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March 17, 2005

STRATEGYPAGE:

Iraqi popular opinion has turned against terrorism in a big way. Apparently the key event was the revelation that Osama bin Laden had appointed Abu Musab al Zarqawi as "Emir" (leader) of al Qaeda efforts in Iraq and commanded him to go forth and kill big-time. But as suicide bombing attacks increasingly failed to reach American targets, and killed Iraqis instead, it appeared that a Saudi (bin Laden) was telling a Jordanian (Zarqawi) to kill Iraqis. This attitude never made headlines, but it slowly spread among Sunni Arab Iraqis over the last year. . . .

A big story that the media missed was that American troops operating outside the fortified camps (like the Green Zone) were a lot closer to what was going on than your average reporter (who doesn't get out much because of the danger). The combat troops, and many of the non-combat troops, deal with the danger, and Iraqis, on a daily basis. The troops saw the change in attitude among Iraqis. They also saw, in neighborhood after neighborhood, the sharp decline in attacks on coalition and Iraqi forces.

What's more, the article notes, firsthand reports from the troops via email, etc., have undermined the press's reputation, as the problems with its reporting have become apparent. Indeed.

UPDATE: This post almost immediately caused a reader to forward me a very interesting email. I don't know the sender, but it's certainly consistent with other things I've seen, and goes well beyond the general media coverage outside places like StrategyPage. Click "read more" to read it. [LATER: And to read an email from reader John Lucas about his son's experience returning to Baghdad.]

Here's the email:

I went to an AUSA dinner last night at the Ft. Hood Officers' Club to hear a speech by MG Pete Chiarelli, CG of the 1st Cav Div. He and most of the Div. have just returned from Iraq. Very informative and, surprise, the Mainstream Media (MSM) isn't telling the story. I was not there as a reporter, didn't take notes but I'll make some the points I remember that were interesting, surprising or generally stuff I had not heard before.

It was not a speech per se. He just walked and talked, showed some slides and answered questions. Very impressive guy.

1. While units of the Cav served all over Iraq, he spoke mostly of Baghdad and more specifically Sadr City, the big slum on the eastern side of the Tigris River. He pointed out that Baghdad is, in geography, is about the size of Austin. Austin has 600,000 to 700,000 people. Baghdad has 6 to7 million people.

2. The Cav lost 28 main battle tanks. He said one of the big lessons learned is that, contrary to doctrine going in, M1-A2s and Bradleys are needed, preferred and devastating in urban combat and he is going to make that point to the JCS next week while they are considering downsizing armor.

3. He showed a graph of attacks in Sadr City by month. Last Aug-Sep they were getting up to 160 attacks per week. During the last three months, the graph had flatlined at below 5 to zero per week.

4. His big point was not that they were "winning battles" to do this but that cleaning the place up, electricity, sewage, water were the key factors. He said yes they fought but after they started delivering services that the Iraqis in Sadr City had never had, the terrorist recruiting of 15 and 16 year olds came up empty.

5. The electrical "grid" is a bad, deadly joke. Said that driving down the street in a Hummv with an antenna would short out a whole block of apt. buildings. People do their own wiring and it was not uncommon for early morning patrols would find one or two people lying dead in the street, having been electrocuted trying to re-wire their own homes.

6. Said that not tending to a dead body in the Muslum culture never happens. On election day, after suicide bombers blew themselves up trying to take out polling places, voters would step up to the body lying there, spit on it, and move up in the line to vote.

7. Pointed out that we all heard from the media about the 100 Iraqis killed as they were lined up to enlist in the police and security service. What the media didn't point out was that the next day there 300 lined up in the same place.

8. Said bin Laden and Zarqawi made a HUGE mistake when bin laden went public with naming Zarqawi the "prince" of al Quaeda in Iraq. Said that what the Iraqis saw and heard was a Saudi telling a Jordainan that his job was to kill Iraqis. HUGE mistake. It was one of the biggest factors in getting Iraqis who were on the "fence" to jump off on the side of the coalition and the new gov't.

9. Said the MSM was making a big, and wrong, deal out of the religious sects. Said Iraqis are incredibly nationalistic. They are Iraqis first and then say they are Muslum but the Shi'a - Sunni thing is just not that big a deal to them.

10. After the election the Mayor of Baghdad told him that the people of the region (Middle East) are joyous and the governments are nervous.

11. Said that he did not lose a single tanker truck carrying oil and gas over the roads of Iraq. Think about that. All the attacks we saw on TV with IEDs hitting trucks but he didn't lose one. Why? Army Aviation. Praised his air units and said they made the decision early on that every convoy would have helicopter air cover. Said aviators in that unit were hitting the 1,000 hour mark (sound familiar?). Said a convoy was supposed to head out but stopped at the gates of a compound on the command of an E6. He asked the SSG what the hold up was. E6 said, "Air , sir." He wondered what was wrong with the air, not realizing what the kid was talking about. Then the AH-64s showed up and the E6 said, "That air sir." And then moved out.

12. Said one of the biggest problems was money and regs. There was a $77 million gap between the supplemental budget and what he needed in cash on the ground to get projects started. Said he spent most of his time trying to get money. Said he didn't do much as a "combat commander" because the the war he was fighting was a war at the squad and platoon level. Said that his NCOs were winning the war and it was a sight to behold.

13. Said that of all the money appropriated for Iraq, not a cent was earmarked for agriculture. Said that Iraq could feed itself completely and still have food for export but no one thought about it. Said the Cav started working with Texas A&M on ag projects and had special hybrid seeds sent to them through Jordan. TAM analyzed soil samples and worked out how and what to plant. Said he had an E7 from Belton, TX (just down the road from Ft. Hood) who was almost single-handedly rebuilding the ag industry in the Baghdad area.

14. Said he could hire hundreds of Iraqis daily for $7 to $10 a day to work on sewer, electric, water projects, etc. but that the contracting rules from CONUS applied so he had to have $500,000 insurance policies in place in case the workers got hurt. Not kidding. The CONUS peacetime regs slowed everything down, even if they could eventually get waivers for the regs.

There was more, lots more, but the idea is that you haven't heard any of this from anyone, at least I hadn't and I pay more attention than most.

Great stuff. We should be proud. Said the Cav troops said it was ALL worth it on Jan. 30 when they saw how the Iraqis handled election day. Made them very proud of their service and what they had accomplished.

It is great stuff.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Reader John Lucas emails:

On a different topic: my son just returned to Baghdad after two weeks at home. The support for him from friends and total strangers has been inspiring. Examples:

1. He and his wife went to :H&R Block to get their taxes done. When they heard that he was home on leave, they did his taxes for no charge.

2. Silver Spoon gave them some cupons for free appetizers to make up for some service problems. He asked if he could use them for that meal, since he was going back to Iraq the next day. When the manager heard that, he comped their entire meal.

3. Bear Rock cafe gave us 50% off all meals for the entire family (I think this is their standard military discount!).

4. An Iraqi friend who has family still in Baghdad asked me to convey his and his family's thanks to my son and his troops. Said the Iraqi people appreciate them.

5. His wife reports that at the Atlanta airport when she was seeing him off, people would clap as they walked down the concourse -- just like in the Budwiser commercial.

Most of the American people really do support the troops and it is a tremendous factor in keeping their morale up.

Indeed.

YET ANOTHER UPDATE: Reader Wayne Patman emails:

Last Saturday morning I saw something at Midway Airport here in Chicago that I've never seen before (I'm 58, so lived through Vietnam and its aftermath). I was sitting at a SW Airlines gate near the main terminal when I heard loud, extended clapping further down the gateway. I stood up and looked in that direction. In a few seconds, a group of 50 or 60 Army men in fatigues turned the corner and passed all of us on the way to the terminal. Everyone in the gateway passage either stopped or stood and clapped as they passed. The soldiers all looked slightly nonplussed and just continued walking. It made me proud to see Americans cheering on cheer soldiers.

Cool.

MORE: An Air Force Lt. Col. emails:

I also heard Maj Gen Chiarelli speak recently, and the e-mail you posted mirrors his comments very well. It's a fascinating talk, full of interesting asides, anecdotes, and hard-hitting truths about why the supplemental funding has been so difficult to spend. One major point that should be emphasized is that he considers infrastructure projects to be a major facet of force protection. Give the Iraqis electricity, sewage, garbage pick-up, water access, etc., and there is much less desire to kill those providing it. Quality of life improves security, and letting the Iraqis do the work (and get paid) improves their quality of life.

Indeed. Which is why I made such a big deal over the CERP program a while back. Sounds like I still should be.

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