Letter # 10
From: Wagner, John (O-6)
Sent: Sunday, February 24, 2004
Subject: Baghdad Rag #10
Dear Family and Friends,
We continue to be harassed by the Bad Guys. We have not had any rocket attacks against us here at the Republican Guard Palace for a couple of weeks. However, our forces at Baghdad International Airport (BIAP) have been stuck numerous times as well as some other logistics bases around the Green Zone. What we have experienced are car bombs, roadside bombs (called Improvised Explosive Devices (IED)) and small arms fire. One of our bases in northern Baghdad was struck earlier in the week with dual car bombs. The first car was supposed to crash the barrier and explode, creating a gap for the second, and more packed, vehicle to penetrate the compound and exploded somewhere in the center. Fortunately for us, the second car inadvertently rammed the first car, causing both to detonate before penetrating the outer checkpoint. We suffered no fatalities but it could have been a lot worse if the second car had penetrated the base. We've also been warned to look under our vehicles. The Bad Guys are reported to be placing devices under them. A new wrinkle we have to consider.
Two CPA conveys were struck by explosive devices this week. The first was struck by an IED on its way to Kirkuk. My deputy was originally intending to go but had to cancel at the last minute when I became ill and she had to attend several meetings in my place. Fortunately, no one was killed or injured and the convey returned to Baghdad instead. The second convey was also struck by an IED but also came under some ground fire as well. This time, we suffered a fatality, one of our Iraqi translators. Because of the ground fire, the colonel in charge directed everyone else to quickly pull back, leaving the body behind. Under the circumstances, it was the right decision to make. Everyone else came back safely and his decision saved the lives of the rest of the members. But he was very shook up over the incident and a number of us have offered our support. Fortunately, we were able to recover the body and had it transported back to our small hospital here in the Green Zone. Most likely, we will have another memorial service next week. We seem to be having these services too frequently.
CPA is receiving a large influx of people, mostly people from the State Department who are helping with the transition to a new embassy. I now have two State Dept civilians working in my office. They are learning about the logistical procedures we have here and how to adapt these for the new embassy. We have had nearly 400 people come into CPA within the last month. The former chapel, which we converted into a big bedroom, now has nearly 300 people sleeping there. We have set up two tents outside to hold another 100. We are busting at the seams with people. As we get closer to the transition date, we should be sending more of the military home and the numbers should come down. But, for the next few months we will be working and living on top of one another. Some decisions are being made and plans for the new embassy are starting to take shape. First, the new embassy will be in a different building than the Republican Palace. The building selected will be a short distance from here and the new ambassador and his staff will reside there. Second, the Palace will be an annex to the embassy. The reason is a lot of bad things happened here when Saddam and his cronies were in power. I have already mentioned the one story about some of Saddam/'s dinner parties in which he had his suspected enemies poisoned. In another room, which we now use as our mess hall, he brought in a suspected traitor into the middle of the room. Saddam told the person he was being honored for his service and he wanted to have the other party members witness it. Instead, he had the person killed by several Dobermans. Because of these atrocities and others, it was decided that it would not be appropriate to have our official embassy here. The building will continue to house the support staff until other facilities can be built. Then the Palace will be tuned over to the Iraqi government for their use. We have a lot of new people here that have just come within the last month. Most of these have not been here when we had any rockets or mortars hit the Green Zone. It may be a rude awakening to some of these folks if and when we are hit. And we think we will. CPA within the Palace is the most strategic target in Iraq. We think it is only a matter of time before the Bad Guys try again. Those of us that have been here awhile, and experienced previous rocket attacks, are a little nervous of the lack of activity.
The Iraqis working with us have been particularly hit by the Bad Guys. As I mentioned last week, two car bombs were directed at the new Iraqi police and army. This week, another attack against an Iraqi police station was the target of a raid. We are concerned that these attacks will frighten other Iraqis from working with us. So far, we have not seen a let up in Iraqi volunteers for the security forces. We hope this continues and these attacks will backfire against the Bad Guys. We continue to help the Iraqi people in any way we can, big and small. We provide jobs to the locals who help pump money into their economy and enable them to support their families. The infrastructure is being rebuilt and modernizes. Every Iraqi I talk to is glad we came and happy that Saddam is gone. And they are concerned about their security so they don't want us to leave right away. They still want to control their own government and take some control of their lives. But they recognize they need our help until their own security forces are strong enough. I have never had an Iraqi tell me they want Americans to leave.
I continue to receive words of support and encouragement. And care packages. Everything that people have sent has been greatly appreciated. My office has enjoyed all the goodies people have sent and it has meant a lot to have the support of the home front. Again, thanks to everyone and I'll see you next week.
JOHN F. WAGNER, Colonel, USAF
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