through one of the little towns locally. Note there
are only men in the procession. It was peaceful.
Baghdad, Iraq I
just heard my first rocket attack close up. I was walking
out of my quarters when I heard and felt a deep "whoomp!"
which was profoundly resonating and shook my intestines. It
was sort of a mushroom-cloud shaped sound. I froze. It came
from behind me, to my right. This was followed by a subdued
hissing through the air, maybe 200 yards above me and to my
right, like a very small jet tearing through the air. This
second sound almost didnt register as related to the "whoomp"
until I heard the impact, not quite two seconds later, and
mentally connected the three sounds. That third one was a
different sound. A smaller, more compact, rounded, and
slightly higher pitched explosion, with less intestinal
vibration. It was in front of me and to my right, in the
distance, but not far off. Not far enough off.
Only three sounds, each distinct. Taken
together, a menacing message. Would there be a second
launch? I looked for cover, none handy. I felt better that I
was wearing my IBA and helmet, as required whenever we were
outside during the week of the transfer of authority, when
we were expecting a bit more badness than usual.
There was no second launch.
My radio crackled as the tower guards
reported the rockets impact. It missed our base, having
traveled completely over the compound, exploding about 250
meters beyond our wall on the other side. Were they aiming
at us? If so, they need to juice down their launcher a bit.
Another new experience, these three sounds
taken together. This one, I can live without.
I wrote this June 30, immediately after the
rocket attack. I was quite shaken for a day or two after
this very close "reality check." I truly am living in
a war zone. Bad things can happen, even if somewhat
randomly. I still wonder, however, if the statistical risk
of death or major injury is higher here, or is it actually
more risky driving 30 miles each way to work and back on the
freeways in Salt Lake. I have since gotten somewhat
accustomed to the sounds of the occasional mortars and car
bombs exploding around us. This is a good thing in that I
dont dwell on it so much anymore. Kind of like hearing
sirens in the background in a large city at night, you get
to a point where you dont notice it as much.
The three Saddam Heads.
These are huge busts of Saddam. There used to be
four, one on each corner of our palace grounds,
sitting on giant pedestals. One was destroyed, and
the other three are stored in the junkyard here.
I have also learned why the bad guys seem
(blessedly) to be such crummy shots with rockets and
mortars. They actually launch these rockets from the beds of
small pick-up trucks. They will pull up to a site, rapidly
uncover the rocket and launcher, then "aim" and fire. Aiming
basically involves pointing it in the general direction that
they would like it to go. They immediately cover the
launcher and drive off. They have realized that we can quite
accurately back-calculate where the launch occurred, based
on the impact. If they hang around to adjust the launch and
fire again, well catch them. They also have no spotters.
Spotters are the people who are supposed to be near the
intended impact site and report to the launch team where it
landed, so the launch team can adjust the aim for the next
try. Again, they dont have the luxury of waiting to adjust
and fire again. So they shoot and split, and hope for the
Unfortunately for the locals, the result is
usually the injury, destruction, and death of civilians
rather than a successful strike at the military. This is a
good case in point. They completely missed our base, and the
rocket landed about 250 meters beyond our wall. It
completely destroyed some innocent familys home, piercing
the roof, traveling through the house, and exploding in the
basement, leaving a large crater where the house used to be.
Miraculously, no one was home at the time, and there were no
major injuries as a result. However, I suspect the residents
of that neighborhood were badly shaken, the children
terrified, and the parents and families there left gun shy
and anxious. Not to mention some folks came home to a crater
and now have no place to sleep and what little they own is
This morning after breakfast a very big
explosion occurred, even bigger than the rocket I described.
It shook the building I was in, rattling the glass. This
building is constructed of solid concrete. We all crowded
into the center of the building, away from the windows,
until we were sure there wouldnt be a second, closer
impact. A few minutes later, the tower guards reported that
it was a huge VBIED (military lingo for "vehicle-borne
improvised explosive device" or car bomb) that went off
about 500 meters outside of our gate. This bomb must have
been huge, because this was a half mile from me, but still
it shook our building mightily. At that point, we relaxed a
bit, as VBIEDs usually come as "onesies" and are not
immediately repeated, unless they set a second one to
explode when the rescuers arrive, which didnt turn out to
be the case today. Youll see it on the news, I suspect.
Dont know the casualty count yet, but in that location, it
will certainly hurt more innocent civilians.
(I just read on Yahoo that 11 were killed
and at least 30 wounded, all Iraqis, including four Iraqi
National Guardsman. All the rest were civilians. No
Americans were involved, amazingly.)
The good news recently is that the Iraqi
populace is tiring of these terrorists killing them. Its
very much easier to kill or maim civilians, either
purposefully or accidentally, than it is to kill a
well-protected, well-trained, and very alert
military. Recently, the local neighborhood councils have
begun reporting to the police and to us suspicious
characters and activity, so they can be investigated and
arrested. There has been a civilian counter-terrorist
organization begun recently. These are vigilantes who are
seeking out the violent terrorists and are simply killing
them. This seems to be a traditional, if unofficial, form of
Iraqi justice: just kill them. The tribes and clans here
dont forget when someone injures one of their members. As
brutal as this may sound, it is actually one of the best
developments to date: the people starting to rebel against
the terrorists and taking on some of the responsibility for
their own protection.
This morning it was reported that the Iraqi
police rounded up over 500 suspected terrorists over the
few nights in a huge, well-coordinated operation. They have
been doing a much better job of policing themselves
recently, as a result of our support and training and the
recent handover of sovereignty. They recently discovered and
safely detonated a huge VBIED that they discovered at a
checkpoint in town. Our guys say they still dont know how
the Iraqi National Guard new to check that particular car,
but they did! You see, they know their own people much
better than we can ever hope to. They know when a car
doesnt look right, when a person doesnt belong in a
certain neighborhood, or isnt even Iraqi at all. They know
if a Sunni is in the wrong part of town, a Shia is outside
the wrong mosque, or if someone is Iranian or Syrian at a
distance. This is the great advantage that they have over
us, who cant even speak the language, for heavens sake,
much less pick! out what mosque someone is from as they
drive by in their car! Once trained well (and they are
making great progress) they are able to protect themselves
and their people quite admirably. And again, as we continue
to find out, they dont do it our way. They have
their own techniques, hunches, customs, and sense of
justice. So be it. Its their country. They have to run it
and protect it the way that works best for them.
Still, "the word on the street" is: now that
they "own" the country again; they dont want us to leave
until the security is stable. The regular Mohammeds are
beginning to see that they can have control over their
lives, which they didnt have with Saddam, and we really do
just want to help. They are beginning to appreciate that.
So we are making some progress, too.