Report from a soldier in Iraq
Jude Wanniski
August 5, 2003


Memo To: Website Fans, Browsers, Clients
From: Jude Wanniski
Re: E-mail from the 101st Airborne

This is an e-mail from an officer of the 101st Airborne stationed in Mosul, Iraq. In a way it is more promising than all the happy talk coming out of the Bush administration, because it comes from a soldier on the ground. We have to discount it a bit, because he clearly wants things to improve, but we can also hope things will. He writes with no idea it will be broadcast here, which is why I will not include his name. If you know family or friends of 101 troops, please pass this on to them.

101st Airborne update Mosul, Iraq

A couple of people have asked about my sense of the security situation here in Northern Iraq, particularly with the spate of attacks over the past week or so. That and the increased attention from when we found and killed Qusay and Uday.

Night before last, the 101st had three more soldiers killed in a nighttime vehicle ambush several kilometers south of Mosul. That brings to six the number of soldiers the division has had killed in action in the past week. Those were the first deaths due to hostile fire since the end of 20 "major combat operations." During major combat operations, the division had four soldiers killed in action. There have been 11 other deaths in the division due to non-battle injuries since deployment to theater in February. We have had 148 soldier wounded in action since the war began. The six KIA of the past week occurred in three separate attacks. All were ambushes of multi-vehicle convoys.

One occurred on the outskirts of Mosul in the early morning, but daylight hours. The other two occurred at night. One out to the west near a town called Tall Afar in Sunni tribal areas. The last and most deadly (3 KIA) occurred on the main road that runs south along the Tigris in the direction of Kirkuk. We killed Uday and Qusay over this period as well as at least five other people who attacked some of our soldiers. In all of this, we have not killed a single civilian that I am aware of (and generally, Al Jazeera and other inflammatory press outlets would make sure to tell the world).

As the press reports, fairly accurately, there are about a dozen attacks against the division every week (and have been the whole time I've been here). There are a couple every day or so. Most have been drive-by, nighttime, hit-and-run attacks where the attacker simply sprays some AK-4 rounds or an RPG round in our general direction. It seems to me the main difference in the past week is that we've seen a few examples of somewhat more sophisticated tactics. Quite frankly, the attackers have also gotten luckier than in the past (we have had vehicles destroyed and soldiers wounded in attacks since I got here, but only in the past week have the attackers actually managed to kill someone). We have studied the attacks, taken extra security measures and will continue to hunt down and destroy the elements we can. So, we have taken it seriously. We have not been diverted from our efforts to continue the momentum we've built in stability operations and helping the Iraqi people.

The contrast since I got here has been dramatic. The evidence of our success has finally started to break through to the people in the street. In fact, that may be a key reason behind some of the attacks in the past couple of weeks. We are making progress in providing for the people and our enemies know it and the people are starting to see the benefits of our presence more clearly.

When I first got here, one of the main themes at the twice weekly city council was that we weren't doing enough to help solve basic problems and that what we were doing was not well publicized. We have continued to pursue projects and pump money into the local economy. We have also done more to publicize the Division's contributions. The same leaders who complained when I first arrived now acknowledge that the word is getting out and the projects are getting noticed. In the end, these deeds speak louder than words and the enemies who are trying to portray us negatively are facing a more daunting challenge everyday.

This situation regarding Uday and Qusay is hard to read. Local Muslawi (what Mosul residents call themselves) claimed credit for the city as having been the place they got turned in. On the other side of the coin the two brothers had apparently been hiding out here, unmolested, for some three weeks. We have received lots of congratulations from locals. There have been no significant demonstrations against us (that day or since). One theory is that the former regime thugs and some other terrorists know they are losing Mosul and the rest of the north and have therefore stepped up their activities in this area. The former regime has very few backers and very little popular support. This does not mean that we're loved by everyone else. More accurately, they simply recognize that we are doing things that they like and they are therefore unwilling to support those who would try to disrupt their increasingly normal lives.

I read and hear of plenty of credible expressions of support for Saddam and the former regime that cannot be dismissed. It's hard to fathom at times. In those cases, I am reminded of the outpouring of apparently genuine sadness by many Russians when Stalin died as well as the accounts of Russians, many years later who still looked back fondly on the orderliness of the Stalin's reign. I sense there is some of that in the Iraqis. This was a welfare state where Saddam regularly doled out cash, jobs and privileges to vast swaths of the population just to keep them happy--it really didn't matter if they worked or produced much. The inefficiencies and waste were massive. There are many Iraqis who compare us unfavorably to Saddam because we don't throw cash around as readily as he did.

There are hundreds of vehicle-mounted and foot patrols every 24 hours. This includes daylight, nighttime and joint Iraqi-American patrols. We have gotten a lot of help from the local community finding and detaining a variety of criminals and members of the former regime. Security is still the number one priority. But there's also much else going one. There are over a thousand US Army engineers that are working hundreds of projects. We have MPs training a new Iraqi police force, infantry soldiers training Iraqi security guards for fixed sites and some of the local ministries. We have hundreds of medical personnel who are assisting with the rehabilitation of the health system (which is already back in very good shape). We run R&R trips up to Dahuk for a few hundred soldiers every week (the soldiers are guarded by a large contingent of Kurdish Peshmerga soldiers that we pay for while the soldiers are there). We run rifle ranges for the soldiers to use for training.

One brigade has the mission to help the local University. It helped with a massive clean up effort and the establishment of internet access that's not routed and filtered by Baghdad. Another brigade has helped establish a huge youth sports program that included over 70 soccer teams at a recent event. We have helped rebuild water pump stations and electrical power stations. We have employed over 4000 Iraqis in jobs working directly for our forces. We have opened locally run cafes, convenience shops, barber shops and tailor shops within many of our compounds. We have people working with the local city/governate council every day to build and improve basic governing structures. We oversee the escort and delivery of fuel by over 100 fuel trucks every day. We supervised the orderly delivery of grain to silos and handled the payment to the farmers for the annual wheat harvest. When I arrived in early June, electricity was erratic. The electricity is now on almost continuously. The list goes on and on.

In one sense, part of the positive news is that the attackers have targeted us (US soldiers) and not the local population or the infrastructure/projects we've done to make life better. There are approximately 20,000 soldiers assigned to this division right now. The energy and activity of that mass of well-led Americans is awesome. In the past week there have been thousands of patrols, tens of thousands of routine small vehicle convoys going from place to place (all movements are with a minimum of two vehicles and four soldiers). Hundreds of projects initiated. Hundreds completed. About a million dollars spent in small parcels. Several large projects under CPA/USAID/Contractor direction are plugging along.

Six soldiers died in three separate incidents. These are serious losses and we are constantly evaluating our force protection measures, studying the attacks for patterns to use in pre-empting similar attacks, and continuing a mission we never abandoned-security. But the ability of these attacks to impede the momentum of this division's actions and the progress being made for the people of Nineveh is minuscule if measurable at all. Bottom line, there are some significant security challenge but, I would assess the security situation as still very favorable. I also think we still have a lot of positive momentum for our efforts to make life better for the local Iraqi population.