Letter # 11
From: Wagner, John (O-6)
Sent: Monday, March 1, 2004
Subject: Baghdad Rag #11
Dear Family and Friends,
It's been a very eventful and hectic week which is why I am late getting the Rag out. First, the good news. Our Force Protection folks believe we may be turning the corner on the security situation in our favor. The number of attacks throughout Iraq had decreased for the month of February. The rocket and morter attacks have been dropping off. The CPA compound has not taken any rounds for over 3 weeks. And the number of attacks around us has dropped somewhat compared to the previous three months. Western Baghdad has the highest number of attacks. We still are experiencing a large number of roadside bombs, called Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs), about 40 in Baghdad. But what is really significant, and is giving us hope, is that the number of IEDs found and neutralized is increasing. The reason this number is so large is the local Iraqis are informing us of these bombs ahead of time, allowing us to neutralize them. We were afraid that the attacks on the locals may turn them against us. And, at first, this was true. As I said in earlier Rags, several Iraqis working for us quit because they were afraid. But, the magnitude of the attacks earlier in the month, and the fact that a number of innocent civilians and children were killed, is working against the Bad Guys. You can sense that the majority of the Iraqis are tired of the attacks and the killing. They are providing us with information and cooperating in locating possible bombs and suspects. We have not seen a decrease in the number of Iraqis volunteering for the police or army. The strategy of terror does not seem to be working. Instead, I believe it has had the opposite effect. And the proof is in the increase level of cooperation from the locals. Our security forces have had significant successes in capturing and neutralizing the Bad Guys. We are hopeful that we are gaining the upper hand.
Unfortunately, while we have made gains, Iraq is still a very dangerous place to live and work. We had a memorial service for the Iraqi translator killed in a CPA convoy last week. And we still are experiencing some rocket attacks, especially at the airport. We lost some of our Allied friends to bombs, including two Estonian soldiers. Also, one of our convoys was almost struck by a RPG a few days ago. It was our usual convoy coming from the airport to the compound. One of the vehicles had a new Marine Lt Col coming to replace someone in the office right next to me. The driver saw the flash of the RPG coming at the vehicle, but he was able to speed up as the rocket missed them and struck the ground beyond. What a welcome this guy received. And we lost a helicopter with both pilots, although we think this was mechanical failure versus ground fire. The investigation is still ongoing. So we still have a ways to go. And the Bad Guys will still do what they can to make life challenging for us. But the news is encouraging.
We had the Assistant Secretary of State for Installions visit us this week. His job is to determine where the new embassy and support buildings would be located and what role the Palace would play with the new US diplomatic compound. We spent all week preparing for his visit yesterday, which is a big reason why I'm late getting the Rag out. But some important decisions were made. First, the site of the new embassy and Ambassador's residence was selected. It will be just a few miles north of the CPA compound but still within in the Green Zone. This will be where the new Ambassador will hold his official functions and conduct business with the new Iraqi government. The Palace compound will become an "annex" to the embassy. We will convert the north wing to house most of the diplomatic staff and most of the foreign officers and economic policy section will be here. Also, we are recommending that a new joint military-State organization to replace CPA be formed to continue supporting the diplomatic community for another year. I think reality is setting in that the manpower and funding to continue all the activities we are now doing is too much for State to absorb by July 1. They need more time and this organization will help them continue the transition as we proceed to standing up the diplomatic complex being planned. This will be the largest complex for the State Department to date, and it will require the coordination of most, if not all, agencies within the US government. We have set into motion a three-year plan to build facilities to house this complex, hoping to have it completed by late 2007. It's a good plan and I feel privileged to play a small role in helping to formulate these plans.
One other note of interest. I can sense the morale of the people here rising with the events of the past week. The decrease in attacks, and the information that we are successfully preventing these, is making a difference. And the support we see from the Iraqi people helps a lot. A month ago, we were taking a beating and it was having an impact on us. Now, we are cautiously optimistic that we are turning the corner. We realize that things can go south overnight, and we are still vigilant. But, there is a lot of progress being made. Also, seeing the plans for the new US diplomatic compound crystallize is invigorating. Some decisions have been finally made and we have a plan that everyone is working towards. We still have a ways to go. The security situation is unstable and, unfortunately, some of our soldiers will continue to earn their Purple Hearts. But we have made a lot of progress and our confidence is rising that there is an end state of a free Iraqi country in sight. And we are helping to achieve it. You can be proud of your military personnel - we will stay the course until we finish the job.
It has been a fascinating experience to help plan and set into motion the effort to build a new Iraq and US presence here. While I miss my family and friends, I'm glad to be here to help be a part of history. I have decided that I want to come back in about five years to see the results of our hard work and sacrifice. I think we have turned the corner.
My office and I have received a number of care packages. We want to express our sincere appreciation for your kindness and generosity. Receiving these packages is a big morale boost and we thank each and every one of you for taking the time to send us things. Thanks you very much and I will see you next week.\John
JOHN F. WAGNER, Colonel, USAF
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