Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Military Working Dogs

Military Working Dogs (MWD) play an important role in Full-Spectrum Stability Operations. In Iraq the US Military utilizes these dogs for a variety of roles; though they are primarily used in the role of Bomb Detection. Dogs have been used by militaries for hundreds of years. The Imperial War Museum in London has a memorial to the MWDs who died during the Great War (World War I). Military Working Dogs served the US in both World Wars, Korea, Vietnam and now in the Global War on Terror. These brave and trained dogs have paid a price, with many being maimed or killed in action. My own Brigade suffered a loss this fall when Jock was killed by a road-side bomb. These dogs save countless lives by their actions and are a true force multiplier and enabler.

As we stand down, so do our Dogs. Yet, the expertise they bring to the fight remains important. NPR recently featured a story on All Things Considered about the Iraqi Military's efforts to utilize Military Working Dogs.

Quil Lawrence is the author of the story which I will briefly quote here, though for the rest, please check out the story:

"As U.S. combat troops begin a gradual withdrawal from Iraq, they continue to train and advise Iraqi forces, which are increasingly responsible for maintaining security. But one of the most useful security tools is a hard one for Iraqis to accept — not because of technical difficulty, but because of a cultural taboo.

Sniffer dogs are universally recognized as the most effective means of detecting explosives. But in Iraq, as in much of the Arab world, dogs are considered unclean.

"We must help people understand about dogs, and showing that they can prevent bombings is a great way to change their image," says Iraqi police dog handler Salim Saeed Ahmed."

For the rest again, click this link.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Television: A Universal Medium

Television is a universal medium. The reach of television has dramatically increased over the last decade and it has truly become a universal language. True, the spoken language of the programming may change from country to country, but the content is the same.

The Iraqis love their satellite television. I think to a degree it is a status symbol, even though it is truly everywhere with electricity. The TV is always on in any office or home; that is something that is quite common in the United States as well. What I have noticed is that the Iraqis we are meeting with always leave the television on during the meeting. They may make the extra effort to pick-up the remote and mute the TV, but the TV remains on. The TV certainly draws one in and it is somewhat entertaining to watch during a meeting - the eyes being drawn (even quickly) to the TV for a quick peek.

Iraqi News Programming resembles its American counterparts. On nearly every Iraqi News Program one can see an Iraqi Flag flying in a corner, just like Fox News. Many of the reporters wear Iraqi Flag Pins, and on 30JUN, often wore Iraqi Flags, something that is also found on FOX News (sans the flag wearing). There is a news ticker at the bottom of the screen, fancy graphics, guest panels, etc. All the hallmarks of an American television news show on a reputable network (we have hereby excluded MSNBC) are there on the Iraqi news programming. Al Jazeera was the first Arab news station to attempt to mimic the western model and they even went a step further, creating an English language news station. While the content might be slanted to the Arabs, the theatrics and production is a hallmark of the West and America.

Stupid Gameshows. Let’s be honest, it is one of the keys in the American television empire and it’s a format we can easily be sucked into. The Iraqis have it too. There is one program that features reformed terrorists confessing to their crimes and asking for forgiveness (I’ve never seen it, so I don’t know if it then turns into the “Running Man” with Arnold Schwarzenegger, but I wouldn’t put it past them). The weirdest foreign game-show I’ve seen was in Italy, Casa Parola. To this day, I don’t have an idea what was going on, but there is now a close second. The Iraqis have a game-show about backgammon. It has the lights and theatrics of “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire”, a host, and a giant backgammon board that uses black and white Frisbees for the chips. I had no idea what either the host or the contestants were saying, but it had to say something. But backgammon has been turned into a TV program, much as EPSN has turned Poker into prime-time Television on ESPN 2.

When I see that, one realizes that perhaps the Iraqis are closer to being us than we would like. Yet at the same time, there are those moments that they seemed “Culturally Doomed to Fail”. But if they are, we have given them the gift of American television and they will at least be entertained by bad TV.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Security Updates

The situation continues to develop for Post-30JUN09 Security Operations. The Iraqi Security Forces continue to stand up and take greater responsibility for the security situation throughout Diyala Province and Iraq. Many expected a significant uptick in violence in the aftermath of the CF withdrawal from the cities (though the partnership with the ISF continues), but while there have been a number of spectacular (an unfortunate word choice for a mass casualty SVEST, VBIED, SVBIED attack), the security situation remains largely stable. That is a tribute to the Iraqi Security Forces. A year ago, or even six months ago, such a development would have been unthinkable, but such is the movement of progress.

Challenges still remain, that is undeniable and Iraq is not over (it won't be over as long as US Forces are in the country supporting the Government of Iraq). But the GOI and ISF are unquestionably in the lead and our primary mission is one of support for those two elements vital to a secure and stable Iraq. President Bush said a long time ago about Iraq that as the Iraqis step up, we will step down. It has perhaps taken longer than we expected, and certainly then we would have liked, but the Iraqis are stepping up. In many cases they are still eager to work with and learn from us and we are eager to impart what we can to them. It is a positive movement in the relationship that it is far more equal then it has ever been. Iraq is a Sovereign Country and we are supporting them in their fight against both internal and external threats.

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki will soon be visiting the United States. In the Iraqi Press he has been trumpeting the post-30JUN "Out of the Cities" as a victory, which he should, but he has hurt some feelings with his purposeful lack of attention to American sacrifices. Part of that anger toward him is understandable, but he is a Politician. Politicians ALWAYS say certain things to certain constituencies, it's a fact of life. While the average Iraqi is grateful for what CF have done in removing Saddam, they are also more than ready for Iraq to stand on its own two feet and that requires Maliki to say what he says. However, to the US audience, he will be providing a different message: "We have [achieved] a combined victory against terrorism, and there have been sacrifices from both sides that brought fruitful results and democracy to Iraq". He couldn't be more right. T.E. Lawrence warned his British supporters that "It is better that the Arab do things tolerably, than we do it perfectly". It is better that the Iraqis lead in security and express their independence now that they are capable of it, then those responsibilities falling upon us.

Course, the more the Iraqis lead, the less we do (which can be frustrating), but it is progress. In many ways it is what the Long War against Terrorism will look like.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Tatooine and Other Things

We just conducted an aerial reconnaissance of the northern part of Diyala Province and I saw the set for Star Wars. The only thing missing was a second CG sun, Jabba's Palace and the Sarlac Pit. Everything else was there with remote terrain, ravines and gulleys where water once flowed when Diyala was greener, small settlements (villages) established in the middle of the desert, and lonely desert highways that are sparsely traveled. It is always a treat when one has the opportunity to fly over the AO in daylight from a UH-60. As an Intel guy it is great to see from the "eye in the sky" what I read about daily. I can put a place to a name and can better visualize it in my head, even if that visualization will still have Tusken Raiders (AQIZ are definitely Tusken Raiders), Jawas and water farmers (the average Iraqis).


So a man was driving through an Iraqi Police (IP) checkpoint and was asked by the IP, "Are you Sunni or Shi'a?"

"I'm an atheist," replied the driver.

"Yeah, but are you a Sunni Atheist or a Shi'a Atheist?"

It's a funny joke, but it does explain so much of what makes people here. In the Post-Christian West (post-Christian in that one's religious affiliation no longer is an important means of self-identification, though when pressed the vast majority would self-identify as Christian), this concept seems alien, yet it is an essential part of Iraqi self-identification. That the self-identification can be and often is associated with violence is all the more tragic.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

This was originally posted in a shorter version on 4 July. This is the longer version that comprised my weekly update to family and friends.

I have always loved the way America celebrates the Fourth because it is the one-day that Americans generally let loose with an incredible display of spirit, patriotism and love of country. What is lost however, is that in many ways, everyday is a Fourth of July, because everyday the very values that our founders fought for, sought to build a nation on, are at risk. That is not meant to be an indictment in anyway; we just have a tendency I think to take what is in the Declaration of Independence, our founding charter if you were, for granted. One need only look at the divide in Europe to see the truth of that statement; the nations of Western Europe are largely weak defenders of liberty and freedom today, while the newly free nations of the former Soviet Bloc (led by stalwarts like Poland) are the European champions of Freedom. They know what the other-side of the coin bears and are loathe to return to it.

I think it is an excellent time, on the Fourth of July to re-read the words of the great Patriot Thomas Jefferson (who founded one political party, and the ideological underpinnings of the other) that have been immortalized in our Declaration:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.


We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.

The power of those words to move are just as vibrant today as they were in the hearts of American Patriots in that fateful summer of 1776. It would warm the heart and spirit of many through the hard winters that saw tragedies (and triumphs) like Valley Forge. As Americans, we are inheritors of that legacy and we will pass it down to those who come after us. Our pledge is that with the guidance and protection of Divine Providence (One Nation Under God), we will ensure that the Blessings of Liberty will be passed to the next generation and are not less than what we inherited.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Post-30JUN09: Out of the Cities

As many of you are aware, under the terms of the Bi-Lateral Security Agreement or SOFA, all CF are to be out of Iraqi cities NLT 30JUN09. While the definition of cities does allow for some leeway, CF are supporting our Iraqi partners and re-positioning our own forces so we can best support the Iraqi Ground Force Commanders. My Battalion's movement to FOB ________ was just part of a larger plan to best position US Forces to adapt to the changing environment of post-30JUN09, but also to support our Iraqi partners to the best degree possible.

30JUN09 is a great day for Iraq, because they truly are taking the lead in all security operations in the country and CF take yet another step to the rear. We will still be there to support, train, and mentor the Iraqis, but the fight is increasingly becoming their own, with CF merely serving as an important enabler. We bring many tools to the fight that the Iraqis do not yet have in their own right (Attack Aviation, Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, Military Working Dogs, etc), but we can leverage those assets to provide the critical support necessary to assisting the Iraqis in their own combat operations. It is indeed a great day for Iraq and a momentous step forward.

There will be growing pains and conflicts and disagreements over interpretation of the SOFA. Despite those, this remains an important moment for Iraq and the U.S. Mission in Iraq.

There will likely be violence ahead as Anti-Iraqi Forces seek to take advantage of perceived weakness, but that should not be construed as incredible strength on the part of the terrorists and insurgents. The ISF is making progress and we will continue that path of partnership together for the rest of our deployment.