Monday, February 04, 2008

Fallujah by Day

Michael J.'s latest from Fallujah is up, with interviews, pictures, heartbreakers, raunchy banter, Pop Tarts, etc., etc.

Optimism and cynicism exist side by side. All the Americans I spoke to said the Iraqi Police are improving. Most are cautiously optimistic about their ability to stand on their own – later. Hope comes naturally in Fallujah right now because even this place, of all places, is peaceful and quiet. But a substantial minority has serious reservations after spending some quality time with Iraqis.

“We should have just left Saddam in power,” said an MP from the Texas National Guard who did not want to be named. “That's all these people understand.”

Fallujah is the heartland of Baath country. It's the most aggressively Sunni Arab city in all of Iraq. Residents deny the insurgency once had a popular base of support, possibly to save face, but it did. Some Fallujans are Islamists, some were and still are disgruntled Baathists, and others just needed the money. Even some police officers were insurgents.

“Some of them will tell you straight up that the only reason they're Iraqi Police officers is because it pays better than the insurgency,” Sergeant White said. “I hear that and I want to say Hold this guy while I go get my pistol`.”

“Some Neighborhood Watch guys were insurgents, too,” Lieutenant Mike Barefoot said. “We know some of them by name. They were working for insurgents to get paid, not because they were jihadis. So we pay them more.”

“How do you feel about them?” I said.

“I sympathize with them,” he said. “If they're shooting at me, it's time for them to die. They aren't my friends. But I can hang out with them and shoot the shit. We do try to be nice to them to make it harder for them to join another insurgency later. We don't want them to get fired because they love the action and we don't want them loose in circulation.”

“How many do you suppose were ideologically motivated?” I said. That's a hard question to answer, but an officer who has been in Fallujah for months should have a better sense of it than I do.

“Only a very small percentage,” he said. “They wanted to be free, or employed, or they were there for the action. Not because they wanted to live under a religious tyranny. There are lots of mosques here, as you know, but very few people are in the mosques during prayer time.”

He could tell I was slightly skeptical. If what he said wasn't true, though, in 2004, it certainly is in 2008. “The reason we're winning isn't because of the Marines,” he said. “We've done our part, but we're winning because of our support from the Iraqi people.”