By MICHAEL FUMENTO
Scripps Howard News Service
June 09, 2005
I observed that troop morale in even the most hostile areas was better than I would have believed. Unless I identified myself, nobody knew I was a reporter. Troops didn't hold back antiwar feelings on my account. Yet I heard none. I also carefully fastidiously read the ubiquitous graffiti in the portable toilets and only once found a negative scrawling - a Bush bash. But three other scrawlings ambushed that first one.
The military has worked doggedly on morale. The food was delicious and varied. It was so hot outside you could barely eat; but don't blame the chow. The vast majority of troops have hot showers. Toilet facilities were odor-free and fly-free. I was stunned to find living quarters are almost universally air-conditioned.
The ultimate stressor is something about which the military can do nothing; being 9,000 or more miles from home, family, and friends. I pitied the troops for this. But even this blow was softened with discount telephone cards in trailers filled with phones and with Internet cafes.
The only real complaints I'd heard were about "the kindler, gentler military." Political sensitivity - enhanced by shenanigans such as Newsweek's - are tying at least part of an arm behind our backs.
Opposite me in the Baghdad hospital recovery wound was an Iraqi with two gunshot wounds received a week apart. I was told he was shot running away from an improvised explosive device (IED) trigger but had nonetheless been treated and released, partly in hopes that American hospital hospitality might give him a change of heart. Tough luck. A week later he was again shot running away from a trigger. "Now he's being released to Abu Ghraib prison," I was told.
The professionalism of these men and women is almost indescribable. I spent one day with the Explosives Ordinance Disposal (EOD) unit of the 8th Engineer Support Battalion at Camp Fallujah, men with as risky a job as there is. It's not the bomb being defused that's worrisome (they use robots); rather it's the snipers and secondary IEDs meant to kill you WHILE you're disposing of the bomb. But I never felt the least anxiety while with these brave and skilled warriors.
I wish I had a chance to patrol with the Iraqi Security Forces to get a better idea of the mettle of the men who will ultimately inherit the war. But I did see them everywhere and that each was equipped with full body armor and they held their weapons like professionals. They provided security for my EOD team and they manned a huge number of checkpoints. Several were ripped apart at one of those checkpoints days after I passed through it.
The Iraqis are fighting and dying for their country. We need vastly more of them and their training must continue to improve. Yet they are the key to ultimate victory.
Overall - and this is based both on observation and outside study - I'd say the war is ours to lose. But I don't think we will. In a true guerrilla conflict, time favors the insurgency. But progressively this war has shifted to one waging non-Iraqi terrorists against primarily Iraqi civilians, secondarily Iraqi military and police, and last against Americans.
Indeed, on one IED mission I joined MPs who nabbed two men in track suits and tennis shoes running away from the trigger. Both wore head scarves with non-Iraqi-colors and they had Jordanian features.
It's perfectly understandable that Iraqis resent any foreign troops on their soil. But they know the suicide bombers randomly turning Iraqi civilians into shredded wheat are also foreigners. They're skeptical about a U.S. withdrawal; but they see the American route appears to be leading to independence. And they know the Jihadist route is one too horrible to contemplate.