Sunday, March 08, 2009

You deserve a falafel break today

Our correspondent reports that falafel sandwich shops are everywhere. The other day he and a patrol of 30 soldiers walked past one, and it being lunch time, and their MRE-jaded palats yearning for something exotic, decided to spread some foreign economic assistance around. They placed an order for 30 sandwiches-- the sandwiches consist of 3-4 little fried bean meal balls with onions, tomato, parsley and secret sauce in a pita pocket-- the Big Mac of Iraq. The shop owner was delighted.

As reported here before, soldiers regularly spend money in shops buying drinks, sandwiches, sweets, etc. as a practical matter and to promote good international relations. Our correspondent has never gotten sick from this road food, and reports the shops are quite health conscious, with the preparers wearing latex gloves when handling the food. Maybe the local chamber of commerce runs classes in how to appeal to soldiers.

Sometimes the order is so large that the owners have to slip out the back to buy supplies at the corner grocer. But the troops are patient and grateful for the rest. It would be impolite to complain or leave because of having to wait a few minutes longer.

A visit from the media

Our correspondent was out and about with his squad on patrol one day last week, when a convoy pulled aside them, and civilians poured out along with a Colonel. TV cameras abounded. A network news reporter (female) was visiting and doing a story about the situation, and our correspondent's patrol happened to be one of the few out, so they were picked. There was a flurry of activity, and our correspondent was amazed how many people were required to take a few shots. Not cottoning much to such goings on, he hung back bemused until the media circus moved along and let him get back to work. Unfortunately he did not have his camera along. Maybe next time.

Iraq and $$$$$$$$$$$$

Our correspondent telephoned Saturday. Indeed, there were troubles at his base. A recent blog entry from a journalist embedded at the base said one soldier had been killed and 24 rockets hit the base. Our correspondent expressed surprise that so many rockets had hit. Didn’t seem like it at the time. You never know for sure, but it’s amazing how little gets into the mainstream media.

Meanwhile his work continues as he travels outside the wire every day. It’s not terribly interesting because most of the time is spent waiting for the Iraqi police or army to decide to do something. It gives pause to wonder why so many troops will be needed over the next 12 months. The Iraqi police/military are happy the U.S. troops remain, but probably because the U.S. military is so generous with funds. Brand new Ford and Chevy pickups are sprouting like crocuses in the spring. Iraqi chop shops weld machine gun mounts to the bed and they become the poor man’s Bradley fighting vehicle. In true U.S. fashion, they even argue about which is best, Chevy or Ford. The consensus seems to be Chevy. “Ford no good,” he hears a lot. Poor Ford.

Our correspondent feels that if U.S. troops are sent home, but the money keeps flowing, the peace process would accelerate, save the U.S. billions and lower casualties and violence on all sides. Sounds like this should be a new pillar of our foreign policy. Send money, not troops. This is how Saudi Arabia and other Middle East oil barons work, and they’ve managed to tie the U.S. into a pretzel knot in both Afghanistan and Iraq for a miniscule fraction of the U.S. military costs in both of these ventures.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

What happens when the U.S. military leaves Iraq?

Our correspondent's wife sent this thoughtful article that digs deeper than what you'll find in most mainstream media.


Our correspondent has not been in touch much recently. From incomplete news media reports, we know there have been assaults in his area. When there are assaults, standard procedure at military bases is to shut down all non-essential communications, which means no phone calls or Internet access. This prevents the news media/families/others from receiving thousands of bits of very possibly incorrect information from personnel who speak from hearsay, gossip, emotion, etc. Sometimes the shut down lasts several days while the facts are sorted out and then distributed. No news is the best news.

So we wait, and....