Baghdad Rag


Letter # 6

From: Wagner, John (O-6)
Sent: Monday, January 26, 2004 10:30 AM
Subject: Baghdad Rag #6

Family and Friends

It was another tough week here in Baghdad, although not quite as bad as last week. The Bad Guys fired rockets at us three nights in a row. They have been using different places across the Tigris River as launching areas. They use the "shoot and scoot" tactics - set up, fire one or two rockets, then quickly leave. Fortunately, their rockets have not landed in the Palace compound or hit any buildings. The next day we see the hole caused by these rockets as we drive around. We lost a helicopter this week but we are not sure what caused the crash, although the investigation team has not ruled out ground fire yet. And, the Bad Guys have switched to using snipers. In a neighborhood just outside the compound, a sniper has been firing at our patrols a couple nights in a row. Our conveys going to and from the Baghdad Airport have taken sniper fire. We believe the Bad Guys plan to conduct as many attacks as possible to disrupt the transition to an Iraqi government by July.

We are planning a Memorial Service next week for the Iraqi people who were killed in last week's car bomb. Several of these worked for us here in the Palace. A number of the Iraqi workers are nervous about working or even associating with the Coalition Forces. A van of Iraqi women was attacked and three of them were killed. We have had a few Iraqis quit their jobs even though it is their only source of income. The local company that was building sandbags around our trailers has not shown up this week because his workers are afraid to work here. Last week's attack has had a traumatic impact on the locals. We are looking at different measures to help these people deal with these emotions. Our medical Clinic has been providing stress counseling to the workers who will come. We are hopeful that the Memorial Service will help the Iraqis deal with their grief and
fear. We are taking other steps to provide some security for them. Fear is a tough enemy to overcome. The Bad Guys are using it as an effective weapon to hinder our efforts. It's frustrating because it appeared that we were making some progress in both better security and reaching out to the Iraqi people. Last week's bomb is a major setback. But we continue our efforts to help the Iraqis become a democratic nation. As I said before, democracy is messy.

I had the opportunity to visit one of the Palaces of Uday Hussein, the oldest son. This palace was nicknamed the "Love Shack". At this palace, Uday held a lot of parties with his closest friends. Apparently, this is where his girlfriend of the week would live as well. This Palace was captured fairly easily by our troops last April, so the building was intact. After the war, our troops found a cellar full of alcohol, drugs, western art and clothes, and boom boxes. According to people who knew him, Uday would give out boom boxes as presents to his girlfriends. This is interesting because the Muslim religion forbids the use of alcohol, drugs, and excessive celebration. So it seems that Uday was not as good a Muslim as he professed in public.

I have now been here for 5 weeks and I have learned certain skills. I sleep lightly at night so I can listen for any incoming fire. Rocket attacks are not as big a deal as before. When we had an attack a few nights ago, we didn't even blink an eye. My office just walked down to the shelter like it was nothing. But loud noises do make us jumpy. There were some construction workers building a new office about 50 feet from our office. The workers were bringing a large wooden wall and they dropped it on the floor with a loud crash. Every person in my office ducked under our desks until we realized what it was. When I see a hole in the ground, I can tell if it is a pothole or one caused by rounds. I can even tell if the hole was created by a mortar shell or a rocket. When we are driving around the Red Zone, I look to see if there are any hidden explosives in the road up ahead. I guess this makes me a veteran.

Driving in Baghdad is an interesting experience. We have to drive to and from the Baghdad Airport to transport cargo and passengers. We also visit different locations that can be used as buildings for the new US Embassy and support buildings. We have to move quickly and relatively unnoticed. There are no traffic lights or cops, so everyone uses the unpublished rules of the road. Every two lane is turned into a three lane road, so you have to negotiate with a little less room than most of us are comfortable with. In fact, I think my vehicle has almost molded with other vehicles - didn't touch, but came real close. The traffic ebbs and flows along. It merges and exits randomly. You have to be aggressive but still
allow the other guy the right of way if he has the edge. Otherwise, you will end up in a multiple car pileup. The key is to have the nose of your vehicle in front of the other guy. If you do, you win. I was in a convoy last week as the passenger "shooter", which means I carried the M-16 rifle. My driver was speeding to stay up with the other vehicles and he cut off an Iraqi driver. Well, this driver was not happy and he sped up to express his displeasure. But, when he pulled up and saw me with my M-16, he was less disagreeable and slowed down.

We are working hard to stand up the new embassy and prepare the Iraqi people to take the reins of their government on 1 July. As you have probably read in the newspaper, we are in serious negotiations with the different factions here as to how the new government will be selected. The majority faction, the Shiites in the south and central Iraq, want to have a general election and choose the leaders directly by the people. Naturally, they have the largest number of people so that is why they favor this method. Plus, they were strongly suppressed by Saddam Hussein and the Baath Party so they are looking at paybacks. The Sunni faction, which is smaller one in the central and northern part, wants to ensure they have equal representation so they are against general elections. And the Kurds in the north have been fairly autonomous for years and they don't want to give that up. They favor a federation-type government which allows them to control their own area. Trying to find an approach acceptable to all parties is extremely difficult. We have been having lots of meetings with the different factions to hammer out an agreement. I've seen Iraqis dressed in both business suits and traditional Arab clothes come here for discussions. Some of these get pretty heated. But it has been a fascinating lesson in diplomacy watching this unfold. Our leaders are working hard to find an acceptable compromise. The stakes are high - if we don't, the country could disintegrate into civil war soon after we leave

CPA is experiencing a lot of turnover in people. We have said good-bye to a number of people this week as they rotate back to the States. These people were here starting in the late summer as CPA was first established and started to lay the groundwork. Now the next wave is coming in to carry the ball to the finish, which is the July transition to a new Iraqi government. As each person leaves, I'm struck by their sentiment. They look forward to going home to their families but I sense a feeling that they want to stay to see the results of their sacrifice. Establishing a free and democratic government is something these people have worked for and it is up to us to carry the ball to the finish line. You develop friends here that you will remember for a lifetime. I'm beginning to understand the friendships my father had with his World War II comrades. He always talked
about them in a special way - a certain bond that they had. We have that bond here.

Again, thanks to everyone for their support and prayers. All the e-mails people have sent to my family and I have helped us a lot during this separation. Until next week



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