Letter # 9
From: Wagner, John (O-6)
Sent: Sunday, February 15, 2004 9:20 AM
Subject: Baghdad Rag #9
Family and Friends
This was a bad week in Baghdad, probably one of the worst. We had two major car bombs over a 24-hour period. The casualty rate was over 100 killed. Most of these were Iraqis who were being recruited for the new Iraqi army and police force. We also had 6 rocket attacks against our camp at the Baghdad airport. And a lot of small arms fire close to the Palace. The compound is right on the bank of the Tigris River. The Bad Guys sometimes shoot at us from the other side then hide among the population. The same thing with the rocket attacks. And a truck tried to ram one of our checkpoints and breech our security. Fortunately, our guards were able to stop the truck before it penetrated the barriers. With the UN team in country and the count down to the establishment of the new Iraqi government, the Bad Guys have really stepped up their attacks. They are increasingly attacking soft targets, such as the recruiting stations. After the second attack on Wednesday, my deputy went down with some others to the recruiting station to assess the damage. It had been raining the night before and the road was flooded in some areas. At the location, there was a large hole in the road and articles of clothing and debris was scattered everywhere. You could also see blood in the puddles of water on the street. It was not a pleasant sight.
The mood here is one of anger and frustration. We knew when we came here that this was a war zone and to expect it to be dangerous. As long as we know who the enemy is, we can deal with the dangers. But the Bad Guys shoot and hide among the civilians. This makes it very difficult to fight back. The Bad Guys don't wear uniforms and use civilians as their shields. And they are willing to kill indiscrimitely unarmed civilians who only want to help rebuild their country. I'm proud that our guys show a lot of restraint and are very careful in returning fire so not to injure innocent civilians. Unfortunately, that also means we have to take a lot. The Bad Guys are turning more toward sniper fire. They even shot at some of our guys who were jogging by the river. It forces us to be constantly vigilant.
As you probably saw on the news, the UN team has been traveling around the country. My office is their support for all military air flights and we have had a very busy week planning and coordinating their travels. It has made for long days but it has been fascinating to watch. We were privy to some of their discussions and gained some insight as to how they are working to build a consensus among the different groups, especially the Shiites. Watching this unfold helps give us the incentive to continue our efforts to rebuild Iraq. Even though there is still a lot to do, you are able to sometimes see some progress. The events of this week have helped us stay focused on our objective. It looks like the UN team is building a consensus among the different Iraqi factions here. If so, then we stand a good chance to make the 1 July transition. For a lot of us, that's our ticket home.
I had the opportunity to tour the headquarters of the Baath Party, called Believers Palace. This is located only two blocks from the Palace. It was destroyed by JDAMs during the war. This was the first target hit when we had intelligence that Saddam Hussein was meeting here and we tried to take him out early. I toured the ruins of the building and saw the holes in the ceiling where the JDAMs penetrated. Supposedly four missiles struck the building and you can see four holes in the ceiling. JDAMs penetrate deep in the building before detonating. We were able to find three craters where the missiles exploded after penetrating several floors. We could not find a fourth crater so the speculation is there is an unexploded JDAM still in the building. What makes this building fascinating is the entire place is just a shell. On the outside it looks like a regular palace. But inside there is nothing above ground. The real purpose of this building was to hide Saddam's bunker. The bunker is deep in the ground but we were able to walk down inside. When we went in, we were amazed that the bunker was not damaged very much. We went through about half and saw Saddam's living quarters, medical clinic, kitchen, and large conference room. This room was one where Saddam met with his inner circle. Some of the TV pictures of Saddam at a conference table were taken here. The bunker was made of reinforced steel and concrete. It sits on shock absorbers which cushion the bunker from bombs. Our experts believe it could have survived a small nuclear explosion. The people could have lived down there for days if necessary. But, most of the equipment was made in European countries, such as Germany, Finland, and Sweden. And the directions on operation are all in English. Very little of the equipment came from Arab countries.
Last week I mentioned that it was rainy and chilly. The past two days it has been real windy. That created a major dust storm here. Today, the dust was blowing so hard you could not see the sky for several hours. At ground level you could see about 100 yards and that's all. A number of our planes were grounded coming in from Kuwait. The forecast is for this storm to blow through tonight so we can resume flying tomorrow. The one advantage of this storm is we may have a quiet night tonight. If we can't see anything, then neither can the Bad Guys. So we may get an uninterrupted night sleep for a change.
We have been gearing up for the transition of the new Iraqi government and the establishment of a US embassy. We have had over 200 people arrive here over the last couple of weeks. Most of these were State Department people coming in to help with the transition. I now have a State person in my office who is learning about the functions of my office. Eventually, she will take over as the logistics officer for the embassy. We anticipate more civilians coming in to replace the military here within CPA. The Army units under V Corps will still be here for some time to continue improving the security situation. It is within CPA that the changes will occur. Our organization is slated to stand down on 1 July and the new embassy will be formally established. Most likely, the change over won't be as smooth as it appears. There will still be some military here after 1 July but we hope to continue decreasing our presence and allow the State Department take over. It is fascinating to help build a new embassy from scratch. State and the military are two different cultures, and we have some growing pains, but everyone is motivated to make this work and do the right thing. I am confident we will make this work.
I continue to receive a lot of support, e-mails, and packages from friends. I want to thank everyone for thinking of us and the support you have provided. It means a lot. Until next week
JOHN F. WAGNER, Colonel, USAF
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