This is something I felt compelled to write June 7th 2008
Iraq as I see it, thus far.
Well this is my somewhat brief synopsis on Iraq as I see it, so it shall begin. Iraq is HOT, and filled with trash. Its clear and present danger is the practice of religion & politics that coexist and cooperate (or at least tries to) with each other.
The people here have the utmost respect for their flag, themselves as well as others. These people are very ambitious and self-determined people. From my experience so far they like and welcome Americans, or atleast the soldiers and appreciate what we are doing over here, even though sometimes we can be a real pain in their butt (and a big headache). Also I see a handful or two of resemblances of biblical times. I’ll explain all these in further detail as I go on.
Iraq is HOT and I mean just very that. I haven’t even been through a full summer here yet, and already the low temperature at night is in the 80’s, and the highs are between 100 – 110 degrees. It’s 95 degrees by 11am sometime early, its unbelievable! The sun rises around 5am and is beating down on you by 9am. We pray for a breeze, every single day. Some days the breeze is cooler than others; sometimes it feels like its just a hot hair dryer blowing in your face, other days it’s a cooler breeze than that. It will get up to the 120’s here in about another month, and when that happens it will be 100 by 10am or so, and 120 by noon and stay that way until about 4pm. So yeah, It’s hot. We drink water like fish around here. When I’m out on patrols or missions I drink at least 4 or 5 liters of water, at least!
It pretty much skips spring here and goes straight to summer, the heart of the summer of course is the hottest. It’s winter is like a REAL cold fall. This past winter though was the coldest it’s been in a LONG time, it actually snowed! The news said “It was the first time in ‘memory’”. People hear had hear about it from their grandparents! During the summer people sleep either on their roofs, or outside in their front yards just to keep cool.
A couple noticeable things Iraq clearly lacks is leaders that don’t know how to separate religion and politics. Unlike the U.S how we practice “The separation of church and state” It is only now that they are just beginning to understand that is how they are going obtain peace in their country. It also lacks infrastructure. A couple things I’m specifically talking about is a better energy program, and better ways to deal with their trash. City power seems to come on during specific day hours only, I guess during the “business hours”, I haven’t quite pinpointed that down. But the city power sometimes isn’t the most reliable. Some people who can afford it own their own generators and use it when they need to, primarily at night before they go to sleep. But mostly what I’ve seen is that “muhallas” a.k.a neighbordhoods have a generator or two that run there neighborhood. Depending on the size, it may take a generator per block, etc. The way they deal with their trash, well they simply throw it on the ground, in their yards, or walk across their street and throw in on the other side of the street (and sometimes burn it, but sometimes shepherds with flocks of 50-100 sheep travel on by and they feed of the trash in the streets). In our sector, well certain parts of it, primarily close to where our base or outpost is we’ve helped the Iraqis start trash removal programs, and take pride in there country and the way it looks, to take pride in their property. Some muhallas keep there streets and yards tip top now. But in order for this to happen (concerning trash removal) they need funds, and as I happened to tell my squad leader today, one of Iraq biggest problems is they don’t know how to allocate (or distribute) money.
As for “Separation of church and state” or lack there of; for hundreds and even thousands of years leaders in Iraq (along with other countries) have yet learned NOT to base their politics and how they run the country and themselves off the their religion, which is Islam or variations of it. One of Iraq’s biggest problems is prejudice and racism (so to speak). The different sects of Islam fight against each other and cause turmoil in the streets. Leaders in Iraq sway there decisions in politics and the law based on their own personal beliefs. But at the same time the people have the utmost respect for themselves, their families and one another. They bend over backwards to help each other out in times of need and in their day-to-day lives. Even us soldiers feel their hospitality. Too many times do we bust up in someone’s house uninvited and next thing we know, they are asking us to sit down and have some “chi” pronounced chy, with them. So many times we come banging or knocking on their doors wanting to either search their house, talk to the residents to get information, or simply just go to their roof to pull security. Sometimes we scare the kids in-turn (unintentionally), sometimes we upset the wives of the house, but they normally warm up to us. We try to compensate by giving the kids stuffed animals or candy, and it usually works.
These people are also very ambitious and self determined, as well as inventive. They will do whatever they have to, to support their families along with themselves. Many of them run there own businesses, whether its growing produce and selling it, or whether its running little stores in front of their homes that sell a variety of things from eggs to ice cream cones. They are very inventive, they can fix anything using practically nothing. Far to often we have locals from the adjacent neighborhoods come to our COB to fix plumbing, AC’s, lighting, anything and everything. They are all like McGyvers, very creative & inventive. A lot of their cars are all patched up and rigged barely to work. The people though seem content, very content even though they are always finding ways to pursue better lives for themselves and their families. I truly respect these people, all of the oppression they’ve faced through the years, fighting through the constant fear of a variety of things. These people have hope in themselves & their countries and that’s what drives them.
And concerning biblical resemblances, just about everyone wears sandals. In the bible there are numerous stories of people getting healed and the stand up and take up there “mats” , well they all have mats they sleep on, they sleep on them during the summer on the roofs and outside in their yards as I already mentioned, and if they are fortunate enough to have beds, they typically reserve those for the cold season. They where turbans, and head pieces to keep the sun off there face and necks, a lot of them wear what we call “man dresses” to keep themselves cool. It just a one piece outfit with maybe a pocket or two. A lot of the women wear black, still haven’t figured out why that is, and often they cover their faces with a scarf or something. They have allotted times during the day that they pray, just like in biblical times. I’ve seen them go to their roofs and pray as well, some even getting on there knees. Makes me wonder how many Christians get on their needs to honor God and lift their prayers up to Him. I know I haven’t done it in a long time. They have mosques that have several loud speakers that the “Shieks” get on and pray all through out the day. Sometimes they use those speakers to assimilate propaganda against Americans, but not so much anymore.
So in summary, I’ve learned a lot from being over here, it humbling, and often upsetting to see how these people live, to see them in fear for themselves, etc. I respect them a lot, and I unlike other people tend treat them as innocent until proven guilty even though that could be a dangerous thing to do here. I have a hard time assuming everyone is “bad” and don’t like to generalize the people here just because they have people amongst them that want to hurt us Soldiers. That’s the case in any country. How would Americans like it if Canadians or some country from asia or Africa occupied the good old U.S of A? I know after a couple years we’d be fed up, fed up with the constant search and seizure with OUT warrants, fed up with curfews, fed up with traffic, worn down streets and broken power lines from all the military traffic.