In the early days in 2004 there were often gunfights on our construction site between contractors competing for the US government contracts. It was described like the Clanton-McLaury feud. This certainly added a new dimension to the word "winning a contract". Such violence was common simply because there was a complete collapse of law and order following the overthrow of Saddam… and frankly there was no other source of money.
These conditions were ideal for the emergence of organized crime. A small tribe could kidnap a low profile foreign contractor and ransom him for enough money to fund the gang. As they grew they could capture higher profile targets and increase their ransoms. Armed robberies and murder were commonplace. Today few kidnap victims are released safely regardless of whether the ransom is paid or not. The majority of the criminals do not appear to be sophisticated enough to capture, retain and release a victim without leaving a trail to their identity. Therefore, most victims are found murdered regardless of whether or not the ransom was paid. As security was initiated to protect foreign workers the petty criminals resorted to kidnapping easy targets—their fellow Iraqis. Almost none of these victims are ever released alive. Of course all this "news worthy" activity over shadows the armed robberies, grand thefts and high-jackings not to speak of "white collar" crime that is out of control.
So, if the petty criminals could get away with this, then it was even more enticing for criminal organizations such as al Qaida. Small gangs became "militias" and then gang warfare became "civil war". It is interesting how this all took a political spin. Iran and Syria began competing with Kuwait and Saudi Arabia upping the level and sophistication of the violence. Kuwaitis initiated attacks on convoys from Turkey—this raised the principle of completion for US Army supply contracts to a new dimension. Remember we are talking about billions of dollars. Interestingly, here the gangs call themselves political parties, not militias. There are possibly hundreds each headed by a tribal chief. (Tribe by the way is an Arab translation. I think the more accurate English translation is "clan" and "head of the clan".) There are thousands of clans but only a relatively, few engage in criminal activity.
The Iraqis told me all of what I have just said. I did not make it up. Where do they fit into this "wild west show"? The majority of the Iraqis live in the countryside and are not affected a great deal by what is happening to their cousins in the large urban areas. That is because the clan warfare is going on primarily in cities. Well having said that the gun fights that occurred on this jobsite, occurred of course in the countryside where it is located. Their life never the less is much the same as it always has been. Most Iraqis that worked for me live in the cities. They scope as best they can. In 2005 through 2006 they would never work so late that they would be on the road after dark commuting to work. This year without any fan fare the operators changed from a two shift (on their own by the way), 16 and 8 hour, to a normal three 8 hour shift operation. Those employed by the contractors began working after hours. The province was turned over to the Iraqi Army and checkpoints to Iraqi police. In all, tensions seemed to have subsided substantially, primarily, I can only suppose, due to the growing public desire for normality—and of course law and order and relentless counter insurgency by the Coalition Forces. Today we have less than a dozen foreigners living in our camp, but we have close to a hundred Iraqis living here and ten times that commuting at the peak of construction. We also have a total Iraqi security force. Our small group of mercenaries, comprising our PSD teams (personal security detail) never carry arms while in the camp. In a nut shell we live with the Iraqis, or if you will, they live with us—we all get along with each other…they have a sense of humor.
Al Qaida lost their war against the coalition forces and have devoted almost all of their resources to murdering civilians. Of course, there is the minor exception were they lob a mortar or two into an FOB or murder some citizens from other cities other than Baghdad. This is all staged to give us the impression that they are everywhere, not just the capital—the smoke and mirrors that Iran and Syria are helping to project so the Americans will leave—leave the Middle East I might add. The reason for the lack of substance to news coverage is obvious—there is an absence of investigative journalism in Iraq. Police and military death lists can be obtained without leaving the "Green Zone" (now called the "IZ" or International Zone). [The "green zone", by the way, came from daily security reports that include a map of Iraq with blotches of red, yellow and orange to indicate hot spots. Ironically there never was a zone colored green—only red zones. Maybe a Forward Operation Base "FOB" like Tallil will be renamed the "Tallil Airport".] The daily body count is all that seems to be taken as "news worthy" by the media. Shame—I think most Americans want to know what is really going on. We're all tired of the same old thing day in and day out—the body count. Wonder that our politicians are tired too. As long as they don't run out of civilians I suppose al Qaida may win politically what they lost on the fields of fire. Believe me there is not a civil war going on in Iraq any more than there was in Chicago during Prohibition. We never called the mob wars "civil wars"; why do we call this mass murder civil war? Maybe it is because the neighboring foreign governments got involved.
I found the Iraqis to be a people with a sense of humor. I found this out living with them. They have that ability to joke and laugh. They do not possess hatred. Children are open, happy and show no fear of foreigners. Hatred and fear within children has to be passed on by their parents—in the absence of traumatic events. They exhibit none of these traits. They do seem to us "Westerners" lacking in discipline. But most of us forget that they are making a transition from an agrarian society into the 21st century, technological society, without transitioning through an "industrial revolution". I suppose our neurotic need for punctuality must seem—well—neurotic to them. And most Westerners working here have no patience for them. They would rather do the job themselves rather than keep unskilled Iraqis busy. They are un-trainable you know. Well, as a construction contractor I never made money hiring a journeyman for every construction task on a jobsite. I made money hiring construction craftsmen that could keep busy at least two "helpers" each. But, then again, most Westerners coming here to work seem to be so un-trainable. They just can't seem to be trained to do certain things, other than what they are conditioned for.
On the other side of the coin there are the handouts. If people continue to live on hand outs they will never stand up on their own. This is abundantly clear everywhere you go over here. Bla bla bla bla……
• Why do they hate us? They don't; most of them don't even know who we are. They don't know what is going on in the next town much less across the ocean. They must be, kind of like, Americans. However, if you are rich or powerful and want someone to do your fighting for you, you first have to convince him that you are the good guy and there is a bad guy somewhere. Sounds like American politics.
• Why has their society stagnated while the West has advanced? The West rose above the medieval, middle ages in part through civil wars. They did not. In the Arab and Latin nations the rich still own all the wealth and the power. The rich do not feel there is a need to change things; their freedom is "golden". If you were to ask the rich why is there such a gap between the rich and the poor in their country. They will tell you "That is the way it has always been." as if that was a legitimate answer. The easiest reading on this subject is "Poland" by James Michener.
That's it folks…of course there is another side of this candy coating…we work in a third world, a lawless zone…a war zone…and this is counterinsurgency.
A good book to read about the Arabs is "The Arab Mind" by Raphael (something or other).
Well, that's my story—and for now "I'm sticking to it".