Monday, November 19, 2007

An Essence of God

19NOV07

Earlier today the XO (executive officer) invited me to go with him from the JSS (Joint Security Station where US forces outside the wire live and work alongside Iraqi police) to "A’s" house. He said "A" was a man who has been indispensable as a median between the Iraqi people, the Iraqi Army, and the US forces. Captain K. told me he spoke English, was a 4-year veteran of the Iran/Iraq war, and now worked as a teacher. I accepted the captain's offer and at 1900 we kitted up with three 11B’s and headed out. Literally, he lived up and across the street from JSS M------. We went there, past a parked car and through the gate of the property’s outer wall. The homes in this area were arranged like town homes with walled-off yards. In faint light (and the XO being as tall as he is) we startled "A’s" wife. She immediately went inside to get him, and the 11B’s (infantrymen) waited in the outer cordon of the property.

I recognized "A" as one I had seen a couple times at the JSS. Mid-forties, average size, and a beak-ish nose dressed in a one-piece outer garment from neck to ankles. He shook our hands, sat us down, and had one of his younger boys arrange some chai. I noticed a person on the roof and he indicated to us that it was one of his guards. As the XO had told me earlier, a child of his was killed when the insurgent forces were catching on to him being a US asset. Since then he’s also had rocket attacks at his previous address. Thus, he stays now right across the street from the JSS. The people that guard him have volunteered to do so without pay.

His son brought us some watermelon to the flimsy outdoor table. "A" went immediately to work, tearing pieces of paper, making makeshift weapons cards with all the pertinent information for 5 civilian security personnel. These security personnel were guarding the gas station a little ways down the street. He wanted to turn in the personnel’s info to include the weapons serial numbers, to be signed by our Lieutenant Colonel, thus legitimizing their presence with firearms as being in service to the local community. Such information is important to have so that US forces, I.A., and I.P. don’t fire on lawful security personnel.

After the paperwork was taken care of, he urged CPT K to persuade our chain of command in reconsidering their stance on an issue. Some of our brass told "A" in an earlier meeting that there will be no contracted work. "A" said, "You can’t get people to work for free," and, "Remember that guarding the road to [a different township] is very dangerous. Without contracts, how is a security force going to be sustainable?"  "A" said that many men in [township] are not hostile now, just waiting for jobs. CPT K brought up the red tape, our unit’s financial limitations, and the limitations that the Iraqi government puts on the ability of the US to organize and work on reconstruction projects. With that he concluded the discourse and addressed me.

He asked for more Maalox for his heartburn – simple enough. Then he asked if there was something I could get for his daughter, who is losing her hair in large clumps. I took down a brief history and asked some questions that required him to go inside and speak with his wife and daughter. I told him I would like to see the condition of the scalp and so forth. He went back inside and came out again saying, “I’m sorry but she is embarrassed and with the women now.” I didn't know what he meant by that, and it took a few seconds for his answer to click in as a polite refusal based on cultural differences.  More questions indicated she was 22 years old, presumably unmarried. Had I known that, with their customs, I never would have imposed.  I told him I’d pass the information to my PA (battalion physician), see what he thinks, and try to have any appropriate meds brought to the locale on our next trip out.

"A" reminded us of all of the organizational work he’s provided: in advising us on the right people for reconstruction contracts, to disseminating information to the Iraqi people, and organizing the right kind of people to be part of the local guard groups; and he has provided this without payment. CPT K echoed what great work he’s done to bring security to the area. "A" brought up the issue from a few months ago when, west of Baghdad and not too far from here, a US helicopter killed many civilians. A non-uniformed Iraqi civilian town guardsman in Abu Nasr left his guard post to drink chai with a friend. Seeing a person with weapons out of place, helicopters fired upon them possibly thinking they were part of one of the illegal roadblocks AQI forces like to create.

He said, “To resolve such claims takes much time, much money, and it is a stain on the people’s image of American forces.   But over here, since we have come together, you see that it is quiet. There is not a lot of violence.” "A" was making a valid point: wouldn’t it take more effort, time, and money, in the long run, to pick up the pieces of such events, rather than to expedite the process of turning Iraq into an organized and self-moderated society? If there isn’t a religious bias, than why is the Iraqi government dragging its feet towards its own stability in Sunni areas? He says, “You've come to my house. You see how I live.” He gestures towards the roof. “I still have a metal roof for some parts of my home. But, if you go to the sheiks’s houses, you will see how they live. It’s very different. I am a servant of my people. I don’t do what I do for money. I value my reputation, and it is my duty as an educated man. Even if it’s not recognized by American forces, or by my own people, it’s witnessed by god and that alone is enough.”