From a friend
As I'm sitting here, driving a telescope lookint at stars, I got a few emails. They really make you feel privileged. At times, it really makes you wonder why you get to spend your time the way you do. A friend of mine, and his thoughts on his situation:
I think it's important that people who only see what's on TV about this place get some real answers. Actually the news is getting better about this place lately. Anyways, Iraqi civilians, for the most part they like us. The only real fuss we get from them is when we tear their power lines down with our huge route clearance truck. We do our best to not do it, but sometimes there's no choice. If a particular city has recently been cleared of Al Qaeda, when we go through, there are tons of people on the streets and they wave to us, so it's a mostly positive experience. If we go into a city with a bad enemy situation, where IED and direct fire attacks are imminent, the city/village will either be a "ghost town", or if there were people on the streets, they will scatter at the first site of us. They just don't want to be around when a fire fight breaks out or when there's an IED attack. The insurgents will shoot at us with automatic AK 47's, PKC's which is just a mid sized belt fed machine gun that fires a 7.62 mm (diameter) round, and they also use RPGs. The IED's we've seen lately are large metal containers or cylinders like propane tanks, oxygen and acetylene tanks, etc. So, it's a very large explosion, and any people/soldiers in the open within a couple hundred meters would likely be injured. Then, you have us, with .50 caliber machine guns, 7.62 belt fed machine guns, 5.56 machine guns, M4's (new M16) on the smaller end, and 25mm high explosive rounds in the Bradley fighting vehicles, & 120mm tank rounds on the larger scale which, in pretty much every fire fight where they're present, get used. So with all that lead and explosives flying around and blowing up, nobody wants to be around, especially innocent civilians.
There was one day in particular where I had to take my platoon on a route clearance mission (which is what we do daily) up through the middle of Old Baquba (eastern Baquba proper) prior to the big mission which pushed most of the insurgents out of there. So we knew there was Al Qaeda there, people got attacked in this area all the time, including small arms, RPG, and IED's. When we rounded the corner to turn into the city, the main street was filled with people, pedestrians and cars, shops open, etc. I'd say there was between 300 and 500 people in a 3-4 block distance on this one main road. As soon as they saw us, everyone started running, literally sprinting, jumping in cars, squeeling the tires, pulling their stuff for sale off of the streets and slamming shop doors closed. In 30 seconds, everyone was gone, complete "ghost town". That's always an indicator that something's going to happen. So sure enough, we get a couple blocks into the city and boom, a huge IED detonates near one of my vehicles, but it was pretty far off..they missed, so nobody got hurt. But the people knew it was there and didn't want to have any part of it.
Now when we go through there, since the big operation, there are lots of people on the streets and when we drive in they mostly ignore us until we're right next to them and then they'll wave. That's it. If you actually get out of the vehicles and walk through the cities, most of the civilians will beg from you, especially the children, but adults will too. They mostly ask for food, water, and money, but if you hold a conversation with someone for longer than 2 minutes, they will look at your gear and start asking for whatever they can see...your watch, a flashlight, sunglasses, whatever...anything they can get. At first you kind of feel bad, then you get annoyed, then you pretty much ignore them. Now I just wave, say hi, and if they start asking for stuff I pretend they're not there. Overall I think they feel safe when we're around, at least if they don't think a firefight or IED attack is about to happen. They are thankful that we push out Al Qaeda from their cities because the insurgents try to enforce strict islamic law on the civilians wherever they are, strict female clothing standards, no smoking, etc, and nobody wants that, but if they break those "laws", there are harsh and rediculous punishments to include torture and execution. The civilians also know that even with all of the huge guns we have pointing all over the place when we come through, that we won't shoot anyone without a reason, so they're really not worried about us killing innocent civilians, which is more than what they can say about the insurgents. Their only concern with us shooting is being caught in the cross fire.
As far as security goes, it changes from area to area and city to city. Where I am, Baquba, a few months ago was the worst city in Iraq. There were places, and a lot of them, where you just couldn't go because you were going to get nailed with a huge IED, and then a slew of follow on RPG and machine gun attacks. And that was being done by Al Qaeda, who are the hard core sunni insurgents. There are a number of other, smaller underground type sunni insurgent groups, but none of which really take the strict islamic law to the extent that Al Qaeda does. Then there's the Shia insurgent groups, which aren't as predominant in my area of operation, but the most common one is Jashe Al-Mahdi, or Mahdi Army, which are Muqtada Al-Sadr's guys. They are the ones that usually use the EFP's, the deadly IED's you've probably seen on the news. We've only been hit by a couple of them, and it was outside of the city, a while back. Anyways, that's kind of the layout of the insurgent groups we deal with here
That leads into my opinion on the security issue. Before we got here, or right when we got here, the majority of attacks in the Diyala province were number one on local nationals, then in second, the Iraqi security forces, then last, coalition forces. But right at the same time we were getting here, there was a bunch of varialbes that all lined up in favor of an insurgency in the making. So the number of active hostile insurgents here grew drastically, as did that attacks on local nationals, ISF (Iraqi Securit Forces), and CF (Coalition Forces). There was a really bad spell of sectarian violence where entire villages were being displaced, particularly Shia villages. Al Qaeda would go in, kill a few people, burn a few houses, and tell the rest to leave or they would suffer the same punishment. Then Al Qaeda would turn that village into their engagement areas for ISF and CF, as well as their safe havens, IED factories, car bomb factories, and cache locations where they would stockpile weapons and munitions. Now, also when I first got here, my Batallion of approx 800 soldiers was the only BN for the entire Diyala province, which was not nearly enough to control all of the cities that the insurgents had taken over. Our leadership also took a different approach on dealing with the insurgency than the units we replace, which was, go after them. Which resulted in a flip of who the attacks were on. In just one or two months, the highest number of attacks were on us, then in second ISF, and in third local nationals. SO we had already had an effect of at least shifting their attention, which helped the innocent civilians who were being killed. So we got our asses handed to us for a few months, until we finally got enough combat power here to control it. (Troop surge, yes, it's working) Now it's relaxed significantly, IED attacks are way down, direct fire attacks are way down, body's found are way down, etc. But we didn't kill a whole lot of insurgents when we came through with the big operation that cleared the city. I mean, we killed a few, but I think most of them ran out of the city, or put down their weapons and blended into the local population to fight another day.
Another major variable in this huge complicated equation is the competency of the Iraqi security forces, being the Iraqi army and the Iraqi police. The current Iraqi army is one of the first armies to have been established and trained the entire time in contact (being shot at). They've taken some very heavy casualties in the process. Now that we have this place secured a little better, the ISF can get on their feet a little better. They're a little better equipped, every operation we conduct has an ISF counterpart to it, so they're getting better training, and the hiring/firing process is significantly reducing the level of corruption in their organizations. So, they are much better now than they were when we got here. But, are they ready to take the city of Baquba and the surrounding areas (Diyala province) on their own yet? Hell no. We couldn't even do it with almost 1000 american soldiers, all equipped with tanks, bradley fighting vehicles, attack helecoptors, artillary and a bunch of other technology that the ISF will never see. So, I think we need to be here for a while longer while we continue to increase the quality number of soldiers in the ISF, better equip them, and better train them. The best/quickest way to do that, is when there's a decent level of security, not when they're getting their asses kicked daily.
If we leave today, the insurgents with collapse back into the city and the resulting violence would be devastating, the whole thing would look like a supernova. The iraqi army and iraqi police forces would get killed and many would be threatened into working for the insurgents. And all of the civilians that have been helping us find insurgents, IED's and cache's would be tied up, blindfolded and shot in the back of the head twice if the insurgents were feeling nice. Otherwise they would get tossed into a torture chamber (which we've found a few) and get their nuts zapped with a car battery while their eyeballs were cut out of their head, and they were beaten with an 1" diameter 18" long piece of metal cable. So, that's my personal opinion on the whole deal based off of what I've seen here in the last 10 months. Other areas aren't so bad, and others are possibly worse. I can't really speak for the entire country of Iraq, but I don't think it is a hell of a lot different than this place.