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January 31, 2005 � H
ello everyone, Greetings from Baghdad . . .
It was a dark and eerie night. . . . We staged this morning, the day of the first Iraqi elections, at 0545. We readied our gear, double checked our equipment, and rolled out into the streets of Baghdad at 0600.
The streets that are normally jammed, bumper-to-bumper, are on this day vacant and the air still. Aside from us, the only other sign of life was the Iraqi Army positioned near the 3rd ID bridge, directly across the river from yesterday's attack on the International Zone. We continued to move through the streets; blank windows stared back at us, and ownerless slips of paper blew haphazardly along;
We were on patrol yesterday during the attack on the IZ. We were within a quarter-mile when the deafening explosions occurred. The sounds were loud enough to stop time, but we knew that it was beyond range of our location, and we waited for silence.
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An Iraqi boy gives the thumbs-up on the eve of national elections. / Photo by David J. Jenkins
Our mission today was to patrol our sector near downtown Baghdad and help maintain peace during the elections. It has been suggested that we are under scrutiny by the world as the Iraqi elections take place, as many claim that we are "controlling" the elections. Our mission today is to ensure that nobody else tries to control the elections and to allow democracy to take root and grow.
Having patrolled much of the northern area in our sector, the OIC (officer in charge) decided that we would proceed to the Sheraton Hotel so he could get an aerial view of the city. We had not been at the hotel group for more than 20 minutes when the first explosion occurred. Then another and another. Many of the soldiers began running for cover. Some of us stood there, next to our vehicles, waiting for impacts. But, nothing came.
Our squad leader changed radio frequency to the Battalion net and we could hear the reports of mortar attacks taking place about a mile away. The OIC radioed down from the hotel roof stating that he could see the impacts as they occurred; another explosion and again, another.
An hour later, the OIC returned from his perch up above and once again, we were on the move. All over the city, the streets were deserted. No cars, no people. It looked like the aftermath of some major incident which might take place in a movie; my mind wandered back to an old episode of the Twilight Zone
. Too strange to fathom.
We made our way closer to Sadr City. Once an area of turmoil, it is now a neighborhood under reconstruction thanks to the treaty agreed upon by Muqutada Al-Sadr, a local cleric and leader of the people in that area of Baghdad. We rallied up with Alpha company and were appraised of some of the events of the day.
Throughout the day, several polling sites were attacked by suicide bombers. The first killing five locals who had come to place their vote for a better tomorrow. There were reported nine sites that were attacked in this manner, killing a total of 44 people...innocent people.
With the streets empty, and the polling sites being attacked, we were under the impression that political reform and individual freedom was doomed to failure. However, as the day progressed, so did the hope for success.
Later reports indicated that after the first suicide bomber attacked the polling site, the locals who were there that survived, continued to place their votes and then spat on the body of the assailant.
As we continued our rounds about the city, we began to have difficulty driving down the streets with all the people out celebrating. I noticed that the 5 o'clock hour was at hand, and the streets of Baghdad were erupting in celebration. People waved and smiled, and we were like the grand marshalls of the parade as our gunners set aside their weapons for bags of candy, throwing handfuls to the children that lined the streets.
We stopped at one of the Iraqi National Guard bunkers (formerly Camp Melody), and watched the ING soldiers as we pulled in, dancing to Arabic music, singing songs and preparing for missions of their own.
We all gathered together, and one of the ING soldiers produced a soccer ball and several of us began to kick the ball back and forth. Soccer has no language barriers.
We began to see the possibilities; the people of Iraq were making their stand and saying to the world, "We are ready."
We made one final stop on our patrol. Two days ago, a soldier was unexpectedly shot and killed while setting road barriers. The details have not been released and we are uncertain how this might have happened, exactly . We returned to this location tonight, and as we rolled up, shots rang out, breaking the still of night. Each of our drivers maneuvered the vehicles into defensive positions and the convoy commander proceeded toward the area of contact.
We were snapped back into reality when we heard that soldiers were down. Our medic, and our combat lifesaver certified soldier, immediately grabbed their medical bags and ran to administer aid.
Symbolic of Iraq's past, we came to find that Iraqi Army soldiers had inadvertently shot and killed two and injured two others, all of which were members of the Iraqi Police Force. As much help as we are willing to provide, we can only do so much. The Iraqi people will always be fighting their long history of civil unrest.
• • •
We just rolled back through the wire on the eve of the Iraqi elections. Our latest mission, we were assigned as the personal security team for our battalion commander and he felt compelled to move about Baghdad to recon and surveill the various polling sites in our sector, prior to vote day. We rolled up on at least 11 different locations looking for VBIEDs or any other potential threat which could adversely effect the elections on the 30th.
We had a number of vehicles in convoy which included the Battalion Commander, his security team, two company commanders and our command sergeant major. At each stop, the vehicles would roll up to a stop and the BC would spring out of his vehicle. As he would step free from his vehicle, a procession of doors would open in unison and the dismounts and truck commanders for each vehicle in tow, would follow suit.
The BC with entourage would disappear into the polling station and the company commanders would stay back to assume authority. Our command sergeant major would begin a systematic tour of the area, shaking hands with the adults and handing out lolli-pops to the children.
We rolled up on site 4 and the leadership began their routine of preventive checks and services, and I noticed a man tagging (graffiti) a wall that ran the length of the street that we were lined up on. He would violently shake the spray can, mark the wall, then continue down the wall. From the angle I was watching from I couldn't tell what
he was marking, only that he was consistently moving down the wall closer to my location.
I looked at the wall closer to where I was sitting and I noticed that there was already a string of Arabic characters adorning the surface. As the man moved along, approaching me, I could see him rattle, spray, and his arm moving in circular motions--again and again, circle, circle, arc; circle, circle, arc-- right over the characters that were already present.
It appeared that somebody had sprayed some sort of propaganda on the wall in this man's neighborhood and he wasn't going to stand for it. As he continued to spray the wall, I looked around to see dozens of children playing in the street; in their yards. Each one absorbing the words that were present. I do not speak, nor read, Arabic. But, I can only imagine the words that would incite such a reaction from this man; words of futility, rebellion, anger and pain. The very things that this election is meant to overcome--circle, circle, arc; circle, circle, arc.
Slowly the Arabic characters were disappearing, being re-invented into something new. A circle for hope, a circle for peace, and an arc to inspire a brighter future.
Each day as these children play in the street or in their yards, they can look over...not to a string of characters representing hatred and pain . . . but a circle, a circle and an arc that looks back at them with the promise of a future and smiles.
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