Think about everything you’ve heard about the conditions in Iraq, the role of U.S. forces, the multi-layered complexities of the war.
Then think again.
I’m a journalist. I read the news everyday, from several sources. I have the luxury of reading stuff newspapers don’t always have room to print. I read every tidbit I could on Iraq and the war before coming.
Everything I thought I knew was wrong.
Maybe not wrong, but certainly different than the picture in my head.
I liken it to this; It was real struggle for me to choose to see the Harry Potter movies. I had read the books and loved the pictures I had in my mind of the details I read. I didn’t need to see a movie; I had a movie playing in my head of exactly how I perceived the stories.
I had similar notions about Iraq, Mosul, the war and what exactly soldiers do. And it was handily shattered like glass today by a group of soldiers, half of them younger than myself.
There are houses of this city that by Fairbanks standards are luxurious. Or at least they were at one time. They are ornate and gated and in neighborhoods with schools, stores and mosques. They are also ghosts of what they once were. They are still lived in, but after years of war and lack of many basic municipal services, the houses look spent and tired around the shutters.
There is garbage on the streets, in yards, in open areas. There is a stench. There is grime. But there are also people.
They are vivid, unlike their surroundings. They are excitable and friendly and conversational. They live in conditions I hope I don’t have to experience in my own life. Yet, if my neighborhood saw two wars, the breakdown of the national and local governments and decline of municipal services, I’m not sure I wouldn’t be in the same boat.
I still haven’t seen U.S. troops engaged or encounter car bombs or explosives. But I did see them play backgammon with some local police and Iraqi soldiers. I saw them take photos with more locals and make jokes mostly lost in translation. They gave advice and expertise to local troops on how to conduct a neighborhood patrol. They drank the local customary tea, and many admitted they’ve become addicted to it. They know several locals by name. I didn’t hear one slight or ridicule of a very distinct culture. One soldier mentioned it might be a good idea to clean up the trash around one polling place, and another commented on the status of women in the culture, but they were nothing but respectful, friendly and buddy-buddy with the Iraqis they mingled with today.
And this is good stuff.
More than anything in the last few days I’ve heard from soldiers and commanders that people back home don’t quite get it. They don’t see the real picture. They don’t get the real story. Some of them, like Lt. Col. Gregg Parrish, look seriously pained in the face when he says only a part of the picture is being told; the part of car bombs and explosives and suicide bombers and death. It’s a necessary part of the picture, but not a complete one, he says.
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Ahhhh, insight! It's amazing what facing reality can do for your perspective.