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The Daily Iraqi Cheese Grader
December 30, 2005

Mood:  accident prone
Topic: The US Military
For nearly 12 months, every time I went from my compound to the Palace, I had to pass through a Marine checkpoint. During that time, I have seen the Marines beef up the checkpoint. At first it was simply a bunch of Marines who were supported by two machinegun nests perhaps 30 yards from the checkpoint. Then, they added speed bumps. Shortly after that, they added a lot of jersey barriers. Then, they added thick metal wires that could be used block off the road in an emergency.

The Embassy closed the check point because the felt that the Green Zone was safe enough that they could no longer justify keeping the Marines there, and they are apparently relying on nearly security contractors to provide the level support that they believe is adequate. All the same, I would rather have a small group of Marines serving as a line of security around the Palace than relying on a bunch of security contractors who can't speak English.

And in other news . . . according to early election returns, Iraqi voters choose sectarian parties rather than one of the handful of nation-wide parties. Nine out of 10 Iraqis in the Shiite Muslim provinces of the south voted for religious Shiite parties, according to the early results from the Independent Electoral Commission of Iraq. Nine out of 10 Iraqis in Sunni Muslim Arab areas of central and western Iraq voted for Sunni parties. Nine out of 10 Iraqis in the Kurdish provinces of the north voted for Kurdish candidates.

Posted by alohafromtim at 11:41 PM EST
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Topic: The US Military
Marines in Anbar province refer to Iraqis as Dirka Dirkas. The reference comes from a film called Team America. The film, which was created by the duo that brought us South Park, has cheesy puppet that are sent throughout the globe to fight terrorism. It is a strong satire about American politics and Americans in general. In the film, most Arabs say things like "Dirka Dirka" rather than actual Arabic words.

Posted by alohafromtim at 10:04 AM EST
Updated: December 30, 2005 10:10 AM EST
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October 4, 2005

Topic: The US Military
It is hard to ignore the presence of helicopters while living inside the Green Zone. Although I now work inside a building with super thick walls that makes it nearly impossible to hear them, whenever I leave that little hardened building, I hear and see them. They fly very low to the ground in an effort to prevent the bad guys from seeing them until they fly right overhead. This makes it really hard for the bad guys to get enough time to properly aim their weapons at the helicopters.

The other night, as I watched two helicopters fly right over my compound, I noticed that the red nighttime warning light on my compound's communication tower had burned out. I realized that because the helicopters fly so low, there was a chance that they could hit the tower and crash into my compound. The idea of an American helicopters crashing inside my compound did not give me a "warm and fuzzy" feeling.

And in somewhat related news . . . the US Air Force's top general recently said that American warplanes would have to support Iraq's fledgling security forces well after American ground troops withdraw from Iraq. This long-term presence of US airpower is reminiscent of the British insistence for keeping their airports inside Iraq long after its international mandate ended.

Posted by alohafromtim at 12:29 AM EDT
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September 6, 2005

Topic: The US Military
Before the war in Iraq, United States Central Command (USCENTCOM) issued an order that attempted to conform the behavior of soldiers in the Middle East to the cultural norms of the more conservative countries in the Arab world. Now that thousands of soldiers are stationed in the Middle East, the rule has been one of the most dreaded orders in Iraq. The order, known as General Order Number One, "is applicable to all United States military personnel, and to civilians serving with, employed by, or accompanying the Armed Forces of the United States," in Iraq.

According to General Order Number One, "current operations and deployments place United States Armed Forces into areas where local laws and customs prohibit or restrict certain activities that are generally permissible in western societies. Restrictions upon these activities are essential to fostering US / host nation relations and combined operations of US and friendly forces." To that end, the order prohibits the:

Purchase, possession, use or sale of privately owned firearms, ammunition, and explosives.

Entrance into a Mosque, or other site of Islamic religious significance by non-Moslems unless directed to do so by military authorities.

Introduction, possession, sale, transfer, manufacture or consumption of any alcoholic beverage. (Thankfully, this rule doesn't apply to me!)

Introduction, purchase, possession, use, sale, transfer, manufacture, or consumption of any controlled substances, or drug paraphernalia.

Introduction, possession, transfer, sale, creation or display of any pornographic or sexually explicit photograph, videotapes, movie, drawing, book, magazine, or similar representations.

Gambling of any kind.

Removing, possessing, selling, defacing, or destroying archeological artifacts or national treasures.

Adopting as pets or mascots, caring for, or feeding any type of domestic or wild animal.

Sexual contact with foreign and local nationals.

Cohabitation of males and females except for lawfully married spouses.

Posted by alohafromtim at 11:49 PM EDT
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July 19, 2005

Topic: The US Military
At many military bases throughout Iraq, the US military uses a special green hand sanitizer that does not require water. It is green and smells fairly nice. Perhaps restaurants back in the states should install nifty hand sanitizer in their bathrooms.

Posted by alohafromtim at 3:01 PM EDT
Updated: July 13, 2005 12:50 AM EDT
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July 15, 2005

Topic: The US Military
Here are a few random quotes that I found in a bathroom at Camp Stryker outside of Baghdad.

"I have killed in the name of Bush. Forgive me father."

"Why did they send me back?"

"F_ck Iraq and the people that crawled out of it."

"Kill them all."

"The Mambo was here."

"Byro loves c_cks."

"Here I am sitting on the a can giving birth to another American."

"F_ck Sadr City."


"At least Bush know how to get out of Vietnam - cowardice."

"You f_ckers need to stop writing in here; it's un-American.

Posted by alohafromtim at 3:01 PM EDT
Updated: July 18, 2005 2:06 PM EDT
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July 13, 2005

Mood:  irritated
Topic: The US Military
Sigh . . . sometime working in Iraq really stinks.

All I wanted to do was get from the Green Zone to Amman, Jordan to do some site visits and then take a short rest break in Rome. Sadly, things proved way more difficult than I expected.

I took a very late Rhino run (I left around 2am) from the Green Zone to Camp Stryker near the Baghdad International Airport (BIAP). I slept for a few hours, skipped off to the camp’s dining facility, and then convinced someone from KBR to drive me the airport terminal. As soon as I arrive at the airport, the winds began to pick up. Then, sand started to dance in the air. When a sandstorm starts, generally the airport closes down.

I frantically called coworkers back at my compound to find out if my flight had been cancelled. Sadly, no one knew anything. Eventually, I gave up all hope of catching my original flight. I began work on option 2 – taking a military flight to Amman.

Getting from the "civilian" side of the airport to the "military" side of the airport is nearly impossible. I can’t just jump into a taxi. I need someone connected with the U.S. government to move me around because of the security risks of going with anyone else. However, I had a very hard time finding anyone who could take me to the military side of the airport. All the phone numbers that I was given were useless. Eventually I found someone from KBR who called one of his buddies, who agreed to take me to the military air terminal.

The military terminal, referred to as the PAX, is a dusty barren strip of land next to the BIAP runway. When I arrived, I technically showed up too late to ride on the flight, but I convinced them to put me on the manifest. Then, I waited . . . and waited . . . and waited. There was no where to go. I had to wait near the runway because the flight could leave at any minute.

There were two white "waiting room" tents, which technically were air conditioned, but sitting inside the dusty tent with 100 other sweating soldiers, I didn't feel like it was air conditioned. The tent was very hot, and I felt miserable. To make things worse, the chairs in the waiting room tents were small and unforgiving. Many soldiers decided to simply sleep on the floor.

The dust storm never let up, and after six hours, the military officially cancelled the flight. I had to spend another night on a cot at Camp Stryker in hopes that the dust storm would die off in time for Thursday's flight.

Posted by alohafromtim at 3:01 PM EDT
Updated: July 14, 2005 12:55 AM EDT
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July 9, 2005

Mood:  crushed out
Topic: The US Military
Although it would seem logical to assume that US soldiers would only drive military vehicles (humvees, tanks, large tucks, etc), many soldiers working inside the Green Zone drive sport utility vehicles (SUVs). Presumably the Green Zone is safe enough for soldiers to drive around without any major fear of an attack or an IED.

The U.S. military isn't the only group driving SUVs inside the Green Zone. SUVs are the most common vehicle used by U.S. government employees, reconstruction contractors, and other embassies. There are so many SUVs in Iraq, it is very weird seeing a car, and when I do, generally it is almost always being driven by an Iraqi.

Posted by alohafromtim at 11:42 PM EDT
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June 27, 2005

Topic: The US Military
American soldiers in Iraq are not allowed to purchase beer or pornography. However, soldiers are young, and frequently purchase things they should not purchase. In an effort to convince soldiers to give up their contraband, the military has erected amnesty boxes where soldier can drop off their contraband without anyone asking any questions.

And in other news . . . The U.S. military plans to expand Iraq's prisons because they are bursting at the seams with new suspected insurgents.

Posted by alohafromtim at 10:33 PM EDT
Updated: June 27, 2005 10:36 PM EDT
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June 21, 2005

Topic: The US Military
The U.S. military likes to report the number of "captured" insurgents. Consequently, every day American news also stories focus on the number of captured insurgents. It's a shame that the military and the press focus on the number of captured insurgents because it is a very misleading statistic. The military captures lots of suspect insurgents, but many of these suspected insurgents aren't guilty.

I have a friend up in Mosul who recently told me that the military captures dozens of suspected insurgents every night. Within 24 hours of their capture, most of them go through a quick judicial proceeding to determine if they are real insurgents or merely average Iraqis in the wrong place at the wrong time. Most of the time, the presiding "judge" determines that the captured Iraqis can go free. When the court determines that a suspected insurgent is a real security risk, the U.S. military sends the suspect to a long-term detention center where American intelligence officers can conduct more thorough interrogations.

Sadly, some American soldiers in Mosul recently made a mistake and forgot to separate the "suspected insurgents" from those who were deemed to be serious security risks. Now, because they military can no longer determine who belongs to what group, it has decided to simply hold all of them indefinitely.

Posted by alohafromtim at 11:47 PM EDT
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April 17, 2005

Topic: The US Military
When you enter into the International Zone one of the first things you see is a giant 60 ton, steel encased depleted uranium armored Abram tank. Its long 120mm barrel stares down everything that enters from the Red Zone. It is a clear reminder to anyone thinking about storming the gates that the U.S. military has a whole lot of firepower available to it.

Even though these tanks are pretty damn tough, they are a favorite target of the bad guys out in the field. The insurgents love to take one down because it is a sign that they can "defeat" the powerful US military. I guess they are trying petty hard by using really big IEDs. Still, of the more than 1,100 tanks in use in Iraq, most have been hit but only 1 percent have been damaged enough that they could not eventually return to battle.

Posted by alohafromtim at 11:13 PM EDT
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April 15, 2005

Mood:  smelly
Topic: The US Military
You can always count on one thing when you get the Army, Marines, Navy, and Air Force together in a big war . . . they like to talk trash about the other services. Even if they can't see each other and speak face to face, they will scribble graffiti anywhere they can to make sure the other services know who's the best.

When I recently spent the evening at Camp Stryker, which is a large tent city near the Baghdad International Airport, I went to a port-a-john and what did I see, graffiti written by Marines and army soldiers. The graffiti covered the whole port-o-john. Some of it was humorous and some of it was crude and some of it didn't make any sense at all. One of friends even mused that these scribbles could be a form of modern free-verse poetry.

And in other news . . . the GAO recently determined that the U.S. military doesn't have an adequate method for tacking the money spent in Iraq.

Posted by alohafromtim at 11:31 PM EDT
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April 10, 2005

Topic: The US Military
I live on a U.S. government compound right next to the official US chancery, which was formerly a Baathist residence. Although the hub of the State Department's activities in Iraq occur within Saddam's old palace, the chancery is the official seat of the U.S. presence in Iraq.

The chancery is protected by a U.S. Marine Security Guard Battalion. While Global Security guards have the primary responsibly for protecting my compound, the Marines are an added layer of security. Periodically during the course of the day, the Marines wander through my compound. (Keep in mind that I live inside the International Zone so there many more layers of security outside my compound.)

Unlike the Global Security guards who carry simple M-4s and pleasant smiles, the Marines generally have a harder, more serious image and frequently carry weapons that carry a larger punch in a close combat situation, such as a shotgun. The Marines also have much better training. The security guards have a few years of experience as police officers in third world countries and perhaps a few weeks of training. The Marines have been trained to be some of the best soldiers in the world.

A few nights ago, while the Marines were making their rounds, I was sitting on the porch of one of the hardened houses drinking a beer. Seeing my friends enjoying a jovial evening while the marines slowly walked through the compound wearing 20 pounds of body armor, I felt a little spoiled.

One of my friends felt the same way, so he called the soldiers over and offered him some soda and snacks. These two Marines were glad to talk to someone other than the other soldiers in their platoon. They also thanked us for offering a few cans of beer, but they couldn't even take a slip because they are prohibited from drinking any alcohol in country. (Though later in the evening one of them did drink a little bit of beer.)

Standing there with two young Marines, I realized that back in the States there probably won't be any real connection between us. I have only fired a gun once in my life and would never join military. All the same, in Iraq, a lot of differences melt away. We are all just simple Americans trying to get through our tours in Iraq.

Posted by alohafromtim at 11:46 PM EDT
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April 9, 2005

Topic: The US Military
Each war seems to have some piece of hardware that sticks out more than anything else and becomes synonymous with that war. During the Vietnam War, it was the Huey Helicopter. In the First Gulf War, it was precision guided bombs. For this war, the humvee is the leading candidate.

Regardless of where I travel in Iraq, I see humvees. They are one of the most common vehicles on any military base. The International Zone is filed with them. Most escorted convoys have humvees, and PSD (mercenaries) even use them.

There are about 17 different versions of the High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle (HMMWV or "Hum-Vee"). The humvee can be configured to become a troop carrier, armament carrier, ambulance, TOW missile carrier, or a scout vehicle. It weighs about 5,000 pounds, can race up to 65 miles per hours, and gets a meager 5 miles per gallon.

The most popular version of the humvee in Iraq is the "uparmored humvee." Because the basic humvee is very susceptible to small arms fire and improvised explosive devices (IEDs), the military decided to add additional armor to the basic model in an attempt to offer troop more protection. Since the start of the war, the U.S. military has ordered approximately 10,000 uparmored humvees.

When we leave Iraq, I'm sure we will leave tons of things behind, include some humvees. I wonder if the Iraqis will use them or destroy them in an attempt to forget the occupation.

Posted by alohafromtim at 11:38 PM EDT
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April 4, 2005

Topic: The US Military
Is the US military finally getting things under control? Are the fledgling Iraqis security forces slowly beginning to make a difference? Recently, there have been enough "good" stories about these two questions that I think the Bush Administration might be getting ready to say that the insurgency, while still able to stage deadly attacks throughout the country, is breathing its last gasps.

I read a report the other day that noted that U.S. casualty data for March 2005 shows that only 39 American and coalition troops were killed during the month - the lowest total since February 2004. (However, Iraqi military losses are generally three times higher than US losses.) Military leaders are now stressing that the insurgency is relying more heavily on non-Iraqis, and attacks inside Baghdad have been slowly pushed out to the outskirts of the city. The United Kingdom's defense chiefs are reportedly planning to reduce the size of the British military force in Iraq from 9,000 to 3,500 troops within 12 months as part of a phased withdrawal from Iraq, and the US military will make a similar assessment this summer to determine if they can reduce the number of troops in Iraq. I have even seen a non-military planning document that seems to suggest that Iraq will leave its transitional stage by the beginning of 2007.

There are also odd little stories out there about local Iraqi who finally feel they can trusttrust their local police officers and members of the Iraqi military, and let's not forget that highly sensational story about a week ago where an average Iraqi stood up and took arms against a pack of insurgents that walked by his house. Some extreme anti-occupation Sunnis have even hinted that they want to become more engaged in the political process.

All of this could be easily spun by the Bush Administration to suggest that "success" is slowly emerging in Iraq. Maybe, just maybe, after two long violent years we might begin to see the first hints of the Bush Administration's "end game" for the occupation of Iraq in the coming weeks. Of course, one good Tet-style offensive by the insurgents and all these hints of optimism will come crashing down. Plus, there is enough bad things happening here to fill an aircraft carrier.

Posted by alohafromtim at 11:43 PM EDT
Updated: April 5, 2005 4:56 AM EDT
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March 29, 2005

Topic: The US Military

While traveling inside the International Zone from the Convention Center back to my compound, I was stopped by an uparmored humvee. It had parked itself right in the middle of the road. The gunner poked his body through the top of the vehicle and pointed his mean looking machine gun at all the cars that patiently waited for the humvee to continue on its way.

Off to the side of the road I noticed a soldier inspecting a pile of rubbish. I think he was searching for an improvised explosive device (IED). IEDs are essentially makeshift bombs. "Each [IED] is unique, but all contain a fuse, a detonator, explosive fill, a power supply for the detonator and a container. The jury-rigged explosive devices have been concealed in everything from ready-to-eat meal boxes to animal carcasses and can be detonated by cell phones, pagers and remote control toys. It could be a hand grenade with the pin pulled placed in a glass filled with mortar. It could be an old shell rigged with a fuse." Thankfully, I believe IEDs are very rare inside the International Zone.

If the soldier was searching for an IED, he was nuts! I saw him using his foot to push some trash out of the way to get a better look at what could have been an IED. While I strongly appreciate that a soldier would take the extra effort to make sure the International Zone is nice and safe, no one should ever search for an IED using his foot.

Eventually the soldier concluded that everything looked fine. He hopped back into the humvee, which took off down the road. As soon as the humvee began to move off, we continued on our way back to the compound.

Posted by alohafromtim at 11:33 PM EST
Updated: March 29, 2005 11:43 PM EST
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March 13, 2005

Topic: The US Military
The other day while I was riding the bus to Camp Victory, a pack of young soldiers talked about what makes a good soldier, what they wanted to do after finishing their tour, and other typical things that come up while killing time in Iraq.

The conversation eventually drifted to stories about what happens during patrols out into the Red Zone. One of the soldiers, a corporal, complained about a recent trip to local school. Their commander had sent them out to conduct a public relations (PR) mission. The soldiers simply had to stop by the school and hand out candy. When they got there, a young boy stuck his tongue out at a sergeant and called him a homosexual. The sergeant, who was not very happy about being called gay, tried to grab the boy. The boy, who obviously did not want to get into a fight with a large American with an M-4, dashed away from the soldiers as quickly as he could. The sergeant called out to the corporal (the narrator of this story) to catch the boy. Without any questioning, the corporal quickly closed in on the boy, pounded him into the ground, and gave him a thrashing.

When the corporal got to this point in the story, he had grown quite loud and animated. He almost sounded happy about what happened. Thankfully, a major on the bus had heard enough. He stood up and scolded the corporal. He firmly reminded him the beating a young boy is not a funny matter. He also warned him that no one knew who I was, and there was a chance that I could be a reporter. The major did not want this story from appearing on the front page of the LA Times or the Washington Post. The US military has had enough bad press regarding its treatment of Iraqis.

Posted by alohafromtim at 11:26 PM EST
Updated: March 14, 2005 12:04 AM EST
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