Its late in July and Im accompanying a patrol out of Forward Operating Base Scunion to Hibhib, which makes a stop at the small village of Septiya. Capt. Brandon Trevino of 2-63 Armor wants to start an Adopt a Highway program here, to keep the major roads clear of Improvised Explosive Devices (IED)s. This approach has been used successfully in other towns. Hell pay 30 men from the village $4 a day to clean trash and debris off the roads near the village. Having the men on the roads also makes it more difficult for the insurgents to leave bombs.
Septiya is a charming village of small adobe houses and dirt roads. We knock on the door of the headman, who emerges surrounded by children from his four wives. Other villagers gather around to listen. He says they dont know anything about several IEDs that went off last week next to their village.
"When sun goes down, no one from village goes out. We suffer from this bad thing."
Trevino says, "As long as this goes on in your fields, well have to cut down your trees, destroy the fields so we can see whats there. I cant have any of my soldiers killed." Theres a big discussion over this among the villagers. The interpreter doesnt bother to translate. "You know -- more of the same," he says cynically.
Trevino says through the interpreter, "Hopefully this will stop, or hopefully they can give us information. Anything they can do to help will help them."
The headman suggests, "Maybe they can put a checkpoint on the road here, ICDC," he said, referring to the Iraqi Civic Defence Corps. Trevino explains that there arent enough men for that.
As we leave he tells me that hes hoping the villagers will start to take the initiative. "They have to understand: not being against us, thats not enough. They have to help us."
* * *
Later that week I go to the Khalis police station with John and Mike, two civilian ex-cops from Kentucky whove been contracted through a company that specializes in teaching policing techniques. Weve come to talk with Khaliss Chief of Police, Col. Hateem Rasheed Mohammed.
Mike and John have to cover four towns, but only get out to give classes a couple of times a week because they need a military escort, which FOB Scunion can barely spare. Meanwhile the cops in these small towns north of Baqubah are working without proper training, squad cars or radios. Theyre the favorite targets of the insurgents, who see them as weak, and as collaborators with the Americans.
Johns got 700 rounds of AK ammunition for the station; the police expended 300 rounds a couple of nights ago when insurgents attacked the street housing the police and the National Guard from both sides with mortars and small arms.
He also has new forms for the Iraqis to fill out when they fire their weapons, to account for the number of rounds fired. Hes diplomatic and doesnt say that the Iraqis have to use these (at this point, after the transfer of government, he cant demand anything anyway). Col. Hateem, however, is very interested in adopting the Americans methods. One of Mikes concerns is the Iraqis taking the stocks off their rifles, something of a fashion statement here. This makes it impossible to aim accurately. Since the police are slated to use the rifle range at Warhorse he wants to make sure everyone replaces the stocks.
Hateem says, "The problem we have here: one officer shoots one round, no one will give them even that one round. Sometimes police officers going on duty, some of them carry just one magazine."
John asks the chief what he thinks of the classes so far, and what he needs his officers to learn.
Hateem smiles and sweeps his hands around the room.
"How to do raid, how to chase, how to handle criminals! Exercise programs, how to arrest. . . we are in need of everything! We just know how to shoot, but we fail to hit the target. We are in need of you, and everything weve seen in American movies. I hope I will see you again, and more and more."
Hateem has a sense of humor, but hes being only slightly ironic. He clearly wants the Americans help.
* * *
The following week a medals ceremony is held at Forward Operating Base Gabe. Purple Hearts and a couple of Silver Stars are given out, among other awards for combat valor.
Colonel Dana J. H. Pittard, the brigade commander, steps out among the assembled soldiers. Pittard is a tall African American, with a slightly surprised look in his large eyes, which makes him seem milder than he actually is.
"Cmon around, people, huddle! Its great to see you guys! 1-6 Bravo, how you all doing? Hooah! And theres some 3rd ID folks. Outstanding job you guys are doing. . . ."
As he warms up he addresses the current spate of firefights and IEDs, "We will continue to pursue this fight aggressively. Now I dont want to talk badly of other commanders, but Falluja is lost to the insurgents. U.S. forces no longer patrol Samarra. You and I know the insurgents want to take Baqubah. So close to Baghdad, they need it. They want this place so bad, they can taste it! But let me tell you something: 3rd Brigade doesnt operate that way. I will not let that happen. We will take the fight to the enemy and we will kill them. If you ever get orders to stop patrolling Baqubah, to withdraw to the bases, I will not be commanding this brigade!"
* * *
The mood is concentrated and exuberant as the 5th Platoon of the Iraqi National Guard (formerly the ICDC) storm the building in a hostage scenario exercise. Capt. Jackie Kainas men have been shooting blanks in the air all morning, setting the mood of combat. In the end the ING succeed in taking the building, but Kaina feels theyve taken too many casualties through lack of communication. Theres an after-action critique with a lot of spirited debate about this. Kaina wants them to remember the infantrymans mantra: shoot, move, communicate.
In a sense theyve already been tested. During the course of their 10-day training they helped the Americans set up a checkpoint in the notorious neighborhood of Baritz, which came under fire from insurgents and turned into a nasty and prolonged firefight. The ING returned fire alongside their American trainers, which Kaina and his men consider something of a milestone in the previously dismal record of ICDC accomplishments.
Later I walk to the ING compound for the graduation ceremony. Kaina is a big man, and towers over many of the Iraqis, who range in age from teenagers to men old enough to be his father. They look slightly scruffy in so many mismatched uniforms, but Kainas expression is serious as he salutes and hands the men their diplomas. In a speech he says rather soberly, "Remember the lessons youve learned here and you will survive."
After a celebratory meal of traditional Iraqi food, followed by posing for photographs, the 5th Platoon leaves on two trucks. The Iraqis are joyously waving and shouting. Kaina and his men hang out for a bit. They feel good about this class, but wish theyd had more time to train and practice. Theyre worried that soon theyll be back in Baritz for another confrontation, and the ING must be ready to fight more on their own. With 2,000 new recruits and a new base in Baqubah on the way, Kaina estimates that the ING will be the force to be reckoned with against the insurgents that the US army badly needs. In the event of a general uprising, he says the ING, the police and the Americans will be able to "shut this city down."
Kaina says, "Oh, I expect at some point it will go bloody. Falluja bloody."
* * *
In early August I arrive at the police provincial headquarters in Baqubah, a walled compound of several buildings occupied by some 100 MPs, one platoon from the 293rd, 3rd ID and a company from the 2-197th, a New Hampshire national guard battalion. Besides the usual front desk staff and investigations units, the headquarters also houses a modest police academy, a jail and the Joint Communications Center, where the military, the IPs, and the ING can all coordinate their activities.
This New Hampshire National Guard company is actually from a field artillery battalion, but theyve been reassigned as military police. They get a little wistful when they hear orders for artillery strikes for the gunners at FOB Gabe over the radio. Nevertheless, many of them have jobs in law enforcement, and theyre taking on the challenge of training the Iraqi cops.
Being from Boston, I love hearing their broad New England accents against this backdrop of date palms and dry, dusty streets. Even their names remind me that America hasnt lost all of its regional flavor: John Uran, Walter Hand, Robert Cone, Christopher St. Cyr, names like that conjure for me a distant time of small northeastern towns with cold winters, where people can trace their ancestry over many generations in the same spot.
Sgt. Jon Fouts enthusiastically opens the police academy class one morning with a booming "Aaaallrighty, then!" which, as part of their informal ritual, the Iraqis shout back at him. Fouts is a burly, jovial man with a huge gap-toothed grin. A natural actor, he holds the attention of his audience of some 50 policemen, singling them out for questions, joking about the number of weddings they always seem to be attending, and miming drunkenness while discussing punishments for such crimes as public intoxication or selling liquor to minors. Even when they dont get his jokes, which the translator strains to keep up with, the Iraqis enjoy Fouts physicality and volume.
Next he launches into the topic of ethics, posing difficult scenarios in which he tries to make clear that an individual's personal ethics should be distinguished from the law. With the cops paying him close attention, Fouts tries to drive home two points: that the cops role is to protect the public, and that when called upon to perform their duties they will sometimes feel fear, and thats okay. Its hard to make out how foreign these ideas are to the Iraqis; the day before, there was an animated class discussion in Arabic about human rights. The cops were concerned about their parking spaces. They have to park a short distance from the building to protect it from car bombs, while the police chief and his deputy get to drive right up. The cops wanted to know if this was a violation of their human rights. Their officers made it clear that it wasnt.
One night Im in the MP command post with Capt. Chris Solinsky and several of his officers and NCOs. FOB Gabe has just taken seven hits from mortars; local people have called to say that gangs armed with rocket-propelled grenades are roaming the streets looking for Iraqi cops. An order has just come in from Brigade that an MP quick reaction force of four vehicles should move out to the area where the mortars originated.
Solinsky is agitated: "This smells like an ambush, I dont like it at all! Four trucks, thats not enough. . . . Look, get me Brigade, I want to try to reach the Colonel." Solinsky is pacing like a caged tiger, all concentrated energy, while the tension builds and his officers wait for their orders, watching him closely.
He gets Col. Pittard on the line and quickly explains his concerns. It turns out theres been a mistake and its a platoon of Iraqi cops that are wanted on the scene, not MPs. I can feel the tension start to dissipate, when the radio squeals on again. We hear the strained voice of an American platoon leader somewhere out in the Tarire neighborhood over the net, "Were in contact!"
Its the terrible and enchanting word that casts a spell over the room, as breathing slows and everyone listens, rapt. Again the radio crackles. The voice emerges through a fog of noise.
"Were being engaged from, it looks like, all sides! I think. . . it looks like machine gun fire from the alleys. . . were returning contact."
Excited transmissions go back and forth over the net, as another platoon races from Gabe to back up the first. But by the time they get there the shooting is over. The Americans are unhurt, and a gunner reports a confirmed kill. These few minutes have been like a snort of cocaine for everyone, and the officers linger in the command post for an hour, trading stories with so many military acronyms I cant follow that after awhile I wander off to bed.
* * *
Criminal sentences in the new Iraq are pretty draconian, at least by American standards: the public drunkenness that Sgt. Fouts was miming will get you a one-month jail sentence; begging will get you three months behind bars. Promoting begging to minors results in six months. If youre found guilty of murder you get life imprisonment. If you murder your wife while she is in the arms of a lover, however, you only do three years.
I spent a couple of afternoons drawing in the jail at the Police Provincial Headquarters. Its a small facility, a single story building with four large cells, currently housing over 200 prisoners, about a third of whom have been convicted and are awaiting transport to Baghdad, when theres room for them there.
Im sitting in a short, wide hallway between the rows of cells, and the curious prisoners are jammed against the bars to watch me. Many of them want to be included in the drawings, and theres an atmosphere of excitement, even merriment. While I draw one cell, the prisoners watch the drawing progress from the other side. One man holds up a photograph of his family for me to include.
Near me is Omar Satar, a translator for the station, casually chain-smoking. Hes a handsome, athletic-looking young man with a gentle disposition and a slight sadness about him. He tells me that he worked as a translator for the Americans when they first arrived here. A cop who was arrested for dealing drugs accused him of being a supplier and Satar languished for eight months in the jail and under house arrest at the station before a judge could see him and dismiss the charges as baseless. Now, he says, people in Baqubah call him a spy and threaten him, so he doesnt leave the station much.
When Im finished drawing, the prisoners want to see my sketchbook, so I go from cell to cell, turning the pages and holding them up high and close to the bars. Some reach out to touch them. Here are some American soldiers. Heres ICDC. Satellite dishes; Iraqi workers shoveling cement; the view from the rooftop with a huge mosque in the distance and two small women on a far roof, gazing back.
"Again, mister, again, he didnt see!" When I leave Im feeling a bit choked up, surrounded by all these guys, most of them young and eager for contact with the world, even through these drawings.
STEVE MUMFORD is a New York artist. This is the 13th installation of his "Baghdad Journal."