presence.

Gen. Tommy Franks, who commanded U.S. forces when they entered Iraq more than three years ago, famously declared: "We don't do body counts." Franks was speaking in code. What he meant was this: The U.S. military has learned the lessons of Vietnam -- where body counts became a principal, and much derided, public measure of success -- and it has no intention of repeating that experience. Franks was not going to be one of those generals re-fighting the last war.

Unfortunately, Franks and other senior commanders had not so much learned from Vietnam as forgotten it. This disdain for counting bodies, especially those of Iraqi civilians killed in the course of U.S. operations, is among the reasons why U.S. forces find themselves in another quagmire. It's not that the United States has an aversion to all body counts. We tally every U.S. service member who falls in Iraq, and rightly so. But only in recent months have military leaders finally begun to count -- for internal use only -- some of the very large number of Iraqi noncombatants whom American bullets and bombs have killed.

Through the war's first three years, any Iraqi venturing too close to an American convoy or checkpoint was likely to come under fire. Thousands of these "escalation of force" episodes occurred. Now, Lt. Gen. Peter Chiarelli, the commander of U.S. ground forces in Iraq, has begun to recognize the hidden cost of such an approach. "People who were on the fence or supported us" in the past "have in fact decided to strike out against us," he recently acknowledged.
In the early days of the insurgency, some U.S. commanders appeared oblivious to the possibility that excessive force might produce a backlash. They counted on the iron fist to create an atmosphere conducive to good behavior. The idea was not to distinguish between "good" and "bad" Iraqis, but to induce compliance through intimidation.

"You have to understand the Arab mind," one company commander told the New York Times, displaying all the self-assurance of Douglas MacArthur discoursing on Orientals in 1945. "The only thing they understand is force -- force, pride and saving face." Far from representing the views of a few underlings, such notions penetrated into the upper echelons of the American command. In their book "Cobra II," Michael R. Gordon and Gen. Bernard E. Trainor offer this ugly comment from a senior officer: "The only thing these sand niggers understand is force and I'm about to introduce them to it."

Such crass language, redolent with racist, ethnocentric connotations, speaks volumes. These characterizations, like the use of "gooks" during the Vietnam War, dehumanize the Iraqis and in doing so tacitly permit the otherwise impermissible. Thus, Abu Ghraib and Haditha -- and too many regretted deaths, such as that of Nahiba Husayif Jassim.

As the war enters its fourth year, how many innocent Iraqis have died at American hands, not as a result of Haditha-like massacres but because of accidents and errors? The military doesn't know and, until recently, has publicly professed no interest in knowing. Estimates range considerably, but the number almost certainly runs in the tens of thousands. Even granting the common antiwar bias of those who track the Iraqi death toll -- and granting, too, that the insurgents have far more blood on their hands -- there is no question that the number of Iraqi noncombatants killed by U.S. forces exceeds by an order of magnitude the number of U.S. troops killed in hostile action, which is now more than 2,000.

Who bears responsibility for these Iraqi deaths? The young soldiers pulling the triggers? The commanders who establish rules of engagement that privilege "force protection" over any obligation to protect innocent life? The intellectually bankrupt policymakers who sent U.S. forces into Iraq in the first place and now see no choice but to press on? The culture that, to put it mildly, has sought neither to understand nor to empathize with people in the Arab or Islamic worlds?

There are no easy answers, but one at least ought to acknowledge that in launching a war advertised as a high-minded expression of U.S. idealism, we have waded into a swamp of moral ambiguity. To assert that "stuff happens," as Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld is wont to do whenever events go awry, simply does not suffice.

Moral questions aside, the toll of Iraqi noncombatant casualties has widespread political implications. Misdirected violence alienates those we are claiming to protect. It plays into the hands of the insurgents, advancing their cause and undercutting our own. It fatally undermines the campaign to win hearts and minds, suggesting to Iraqis and Americans alike that Iraqi civilians -- and perhaps Arabs and Muslims more generally -- are expendable. Certainly, Nahiba Husayif Jassim's death helped clarify her brother's perspective on the war. "God take revenge on the Americans and those who brought them here," he declared after the incident. "They have no regard for our lives."

He was being unfair, of course. It's not that we have no regard for Iraqi lives; it's just that we have much less regard for them. The current reparations policy -- the payment offered in those instances in which U.S. forces do own up to killing an Iraq civilian -- makes the point. The insurance payout to the beneficiaries of an American soldier who dies in the line of duty is $400,000, while in the eyes of the U.S. government, a dead Iraqi civilian is reportedly worth up to $2,500 in condolence payments -- about the price of a decent plasma-screen TV.

For all the talk of Iraq being a sovereign nation, foreign occupiers are the ones deciding what an Iraqi life is worth. And although President Bush has remarked in a different context that "every human life is a precious gift of matchless value," our actions in Iraq continue to convey the impression that civilian lives aren't worth all that much.

That impression urgently needs to change. To start, the Pentagon must get over its aversion to counting all bodies. It needs to measure in painstaking detail -- and publicly -- the mayhem we are causing as a byproduct of what we call liberation. To do otherwise, to shrug off the death of Nahiba Husayif Jassim as just one of those things that happens in war, only reinforces the impression that Americans view Iraqis as less than fully human. Unless we demonstrate by our actions that we value their lives as much as the lives of our own troops, our failure is certain.

Andrew J. Bacevich is a professor of history and international relations at Boston University.

There is much I find of value in the article, but I'm not completely on board with it. For example, while it is true that some Americans don't value Iraqi lives greatly, the "they only understand force" comment I believe ignores some of the realities on the ground. I don't think the way it was presented was fair. While it is attributed to someone characterized as an ignorant American leader, the comment is one that I have heard many times from Iraqis- perhaps even more than I hear it from Americans. Many Iraqis have accepted the brutal use of force as a necessary control measure for their population, and are frustrated with our system of "justice" where they see people that they deem worthy of immediate execution held for long periods and then released because of a lack of evidence.

And in tomorrow's news.... we're apparently working without unity of effort on the whole Sunni reconciliation thing... this becomes more relevant to me and the Academy in the near future. We have American leadership openly critical of their counterparts in the MOI. I wonder if throwing them under the bus makes it more likely that we will be able to influence them. Our leadership is obviously frustrated with what they perceive as willful dereliction. Don't see a lot of teamwork on this- we're essentially trying to buy compliance. I don't know that we have enough money to buy the true "change of heart" that we'd like to see, so we'll continue to spend money, and they'll continue to let us do it.

Iraq Balks as U.S. Seeks to Enlarge Sunnis’ Policing
October 28, 2007
New York Times


HABBANIYA, Iraq — The American military’s push to organize Sunni Arabs into local neighborhood watch groups has been one of the United States’ most important initiatives in Iraq — so much so that President Bush flew to Anbar Province in September to highlight growing alliances with Sunni tribal leaders.

But now that the Americans are trying to institutionalize the arrangement by training the Sunnis to become police officers, the effort has been hampered by halfhearted support and occasionally outright resistance from a Shiite-dominated national government that is still inclined to see the Sunnis as a once and future threat.

It was the American military that pressed to open the new Habbaniya Police Training Center where Sunni tribesmen and former insurgents are to be trained to serve as police officers in Anbar. And it was the Americans who provided the uniforms, food, new classrooms and equipment for the police recruits.

While the Iraqi government has agreed to basic police instruction at the academy, it has balked at training more senior officers there. The government has also scaled back plans by Anbar officials to expand the provincial police force by almost 50 percent.

“The Ministry of Interior deals with the Sunni provinces different than they deal with the other provinces,” said Brig. Gen. David D. Phillips, an American Army officer who oversees the training of the Iraq police. “The only reason the Anbar academy opened is because we built it, paid for it and staffed it.” He said the Interior Ministry “was very hesitant about it.”

The ministry says that it pays the salaries of the Iraqi personnel here, and that more money will come as soon as proper administrative procedures are established between the government and the academy.

Anbar is not the only source of contention. In Diyala Province, north of Baghdad, American military officers have pushed the Iraqi government to hire more than 6,000 local Iraqis, many of them Sunnis, as police. Despite promises of action by Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, none have been hired by the Interior Ministry.

Maj. Gen. Benjamin R. Mixon, who is winding up a tour as the senior American commander for northern Iraq, said in an interview at his headquarters at Camp Speicher that the “foot-dragging” stems from “highly sectarian” hiring in Baghdad. “They want to make sure that not too many Sunnis are hired,” he said. “The situation is unsatisfactory in terms of hiring Iraqi police.”

The growing tensions over efforts to hire more Sunni police officers comes at a critical moment in the American military deployment in Iraq. With the number of American combat brigades set to decline by a quarter by mid-July, American commanders are eager to build up the Iraqis’ capability to secure their neighborhoods.

One way has been to organize local Sunnis into neighborhood watch groups, what the American military calls “Concerned Local Citizens.” The benefits of this approach have been evident near Yusufiya and Mahmudiya, in an area south of Baghdad that was once so violent it had been known as the “triangle of death” and has been overseen by the Second Brigade of the American Army’s 10th Mountain Division. Before neighborhood watch groups were organized in this region in June, more than 12 American and Iraqi soldiers were killed each month in the area, according to an analysis circulating within the American military command. After June, the casualties declined to one soldier killed each month. The number of vehicles destroyed from roadside bombs was running at 11 per month before June, but is averaging less than one per month now.

But organizing local Iraqis into neighborhood watch groups is just the first step. The Americans’ ultimate goal is to codify the arrangement by training these groups as police. The Americans also hope that by persuading the Iraqi government to hire Sunnis as police they will encourage a new, ground-up form of political accommodation.

Shiite-dominated ministries in Baghdad will develop new working relations with largely Sunni police forces in the field, easing the sectarian divide and laying the basis for a more representative national government, or so the theory goes.

At its best, the process of hiring new Sunni Arab police is a bureaucratic one. Prospective recruits have their fingerprints taken and undergo retina scans that are included in an intelligence database. The list of potential recruits is submitted to the Interior Ministry, which in turn generally submits them to a committee of national reconciliation overseen by close Maliki aides.

With persistent American pressure the process has led to some new hires.In the town of Abu Ghraib, just west of Baghdad, 1,738 of the 2,400 Sunnis who had been put forward to serve as policemen in the town were hired.

Plans have been made to add 12,000 new policemen in Baghdad over the next six months, and it is estimated that about half would be drawn from the ranks of local Concerned Local Citizens. But as Diyala indicates, the process does not always run smoothly. American forces pushed through western Baquba, the capital of the province, in June in an effort to sweep the city clear of militants from Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, a mainly Iraqi insurgent group with foreign leadership. More than 4,600 Concerned Local Citizens have since been organized in Diyala Province.

But hiring them as police has proved difficult. Mr. Maliki ordered that the Diyala police force be increased by more than 6,000, and provincial officials submitted a list of names in July that included many Sunnis to the Interior Ministry in Baghdad. But some Interior Ministry officials have questioned whether such a substantial increase is needed, and some members of the reconciliation committee have argued that the original Maliki decree may no longer be valid, putting the plan to hire them as police in limbo.

While no action has been taken on the list, the Iraqi government surprised the Americans by hiring 548 Iraqis who were not on the roster. When American officials analyzed the new hires they determined that the list was predominantly made up of Shiites.

It was not the only time that the Interior Ministry hired Shiite police despite the concerns of local officials. The ministry sent 663 Shiite police in recent months to the city of Tal Afar in the northern Nineveh Province.

Wathiq al-Hamdani, the police chief in Nineveh, said in an interview at his Mosul headquarters that the decision was taken over his objections and would undermine efforts to establish a force that was more balanced on sectarian lines. “We are trying to have some Sunni police officers in Tal Afar, but we have a lot of problems in doing that,” he said.

Diyala and Tal Afar are mixed areas where both Sunnis and Shiites live, so they have drawn the attention of the Shiite-dominated Iraqi government. But even Anbar, an overwhelmingly Sunni Arab region in western Iraq, has been of concern to wary Iraqi officials in Baghdad.

Initially, provincial police officials in Anbar proposed adding 9,000 officers to the police force of 20,911, an expansion they said was needed because of the vast territory in western Iraq. But the Iraqi government ordered that the provincial force be increased by only 4,000, and issued orders to start the expansion by hiring 3,000 of them.

As for the rest of the 9,000, 2,000 are eventually to be hired by the National Police, which reports to the Shiite-dominated Interior Ministry. And 3,000 are to be given civilian jobs that involve no law enforcement or military training.

Financing for the Anbar police has also been carefully controlled. The police chief is given his budget in 250 million-dinar increments — about $200,000 — and required to provide receipts. No other province has its police financing so carefully metered, American officials say.

To augment its ability to train police and supplement the training at the Baghdad police academy, the Iraqi government has decided to build two new police academies. They are to be located in the southern city of Basra and the northern town of Mosul.

That is of little help to the Sunnis in Anbar. So the Americans pushed this summer to establish a police academy at a former Anbar air base that the British established at Habbaniya during their colonial occupation. At a cost of just over $10 million, the Americans financed the complex and paid for the international police advisers, who are mostly Americans. The base, which is situated between Falluja and Ramadi, is also used for training the Iraqi Army and still features the sturdy structures erected during the British occupation, as well as a British cemetery. Brig. Gen. Khalid Adulami, the dean of the Habbaniya academy and a former officer in the Republican Guard during the days of Saddam Hussein’s rule, said many of the prospective recruits were picked by Sheik Abdul Sattar Buzaigh al-Rishawi, the leader of the Sunni tribal movement in Anbar who was assassinated in September. The academy will soon graduate its second class of recruits, more than 700, and plans to expand its enrollment.

Maj. Gen. Abdul Karim Khalaf, a senior official at the Interior Ministry in Baghdad, said the Iraqi government was already paying the salaries of Iraqi personnel at the academy, and he said the ministry was working to solve other financing problems.

But General Adulami said the American military seemed to be more concerned than Iraqi government officials that his recruits were properly clothed, fed and trained.

“We know the Americans better than the Iraqis,” he said. “Nobody at the Ministry of Interior asks us what we need.”

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Culture, Change Management, and Influence without Authority

This is a photo from this morning's lonely walk- I was happy to capture some of my experience in the symbols in the photo- barbed wire, rising sun, mosque and the ubiquitous white truck.

$38 Million Computerized Accounting System Proving Useless in Iraq

By Walter Pincus
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, October 25, 2007; A09


A $38 million U.S. effort to create a computerized accounting system for the Iraqi government has been suspended because the Ministry of Finance there has continued to use a paper system, according to the latest report of Stuart W. Bowen Jr., the special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction.

"Nobody noticed" when the computerized Iraq Financial Management Information System was inoperable for a month, and no one relies on it to produce reports, Bowen said in a report released by his office yesterday.

Bowen's statement follows a disclosure earlier this month by the Government Accountability Office that $8 million was spent to train about 500 Iraqi government employees in various ministries to use the computerized system, but the Finance Ministry refused to drop its paper spreadsheets.

Installation of the new accounting system was halted last May when a British contractor and his security team were kidnapped from the Ministry of Finance office, located outside the protected Green Zone where many international officials live and work.

Bowen reported that despite the substantial U.S. investment in the system, the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad "does not have a firm plan or strategy for addressing the next steps in the development of the system."

The experience is not unique, according to the GAO. Despite U.S. spending of $300 million the past two years to improve the capacity of Iraq's ministries -- and with $255 million more sought for next year -- a recent GAO report said progress has been stalled not only by poor security but also by pervasive corruption, a shortage of competent personnel, and sectarian and political control of appointments.

Almost half of all Iraqi government employees fail to turn up for work each day, and many who do put in only two to three hours daily "for security reasons," according to the report. It also notes that a U.S. Embassy assessment found that one-third of civilian ministries surveyed had problems with "ghost employees" -- people on the payroll who never come to work.
Lack of security has also prompted many Iraqi professionals and educated bureaucrats to flee the country for Syria and Jordan. A November 2006 United Nations report estimated that 40 percent of Iraqi professionals had left the country since 2003.

"Iraqi ministries have significant shortages of competent personnel with the skills necessary to formulate budgets, procure goods and services, and perform other vital ministry tasks," the GAO found. A September 2006 U.S. assessment concluded that "the majority of staff at all but one of the ministries surveyed were inadequately trained for their positions and a quarter of them relied heavily on foreign support."

The problem, said GAO Director of International Affairs and Trade Joseph A. Christoff, is partly that "Iraqi words for 'allocation,' 'commitment' and 'expenditure' don't mean the money is actually spent." There is no way to track the "effectiveness of what is spent," he said.

Now back to my blog entry title- culture, change management and influence without authority:

While I was a bit grumpy in yesterday's post, which suggest changes are failing because many of us just don't care any more out here, there are many people making much honest and diligent effort to bring about positive changes.

Unfortunately, most of us are completely ignorant of the culture here, the basic principles associated with successful organizational change management, and the military as a whole has never cut its teeth on influencing outside of a strictly hierarchical authoritarian organizational structure. So it is no wonder we keep throwing money at problems and then don't see the results we would like to see. We set up programs and interventions counter to the culture, don't create or identify "the burning platform", don't get "buy in", don't find the right metrics to monitor progress, and so on.

I work quite a bit with National Police Training Teams, groups of 12 or so Army folks who serve as advisors to Iraqi National Police. Their challenges are a microcosm of the difficulties I note above. Their motivation varies across the teams- some fully committed, some less so, and some hate everything about the experience. That is not a good recipe for successful change in itself. Throw in the fact that for most of them, this culture is far different than anything they've ever experienced. And while I believe the Army works hard and is well-intentioned with their cultural training of these training teams at Fort Riley, the 2-3 months of cultural training embedded with all of the other train up we did there is not nearly adequate to help us "get in the heads" of the folks we're supposed to be helping.

We just don't know these folks well, and it takes quite a while to build that relationship once we get here- patience, and a whole lot of effort to understand someone quite different from yourself- not a strong point of most of the military folks I've worked with. We actually work to make everyone the same in our military culture, calling the process "soldierization."

But here, successful change management requires that we quit trying to make others like us, but help them be successful within their framework and culture. We have to do that without command authority, which is the lingua franca of the military world. So we have to learn a new language- influence, not command, is the way the National Police Training Teams have to work. So it is no wonder when I see the frustration among my brothers in arms. Their culture and training is entirely focused on command approaches, and they are sent out here and have to work in an entirely different manner. Once again, 2-3 months of training at Ft. Riley is not going to override their entire careers in the military.

It is the same question I addressed with a reporter in one interview- he was asking about how much of a change this 30 day course that I supervise achieves among the National Police. I suggested that it would be presumptuous to believe that 80 years (or hundreds of years, if you take a Lawrence of Arabia perspective) of culture and experience can be reprogrammed in the time available in a 30 day training program. Further, for many of the National Police, this is just one of many training programs they have gone through- many of them are not dazzled by the "new and improved" way of doing things, and in fact they state they will train in the "American" or western way, and then once we leave them alone, they can go back to their Arabic approaches which they remain convinced are more effective. And frankly, in their circumstances and culture, they are right in some ways.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

50% done- stick a fork in me

The deployment countdown spreadsheet says I'm 50% through with the deployment.

Considering I still have my leave and passes, I'm more than 50% through.

Considering my wearying of U.S. forces that "half-step" their way through this process, I'm more than 50% through, too.

Not a good day in terms of being impressed with the dedication of "soldiers"- I'm referring to some office jockeys with that term, though. I remain impressed with the dedication of many of my "brothers in arms". I unfortunately also come across too many who do as much damage as good in helping us win the hearts and minds of the Iraqi population. And our bickering politicians seem more interested in votes than the Iraqi population, as well. The truths out here are hard, and we as a nation don't seem to have the stomach to open our eyes to the complexities and depths of the problems here.

For those who seem dumbfounded that anyone in the Muslim or Arabic worlds could hate Americans, well, I've seen many "reasonable reasons," but am not in the mood to focus too much on them at this point. I need to eat and take a nap- that's always been my best recipe for grumpiness- my mom taught me this one clear truth, and the remedy has never failed.

The Binksy Farewell Last Supper

Maybe I'm still in mouring from being left by "the Binks", my little Welsh-Australian hobbit program manager battle buddy. 6 months of "good times"- and he's on his way home for a well-deserved rest after 3 years of work here (albeit with some pretty good breaks...). Safe travels, Julian. Love your work.

The Binks hops onto the Binks Box for the last time-
"Hey, is this Puma higher than last time I rode in it?"

I joked with him before he left about Kubler-Ross' stages of grief, and how in a period of just a minute I could go through all 5 of them about his "leaving me".

Denial... "I can't believe he 'quit me'!,
Anger..."That jerk! How could he do this to me!",
Bargaining..."If y'all do a good job, maybe you can get another contract!",
Depression..."This really stinks. I think I'll go curl up in the fetal position in my bed and cry myself to sleep.",
Acceptance..."Ah, contractors. Easy come, easy go. Heck, I'm gone in 6 months, myself!"

That only took 45 seconds or so. But with such peaks and valleys of emotion- what a roller coaster of a minute!

And the Binks is ready to get out of Dodge- on his own terms.

Sunday, October 21, 2007


Military rules, by Service

Marine Corps Rules:
1. Be courteous to everyone, friendly to no one.
2. Decide to be aggressive enough, quickly enough.
3. Have a plan.
4. Have a back-up plan, because the first one probably won't work.
5. Be polite. Be professional. But, have a plan to kill everyone you meet even your friends...
6. Do not attend a gunfight with a handgun whose caliber does not start with a "4."
7. Anything worth shooting is worth shooting twice. Ammo is cheap. Life is expensive.
8. Move away from your attacker. Distance is your friend. (Lateral & diagonal preferred.)
9. Use cover or concealment as much as possible.
10. Flank your adversary when possible. Protect yours.
11. Always cheat; always win. The only unfair fight is the one you lose.
12. In ten years nobody will remember the details of caliber, stance, or tactics. They will only remember who lived.
13. If you are not shooting, you should be communicating your intention to shoot.

Navy SEAL's Rules:
1. Look very cool in sunglasses.
2. Kill every living thing within view.
3. Adjust speedo.
4. Check hair in mirror.

US Army Rangers Rules:
1. Walk in 50 miles wearing 75 pound rucksack while starving.
2. Locate individuals requiring killing.
3. Request permission via radio from "Higher" to perform killing.
4. Curse bitterly when mission is aborted.
5. Walk out 50 miles wearing a 75 pound rucksack while starving.

US Army Rules:
1. Curse bitterly when receiving operational order.
2. Make sure there is extra ammo and extra coffee.
3. Curse bitterly.
4. Curse bitterly.
5. Do not listen to 2nd LT's; it can get you killed.
6. Curse bitterly.

US Air Force Rules:
1. Have a cocktail.
2. Adjust temperature on air-conditioner.
3. See what's on HBO.
4. Ask "what is a gunfight?"
5. Request more funding from Congress with a "killer" Power Point presentation.
6. Wine & dine 'key' Congressmen, invite DOD & defense industry executives.
7. Receive funding, set up new command and assemble assets.
8. Declare the assets "strategic" and never deploy them operationally.
9. Hurry to make 13:45 tee-time.
10. Make sure the base is as far as possible from the conflict but close enough to have tax exemption.

US Navy Rules:
1. Go to Sea.
2. Drink Coffee.
3. Deploy Marines

Received this in a few e-mails, most recently from an Army officer on the ground here for a month at our lovely Numaniyah National Police Academy/Resort Hotel and Conference Center.

I like to tell people that the front nine of the golf course were holes put in by mortars and rockets from Jaish al-Mahdi (Sadr's militia), and the back nine, still under construction, are holes from mortars and rockets courtesy of the Badr corps.

For those concerned or puzzled- no- no golf courses or resort style living here. But the BLP staff do get wireless internet, albeit at an incredibly small bandwidth with sites of all variety blocked. We also have power about 98% of the time, unlike the rest of the Iraqi army base, so it ain't all bad. You just get used to the constant sound of generators in the background- drowns out the frequent calls to prayer broadcast from the base mosque in the distance.

Serious stuff

New York Times
Op-Ed Columnist

Suicide Is Not Painless

Published: October 21, 2007

IT was one of those stories lost in the newspaper’s inside pages. Last week a man you’ve never heard of — Charles D. Riechers, 47, the second-highest-ranking procurement officer in the United States Air Force — killed himself by running his car’s engine in his suburban Virginia garage.

Mr. Riechers’s suicide occurred just two weeks after his appearance in a front-page exposé in The Washington Post. The Post reported that the Air Force had asked a defense contractor, Commonwealth Research Institute, to give him a job with no known duties while he waited for official clearance for his new Pentagon assignment. Mr. Riechers, a decorated Air Force officer earlier in his career, told The Post: “I really didn’t do anything for C.R.I. I got a paycheck from them.” The question, of course, was whether the contractor might expect favors in return once he arrived at the Pentagon last January.

Set against the epic corruption that has defined the war in Iraq, Mr. Riechers’s tragic tale is but a passing anecdote, his infraction at most a misdemeanor. The $26,788 he received for two months in a non-job doesn’t rise even to a rounding error in the Iraq-Afghanistan money pit. So far some $6 billion worth of contracts are being investigated for waste and fraud, however slowly, by the Pentagon and the Justice Department. That doesn’t include the unaccounted-for piles of cash, some $9 billion in Iraqi funds, that vanished during L. Paul Bremer’s short but disastrous reign in the Green Zone. Yet Mr. Riechers, not the first suicide connected to the war’s corruption scandals, is a window into the culture of the whole debacle.

Through his story you can see how America has routinely betrayed the very values of democratic governance that it hoped to export to Iraq. Look deeper and you can see how the wholesale corruption of government contracting sabotaged the crucial mission that might have enabled us to secure the country: the rebuilding of the Iraqi infrastructure, from electricity to hospitals. You can also see just why the heretofore press-shy Erik Prince, the owner of Blackwater USA, staged a rapid-fire media blitz a week ago, sitting down with Charlie Rose, Lara Logan, Lisa Myers and Wolf Blitzer.

Mr. Prince wasn’t trying to save his employees from legal culpability in the deaths of 17 innocent Iraqis mowed down on Sept. 16 in Baghdad. He knows that the legal loopholes granted contractors by Mr. Bremer back in 2004 amount to a get-out-of-jail-free card. He knows that Americans will forget about another 17 Iraqi casualties as soon as Blackwater gets some wrist-slapping punishment.

Instead, Mr. Prince is moving on, salivating over the next payday. As he told The Wall Street Journal last week, Blackwater no longer cares much about its security business; it is expanding into a “full spectrum” defense contractor offering a “one-stop shop” for everything from remotely piloted blimps to armored trucks. The point of his P.R. offensive was to smooth his quest for more billions of Pentagon loot.

Which brings us back to Mr. Riechers. As it happens, he was only about three degrees of separation from Blackwater. His Pentagon job, managing a $30 billion Air Force procurement budget, had been previously held by an officer named Darleen Druyun, who in 2004 was sentenced to nine months in prison for securing jobs for herself, her daughter and her son-in-law at Boeing while favoring the company with billions of dollars of contracts. Ms. Druyun’s Pentagon post remained vacant until Mr. Riechers was appointed. He was brought in to clean up the corruption.

Yet the full story of the corruption during Ms. Druyun’s tenure is even now still unknown. The Bush-appointed Pentagon inspector general delivered a report to Congress full of holes in 2005. Specifically, black holes: dozens of the report’s passages were redacted, as were the names of many White House officials in the report’s e-mail evidence on the Boeing machinations.
The inspector general also assured Congress that neither Donald Rumsfeld nor Paul Wolfowitz knew anything about the crimes. Senators on the Armed Services Committee were incredulous. John Warner, the Virginia Republican, could not believe that the Pentagon’s top two officials had no information about “the most significant defense procurement mismanagement in contemporary history.”

But the inspector general who vouched for their ignorance, Joseph Schmitz, was already heading for the exit when he delivered his redacted report. His new job would be as the chief operating officer of the Prince Group, Blackwater’s parent company.

Much has been made of Erik Prince and his family’s six-digit contributions to Republican candidates and lifelong connections to religious-right power brokers like James Dobson and Gary Bauer. Mr. Prince maintains that these contacts had nothing to do with Blackwater’s growth from tiny start-up to billion-dollar federal contractor in the Bush years. But far more revealing, though far less noticed, is the pedigree of the Washington players on his payroll.
Blackwater’s lobbyist and sometime spokesman, for instance, is Paul Behrends, who first represented the company as a partner in the now-defunct Alexander Strategy Group. That firm, founded by a former Tom DeLay chief of staff, proved ground zero in the Jack Abramoff scandals. Alexander may be no more, but since then, in addition to Blackwater, Mr. Behrends’s clients have includeda company called the First Kuwaiti General Trading and Contracting Company, the builder of the new American embassy in Iraq.

That Vatican-sized complex is the largest American embassy in the world. Now running some $144 million over its $592 million budget and months behind schedule, the project is notorious for its deficient, unsafe construction, some of which has come under criminal investigation. First Kuwaiti has also been accused of engaging in human trafficking to supply the labor force. But the current Bush-appointed State Department inspector general — guess what — has found no evidence of any wrongdoing.

Both that inspector general, Howard Krongard, and First Kuwaiti are now in the cross hairs of Henry Waxman’s House oversight committee. Some of Mr. Krongard’s deputies have accused him of repeatedly halting or impeding investigations in a variety of fraud cases.
Representative Waxman is also trying to overcome State Department stonewalling to investigate corruption in the Iraqi government. In perverse mimicry of his American patrons, Nuri al-Maliki’s office has repeatedly tried to limit the scope of inquiries conducted by Iraq’s own Commission on Public Integrity. The judge in charge of that commission, Radhi Hamza al-Radhi, has now sought asylum in America. Thirty-one of his staff members and a dozen of their relatives have been assassinated, sometimes after being tortured.

The Waxman investigations notwithstanding, the culture of corruption, Iraq war division, remains firmly entrenched. Though some American bribe-takers have been caught — including Gloria Davis, an Army major who committed suicide in Kuwait after admitting her crimes last year — we are asked to believe they are isolated incidents. The higher reaches of the chain of command have been spared, much as they were at Abu Ghraib.

Even a turnover in administrations doesn’t guarantee reform. J. Cofer Black, the longtime C.I.A. hand who is now Blackwater’s vice chairman, has signed on as a Mitt Romney adviser. Hillary Clinton’s Karl Rove, Mark Penn, doubles as the chief executive of Burson-Marsteller, the P.R. giant whose subsidiary helped prepare Mr. Prince for his Congressional testimony. Mr. Penn said the Blackwater association was “temporary.”

War profiteering happens even in “good” wars. Arthur Miller made his name in 1947 with “All My Sons,” which ends with the suicide of a corrupt World War II contractor whose defective airplane parts cost 21 pilots their lives. But in the case of Iraq, this corruption has been at the center of the entire mission, from war-waging to nation-building. As the investigative reporters Donald L. Barlett and James B. Steele observed in the October Vanity Fair, America has to date “spent twice as much in inflation-adjusted dollars to rebuild Iraq as it did to rebuild Japan — an industrialized country three times Iraq’s size, two of whose cities had been incinerated by atomic bombs.” (And still Iraq lacks reliable electric power.)

The cost cannot be measured only in lost opportunities, lives and money. There will be a long hangover of shame. Its essence was summed up by Col. Ted Westhusing, an Army scholar of military ethics who was an innocent witness to corruption, not a participant, when he died at age 44 of a gunshot wound to the head while working for Gen. David Petraeus training Iraqi security forces in Baghdad in 2005. He was at the time the highest-ranking officer to die in Iraq.
Colonel Westhusing’s death was ruled a suicide, though some believe he was murdered by contractors fearing a whistle-blower, according to T. Christian Miller, the Los Angeles Times reporter who documents the case in his book “Blood Money.” Either way, the angry four-page letter the officer left behind for General Petraeus and his other commander, Gen. Joseph Fil, is as much an epitaph for America’s engagement in Iraq as a suicide note.

“I cannot support a msn that leads to corruption, human rights abuse and liars,” Colonel Westhusing wrote, abbreviating the word mission. “I am sullied.”

I did a little bit of research on Col Westhusing when I got to the country, because I was surprised to see a full-bird up on the wall of fame dedicated to those who've passed away while working under CPATT, my organization. He like some of us out here, had a substantial formal education prior to the deployment, and he was working with contractors, as I do. I don't know what was going on, or even how he "really" died, but it is apparent in reading about him and the others noted in this article, that there are many different tensions that pull at each of us involved with contractors here. We see folks doing similar work, being paid very differently with much more freedom, some apparently succumb to temptation. Mr. Rich dismisses the almost $27k for 2 months of non-work as child's play, but I don't see it that way. It is a breach of honor and integrity.

I wonder, now halfway through my tour, what reactions I might have if confronted with corruption issues with my contractors. Mostly, they just flatter me a lot, and make sure they make pizza every once in a while in the "western" kitchen, keeping a pizza set aside for me, give me an extra candy bar every once in a while (I'm easy to please). I've actually held $50k in cash once or twice (the cash society here), but that was more just to have that experience of holding that much cash. I wouldn't have gotten far from the safe before the manager over that function tackled me and "asked" me to put it back.

I really don't know. But I do know, and this article confirms, the damage it does to individuals who get drawn into it, or at a minimum, come to recognize the problems and feel powerless to fight it.

There are multiple types of wars going on here, and many conflicts that we as Americans introduce to the milieu. I hope to return unscathed.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

The dark side of cooler temperatures

I mentioned this in an earlier blog- the flies are way out of control right now with the weather topping out at only 100-105 (nice cool weather- the locals are wearing coats in the mornings).

A colleague in winning the hearts and minds does this justice...

For me, the most maddening thing about the bugs beyond the mosquito bites that make me look like I have chicken pox (and force me to put the "mozzie net" back up), is the cool sensation of the flies when they land on or around my mouth. I can't see them when they land on the lower part of my face, but the flapping of wings around my lips, well, it is just plain maddening.

I'm gonna wear the "gaiter" during tomorrow's morning walk, just to keep sane, despite the fact that I know it will only increase the heat and sweating.
No, that's not me- just wanted to show a "gaiter" for those that don't recognize the name.

Commentary on relationships growing out of the war in Iraq


Love and War

What's striking about this conflict is not that Americans and Iraqis have met on the battlefield and fallen in love and married. It's that so few have. In their stories lies the sad, tortured tale of the war itself.

By Christopher Dickey
Updated: 3:30 PM ET Oct 13, 2007

In Baghdad in May 2003, amid the chaos, fear and hope (it is easy to forget how much hope there was in those early weeks when Americans and Iraqis began meeting face to face after years of tyranny and war), Jimmy and Lena were among the first to fall in love. He was a career officer in the U.S. Army—Capt. James Michael Ahearn from Concord, Calif., winner of two Bronze Stars, veteran of tours in Korea, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. She was from a middle-class Baghdad family that had seen better days. Lena Ghadeer, her divorced mother, her brother and four sisterswere struggling to keep up appearances when American soldiers dragged Saddam's statue off its pedestal and turned their world upside down.

"You know, you're a really pretty lady," Jimmy told Lena the first day they met, courting her with the kind of straightforward gentility that Americans were known for back in the days of Gary Cooper and Clark Gable. He would bring food for her family and eat with them when he could. He warned away neighbors challenging the Ghadeers' claim to a house that Saddam had confiscated. Lena was 27 and Jimmy was 39. But such age gaps are common among Iraqi couples, and he was tall and fair—Lena still talks about his blue eyes—and he was kind. They had known each other less than a month, less time than it had taken for America to conquer Iraq, when he asked her to marry him. Then in another month he was gone, back to the United States. Not for another year would they have their wedding—on July 4, 2004, in Amman, Jordan. Then, as visa processing dragged on, it was almost another year still before Lena finally landed in America. In January 2006, Jimmy and Lena had a little girl. They named her Khadijah (after the first wife of the Prophet Muhammad) Mariam (after the mother of Jesus) Ahearn. The baby smiled like the future her parents dreamed of.

Such romances have been part of the American way of war for as long as anyone alive can remember. In the 1940s, wherever U.S. troops were deployed, whether among steadfast allies or recently conquered enemies, and regardless of culture, language, religion or the best efforts of the military hierarchy to prevent "fraternizing," soldiers and locals got married. "War brides" (and a handful of grooms) came to the United States from Britain and Australia, Italy, France and eventually Germany and Japan. Their stories were the stuff of comedy ("I Was a Male War Bride" with Cary Grant) and tragedy (James Michener's "Sayonara," about thwarted love in occupied Japan in the early 1950s). A reasonable estimate of the total number approaches 1 million from 50 different countries. Certainly there were hundreds of thousands. War brides from Japan, the Philippines, China and Korea, for instance, increased the population from those countries in the United States by 20 percent in just 17 years from 1947 to 1964. By the 1970s, thousands more spouses had been brought to American shores from Vietnam and, sadly, like Miss Saigon, many other partners were left behind.

What is striking about the Iraq War is not that couples have met and fallen for each other and succeeded like Jimmy and Lena in getting married. It's that so few of them have. State Department records show that after more than four years of occupation, only about 2,400 visas have been granted to Iraqi spouses and fiances. Many of those may be marriages to Iraqi-Americans. (Neither the State Department nor the Pentagon breaks down the figures in detail.) Among the rest—several hundred—the few love stories between American soldiers and Iraqi civilians that have happy endings are ones of enormous patience as well as the enormous passion needed to bridge chasms of language and history, politics, religion, insurgency and, yes, terror. Many of the Iraqis interviewed for this story asked that only part of their names or their nicknames be used to identify them, fearing that their families still in Iraq or living as refugees might be targeted. Those couples living in Baghdad are even more afraid. Every one of them has seen the clash of civilizations up close and personal.

This is not just a different kind of war, it's also a different kind of American military than existed 40 or 50 years ago—one that may talk about engaging hearts and minds, but spends many of its resources trying to keep them at a distance. The insistent demands of "force protection" and the insidious efficiency of the insurgents' bombs and booby traps have isolated the American soldier from the population he or she was once tasked to liberate. We may not lament the lack of bars, dance halls and whorehouses for today's troops. But in Iraq there's hardly any human contact at all that isn't at the point of a gun.

In 2003 and early 2004, when many of these love stories began, Iraqis and Americans could relate as people do anywhere, looking each other in the eye, shaking hands, sometimes holding hands. Today, more often than not, they are separated by blast walls or windshields thicker than the glass in a Sea World shark tank. In that sense, too, the dwindling number of couples who beat the odds to be together tells the sad, tortured tale of the American experience in Iraq.

There is, first, the matter of history. No event in the Middle East, no relationship, ever begins in the present. There is always a past. In Iraq, that is one long chronicle of conflict that has shaped the needs and expectations of the Iraqi people.

Zena Majeed was 6 years old when her first war began. She remembers the thrum of helicopters flying overhead as Saddam Hussein announced in September 1980 that Iraq was in a fight to the finish with Iran. Her father was working for a children's book company, but as a Reserve officer in the Army he was called to the front. Zena was 14 by the time he came home for good. Her second war came just two years later, when Saddam invaded Kuwait and the Americans launched Desert Storm. There followed more than a decade of international embargoes and personal privations as her parents sold off furniture, jewelry, anything that they had, just to survive and to buy books for Zena's medical studies. Then in 2003, soon after she took her degree, the countdown began to yet another war.

"We knew this was going to be the end. You could tell. You could see it in people's faces," says Zena, who has grown into a raven-haired beauty. On the receiving end of shock and awe, Zena lived through 20 days of constant terror. "I thought I was going to die from the fear," she says. "I was hiding under a blanket." Crazily she thought, "Oh, the blanket is going to protect me." Then she tried to hide in a small space between a refrigerator and the wall. "I just wanted to feel safe."

Wars push people together, says Benjamin Karney, a behavioral scientist with RAND Corporation, "so when there's a threat, a lot of people look for connections." This is especially true among soldiers, who face the constant threat of death. In a country as bloody as Iraq, it's also true of civilians.

When the bombing stopped, "there was no government, no security," Zena says. The precision-bombing campaign had, amazingly, left the capital mostly intact, but looters were tearing it apart. Bodies lay in the street. And then, there they were in front of her: the Americans. "We didn't know what these soldiers were going to do. We just tried to hide, especially the women and kids. And then we started hearing the good news: 'The Americans are friendly. They are going to help Iraq.' So, people started going out more often. And we started to see American soldiers helping people, and even helping direct traffic." The Iraqis responded. "People felt sorry for the soldiers with all this equipment loaded on them. So people took water, and then they took food."

Zena tried to continue her medical residency at a hospital in Samawah, more than four hours south of Baghdad, but American convoys often blocked the road, and finally she gave up. In early 2004 she got a job as an interpreter (a "terp" in soldier slang), working in the five-square-mile compound known as the Green Zone around the old presidential compound in the heart of Baghdad. It was supposed to be the safest place in the capital for soldiers, diplomats and government officials.She was translating for a medical and environmental unit of the U.S. Army in April that year, listening to a briefing about dental care to be presented at a local school, when Lt. Col. Richard Allinger walked in on the group. She remembers that the fit 52-year-old geologist from Spokane, Wash., looked much more serious than the other soldiers she'd met. "I thought he must be a general," she says now, laughing. Allinger saw her soft brown eyes and couldn't forget them.

Within weeks, like Jimmy and Lena and many other couples who meet under intense pressure—one partner far from home, the other in a home she cannot recognize—Rich and Zena felt they were in love. "That's the war," says Zena. "Everything goes fast." After so much pain and privation over so many years, many Iraqis were looking for nothing but peace. The American lieutenant colonel helped Zena find some semblance of it. "With Rich, I felt just safe to be with him."

For all the forces pushing Americans and Iraqis together in this war, though, even greater ones are driving them apart. The foremost is religion. In Iraq, as in most of the rest of the Middle East, Islam is not just the predominant faith, it is the core of the culture. It is the roots of history and the solid trunk of all traditions, a way to organize the course of a life and also the course of every day from sunrise to the hour of sleep. How many American soldiers understood those facts as they rolled into Baghdad? Few. Even among those couples who fell in love, the abyss of religious and cultural misunderstandings has been hard to cross. In times of enormous stress and fear, people reach back to their own faiths.

Who wouldn't pray under the sporadic thunder of mortar shells in the Green Zone, or when driving through Iraq's savage streets waiting to be blown apart by a hidden roadside bomb or a suicide driver? Leo Barajas certainly did. A contractor from Texas managing the reconstruction of Saddam's Republican Palace,he might not have attended church regularly at home, but he called on the Almighty often enough after Halliburton shipped him to Baghdad in the wake of the 2003 invasion.

Leo, at 34, was responsible for some 200 people. All of them were scared. Grown men would lose it. They would tell him they wanted out. He had to calm them. Then, he had to calm himself. He prayed for the ability to endure all he faced in Iraq. He prayed for the friends who had died there and for the three children he had by an earlier marriage back home. He didn't want to leave them fatherless. "I had to wake up by faith, sleep by faith and do my job by faith," he says.

His romance began when a co-worker recommended a young woman to work in Leo's office in August 2003. He remembers driving to the offices of a British contracting firm in the Green Zone to pick her up for an interview. "Hi, I'm Maria," she said as she jumped into his truck. "Are you Mexican?" he asked, thinking of his own heritage. "No, I just have a Christian name," she said. "My real name is Mariam. The translation is 'Maria,' like the Virgin Mary." A few days later, when he introduced her to a colleague, he joked that she'd stolen his heart. After a few weeks he realized that, indeed, she had.

Mariam, 21, is younger, taller and no less striking than her sister—Lena Ghadeer, who by that time was already engaged to Jimmy Ahearn. In that summer of 2003, the taboos against cross-cultural marriages seemed to be weakening.By the end of the year, when Leo was out of Iraq for a few weeks, the plans for another Ghadeer wedding were already well underway. Not until he got back did Mariam tell him he would have to convert to Islam.

"Why don't you convert to Christianity?" he asked.

"No. I've been a Muslim all my life," she said.

"Well, I'm older than you and I've been a Christian all my life."

After many tears she said, "I guess we can't get married."

"I love you. But I guess we can't," Leo told her.

There quickly developed a widespread impression among Iraqis that U.S. forces just didn't care about the intense pride they took in their intertwined culture, history and faith. The Americans' obliviousness engendered anger, then hatred as U.S. troops broke down doors in the middle of the night, herding women into kitchens, men into yards. One of the incitements to battle in bloody Fallujah was the rumor that members of the 82nd Airborne were looking down on roofs where women were sleeping at night. The wellspring of insurgency lay, not least, in a sense of humiliation among people who felt violated by the very presence of foreigners. In such an environment, any cultural slight grows that much more treacherous.

Among cosmopolitan, educated Baghdadis, who are the Iraqis most likely to meet Americans and speak their language, one used to see few of the scarves, veils, chadors, short robes or long beards that foreigners associate with Islam. But their sense of identity as Muslims is strong nonetheless, and they affect a sense of modesty and propriety that some Americans might find Victorian. Lena and Mariam's mother, Muna, knew only a few words of English. One, which she employed frequently when Leo would come to visit and sit too near her young daughter, was "space, space."

For the Americans, even those involved with the most Westernized Iraqis, navigating this minefield was fraught, if occasionally refreshing. Army Maj. Angela Barzo worked as a civil-affairs officer in Baghdad in 2004. Over lunch in the Green Zone one day, talk centered on a couple of American soldiers who were engaged to Iraqi women. "Well, let's turn the tables," Barzo said jokingly. "Where are the single guys?" "I'm good to go," piped up a young Iraqi interpreter everyone called MJ.

So he was. Their relationship, though, consisted of ever longer and ever more personal talks. After several weeks, Angie sent MJ a text message one night on his cell phone: "I'm falling in love with you." As her brief tour approached an end in January 2005, she sent him another text: "Will you consider marrying me?" She was 39; he was 32. She didn't want to let the moment pass. After the sustained suspense of their courtship, their first kiss was as fervent as adolescence. "It was all so pure," MJ remembers. "I will never forget." Others recall holding hands like teenagers in the back of a darkened, empty theater, or caressing in a Green Zone garden.

In the two years after Angie left Iraq, she saw MJ for only 12 days in Cairo, where he was waiting for a visa. Once, on the phone, she told him she was sunburned from the beach, and he chided her for showing her body to strangers. When he finally flew to Chicago in February this year, he warned her beforehand that he would not hug her in public because he was a conservative man. But when he walked through the doors and saw her, he threw his arms around her. "I didn't want to let her go," he says. "I just wanted to smell her."

Religion remains a problem for Angie and MJ. She had converted to Islam after they became engaged; she studied the Qur'an; she even gave away her two dogs, which MJ considered "unclean," as many Muslims do. But eventually she turned away from the mosque and back to her own traditions. MJ made his peace with it, she says. But they try not to talk about the subject. "We know what the differences are and where we stand," he says.

Leo Barajas, the contractor, and Mariam Ghadeer found an accommodation when he agreed to convert, at least temporarily, for the marriage ceremony. But her sister Lena's husband, the gentle, blue-eyed Jimmy Ahearn, was genuinely fascinated by Islam. He told Lena he wanted to convert because he was a believer. At a ceremony in Amman, the week they got married in July2004, he easily intoned before a judge the critical profession of faith: "There is no god but God and Muhammad is the messenger of God."

The American invasion had brought with it a promise of freedom and also of prosperity. "We thought, 'Oh, we are going to have a good life, finally'," Zena Majeed remembers thinking soon after the Americans came. "We started to have dreams like we were going to be, maybe, Hong Kong with those tall buildings, or like the United Arab Emirates." But the most important freedom, from fear, was neglected, and the prosperity never materialized. People "got tired," says Zena. "They thought, 'Oh, we are going to lead a different life!' And then eight months later there was nothing. No electricity. Nothing." When insurgent attacks against "the foreign occupier" began in earnest in October 2003, says Zena, "some people were happy."

The insurgency has divided Americans from Iraqis like no fatwa, no scolding mother ever could. By the time Rich Allinger started courting Zena in the spring of 2004, a sense of siege had descended on the Green Zone, where the blast walls grew ever higher to protect against suicide bombers. Members of the unit that preceded Allinger's "could walk freely," he remembers. "They could put on civilian clothes, go out and have dinner with their Iraqi counterparts, shop, go to teahouses. But by the time we arrived we could not go out unless we were in a force- protection convoy with a gun truck in front and in the back." Whenever he walked outdoors with Zena, he had to wear a helmet and full body armor. She wore nothing but her street clothes.
Any Iraqi who works with the Americans, much less dares to fall in love with one, is likely to be hunted down by insurgents or militias. "LH," a Shiite who got a job interpreting for the U.S. military in November 2005, was nearly kidnapped that fall. His brother had been shot by insurgents in 2004 but survived. A friend wasn't so lucky. His body was found with a broken hand, bullet holes in the legs and a drill hole in the back of the head. And yet, LH allowed his friendship with Army medic Vanessa Kirk to grow, and in 2006, when they had known each other for a year, he proposed.

Vanessa, a Navajo who had grown up in the arid Southwest, felt comfortable in the harsh climate of Iraq and at ease with the differences between cultures. But as she fought for nine months to bring her fianc? back to the United States, she saw that fear and suspicion would pursue the couple no matter where they were. "You would have to be a rock to deal with some of the people that I had to deal with," she says. "I even had one woman [Immigration officer] tell me that we were at war with Iraq and 'you're trying to get an Iraqi into the United States'."

As the original mission of the war—to liberate a people—became a mockery, many individual relationships became almost personal crusades. For Rich Allinger, there was a tension between the efforts to do good for the Iraqi people and the encroaching evil of violence all around. "We were just doing wonderful things, rebuilding hospitals, visitingschools. And then right on the other side of that would be the rockets and the mortars and the suicide bombs and then you'd walk into the hospital and you'd see a 19-year-old boy with his legs in a red bag. And it was very painful, very hard to deal with."

Sgt. Sean Blackwell of the Florida National Guard was posted on guard duty at the Iraqi Health Ministry in the spring and summer of 2003. Even then, he watched each day as bodies were taken to the nearby morgue: mangled, burned, riddled with bullet holes; they came one after another, he thought, like parts on a factory line.

On a hot day in May, he met Ehdaa, a doctor looking for a job after leaving a hospital in the provinces where her Westernized ways were deemed too provocative. Ehdaa's gleamingeyes and wide smile brightened his day, and he tried to help her. But to many Iraqis their relationship only tainted her further. When he and a buddy who'd been seeing another Iraqi woman doctor decided to get married in a joint ceremony three months later, the judge told Sean of his new wife, "I urge you to protect her and preserve her honor." Sean kissed Ehdaa on the forehead. "Don't worry," he told her. "We're married now and there's nothing they can do."

The other marriage quickly dissolved. But Sean would not give up. After a year he got Ehdaa into the United States and took her to live in the little town of Pace, in the Florida Panhandle. Last December, their daughter, Norah Blackwell, was born, a beaming child who has her mother's large round eyes and her father's ears. Like other Americans who've married Iraqis, Sean feels as if he did something positive in this war by saving one life, perhaps, and creating another. "I got married for a lot of reasons, but none of them were love," he said. Not then, anyway. "I knew I was doing something good. I was either going to marry her, get her out of that situation and she'd at least be safe, or things would work out the way they have, and we would be together forever."

Sadly, even as these relationships continue and deepen, so does America's tragic relationship with Iraq. Some couples are reluctant to leave. In recent weeks, NEWSWEEK has interviewed an American accountant and his Iraqi fianc?e—a petite, stylish bookkeeper in designer jeans—who've built a semblance of American suburban life in the confines of the Green Zone while they await her visa. Another couple, an American plumber and his Iraqi bride, live near a helicopter pad. The home he's cobbled together from a derelict house shakes and shivers every time one of the birds lands or takes off, but they've decorated it with teddy bears and a Santa Claus statuette, an Alpine scene and generic pictures of fresh-faced babies. Their own toddler, a big-boned boy who greets visitors with high-fives, is an American citizen reared all his short life in the Green Zone. His parents are in no rush to get to the United States. "Different place, different traditions," says the little boy's mother. "I don't have my best friends there. I like my country."

Among those who have left, some couples have felt the pull of Iraq as the war goes on and on. Ehdaa Blackwell, in Florida now, yearns to be reunited with the family she left behind. LH, with Vanessa Kirk in Maryland, says he is thinking of going back to try to "help our troops and to make Iraq safe again." Rich and Zena Allinger have settled into a comfortable life in Spokane, Wash., with his sons from a previous marriage. But recruiters for big contracting companies come calling, and for a lieutenant colonel, the financial temptation of returning to active duty is considerable.Leo Barajas, Mariam'shusband, says he recently got another offer from Halliburton, and the possibility of a lucrative position for Mariam was dangled in front of them, too. But "it's too dangerous for her," he says. "Even with the money, it's not worth it."

They know from experience. Lena's husband, Jimmy Ahearn, was redeployed to Iraq earlier this year, with a civil-affairs unit. His job was to try to reach out to the local population that he had come to know and respect, learning their needs, offering help if possible. As the husband of an Iraqi and a convert to Islam, he believed he was in a better position than most American soldiers to do the job.

Jimmy and Lena spoke on the phone or texted or e-mailed just about every day. On July 3, the eve of their third anniversary, he wrote to his father that he'd seen some early Fourth of July fireworks when "some jackass initiated his little bomb as my truck was passing by (somewhat little anyway)—scared the bejesus out of me but I'm fine … I'm getting way too old for this; tomorrow had better be a quiet day." And so it was. Then, on July 5, there was no phone call home, no text message, no e-mail. On his way to talk to a group of Iraqis, Jimmy's truck had hit another roadside bomb.

On July 25, Maj. James Michael Ahearn was buried in Arlington cemetery. More than 300 people came to mourn him. Lena, the war bride widowed by a war without end, saw to it that in the tradition of Islam Jimmy was cleansed and buried with a Qur'an at his side. Last month she packed up the home they had made together near Fort Bragg, N.C., and moved to Texas to be closer to her sister Mariam. As Lena put pictures of Jimmy into boxes, her toddling daughter called out "Baba," Arabic for Daddy, whenever she saw his face.

URL: http://www.newsweek.com/id/43354
© Newsweek Mag

You could see that ending coming, couldn't you? I remember talking on the phone with my sweetie during the first few months away and how she'd tell me of our 1.5 year old pointing to the stairs and asking to go up to see me on the computer webcamera. Insha'allah, I'll get back and remind her of who I am in person for a short Christmas break.