Freedom Ain’t Free & Take Our Country Back

VICTORY Is Not Defeat

Choose To Think…


Just A Spattering

CBS News

“…U.S. intelligence analysts have concluded al Qaeda has rebuilt its operating capability to a level not seen since just before the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, The Associated Press has learned…”

“…A counterterrorism official familiar with a five-page summary of the new government threat assessment called it a stark appraisal that will be discussed at the White House on Thursday as part of a broader meeting on an upcoming National Intelligence Estimate…”

“…The official and others spoke on condition of anonymity because the secret report remains classified…”

CNS News

“…A conservative watchdog group has issued a report claiming that religious freedom is deteriorating worldwide and that radical Islam is the largest threat to people’s ability to worship according to their beliefs.

The findings by the Center for Religious Freedom were presented on Monday and come in advance of the publication of the book, “Religious Freedom in the World 2007,” to be released next year.

The report cited Burma, Eritrea, Iran, Iraq, the Maldives, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Tibet, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan as nations with the worst religious freedom records of the 100 countries surveyed…”

Michael Yon

AQI is on the run

“…Before the tape was running, I asked Abu Ali why he and the 1920s turned against al Qaeda in Buhriz. Speaking through LT David Wallach, a native Arabic speaker, Abu Ali said that “al Qaeda is an abomination of Islam: cutting off heads, stealing people’s money, kidnapping . . . every type of torture they have done.”

 

The recent stories of baked children came to mind. I asked if Abu Ali had heard about children being baked. Ali said no, he had not heard such a story, but he would not be surprised if it were true because al Qaeda had done so many crimes, such as cutting off a man’s head, putting it up on a stick and parading it around town.

 

Ali said people had been afraid in their own homes because of al Qaeda. I asked if he had fought Americans and Ali laughed and said through Wallach, “What kind of question is that?” I chuckled. Unfortunately, we had to go to other meetings, so the time for taping was short. In closing, I asked Abu Ali if there was something he would like to say to Americans. The markets that had been closed under al Qaeda were bustling around us…”

ABC News

Al Qaeda Cell in the U.S. Or On Its Way, According to New Intel

Senior U.S. intelligence officials tell ABC News new intelligence suggests a small al Qaeda cell is on its way to the United States, or may already be here.

 

The White House has convened an urgent multi-agency meeting for Thursday afternoon to deal with the new threat.

CBS News

The FBI is investigating anonymous threats against Goldman Sachs contained in handwritten letters to the investment firm warning that “hundreds will die.”

Right Truth

It’s “logical to watch anything that happens in the UK as a potential precursor to future threats against U.S.,” says Thomas P.M. Barnett and I agree with him completely. We need to always be on watch, ever evaluating our procedures, watching what the terrorists are saying in ‘chatter’, on websites, and in videos.

Canon Andrew White, a senior Anglican priest who works in Baghdad, was talking to an al-Qaeda leader, and he was told “Those who cure you are going to kill you.

Snooper

In a previous post here, Spree gave us an excellent run down on the recent London failed terrorist attacks and the “missing nuke” stuff in Canada.

NY Post

The three car-bomb attempts in Britain were carried out with the approval of Osama bin Laden, it was reported yesterday.

It was an established fact from Day 1 that al Qaeda was behind this and it was planned by its followers in Great Britain with bin Laden’s blessing,” a senior foreign intelligence source told The Times of London.

Snooper

UPDATE!! Remember this?

Teams of al Qaeda-trained suicide bombers were dispatched to the United States and Europe from an Afghan camp 10 days ago, ABC News reported last night.

About 300 would-be bombers – including boys as young as 12 – were ordered to carry out attacks in Britain, Canada, Germany and the United States, the report said.

A Pakistani journalist invited to attend the camp took pictures of a Taliban commander congratulating graduates on June 9, ABC News said.

No. The United States has nothing to fear from the members of the religion of peace.

July 15, 2007 Posted by | Lame Stream Media, Leftinistra, Treason, Yon | Leave a comment

AQ On The Run


Al-Qaeda on the Run: Feasting on the Moveable Beast

Al-Qaeda on the Run: Feasting on the Moveable Beast

“No al Qaeda Zone”: Hefty Buhriz Policeman smoking in public.

The last major mission I did while in Baqubah in early 2005 was into Buhriz. That mission had begun with our artillery firing some 155mm shots into a palm grove on the banks of the Diyala River. The enemy in Buhriz, consisting partly of the 1920s Revolution Brigades, was tough and proficient at killing our people.

 

A current leader in Burhiz and member of the 1920s Revolution Brigades (1920s) goes by the name Abu Ali. On Monday 9 July, I drove in the back of a Stryker and talked on the streets of Buhriz with Abu Ali. Just months ago our forces would have shot Abu Ali on sight, and he surely would have done the same to us. Today we are allies, for now.

 

An AP report filed recently entitled “Al-Qaida’s No. 2 asks support of Muslims” says:

Al-Qaida’s deputy leader sought to bolster the terror network’s main arm in Iraq in a new video released Thursday, calling on Muslims to rally behind it at a time when the group is on the defensive, faced with U.S. offensives and splits with other insurgent groups.

The AP report goes on:

Several large Iraqi insurgent groups publicly denounced al-Qaida, saying its fighters were killing theirs and pressuring them to join the Islamic State. One group, the 1920 Revolution Brigades, has begun overtly cooperating with U.S. forces and Sunni tribal leaders to attack al-Qaida.

The words were true: I was standing there with Abu Ali, with American soldiers and 1920s people milling all around. We had certainly killed a lot of his people, and the 1920s certainly had killed many American soldiers. During severe fighting with al Qaeda in April 2007, the 1920s reached out to American soldiers, and together they have been dismantling al Qaeda here in Baqubah and other places. If we had to fight an allied force of 1920s and al Qaeda, there is no telling how many soldiers we would have lost.

 

Al Qaeda’s ultimate failure in much of Anbar and now in parts of Diyala relates back to one of the pillars of success—or failure—in this war: Values. People who understand how to tamp down this war realize the critical pillar that values can play into success or failure in counterinsurgency, or COIN.

 

In appearance, few might suspect that Abu Ali would stand up to the American military. In talking with the soft-spoken Abu Ali, his manner is similar to that of experienced American combat leaders. He is direct and clear in his speech (through an interpreter), and his intelligence is evident. An intelligent enemy who knows the dangers—who is not part of an insane death-cult promising 72 virgins and eternity with God to martyrs—and yet stands his ground against Americans over a long period, must possess great courage and annealed strength. Even among enemies, those qualities command grudging respect. I told one man in the back of the Stryker that after standing his ground with the Americans and surviving this long, al Qaeda was hopeless when Abu Ali and the 1920s shifted their martial attentions.

 

While we were driving in the belly of the Stryker into Buhriz, I asked Abu Ali, “What did you do to al Qaeda?”

 

Abu Ali said that on 1 April 2007, he and his people attacked al Qaeda in Buhriz for their crimes against Islam. He also said something that many Muslims have said to me: al Qaeda are not Muslims. (Both Sunni and Shia have said nearly the exact same words, at times on video.) Abu Ali said they fought hard against al Qaeda, and on 10 April, they asked the Americans to join the attack. It worked.

 

The Stryker stopped in Buhriz. The ramp dropped and Abu Ali, LT David Wallach and LTC Fred Johnson dismounted, along with Talal, the courageous AP stringer. I asked Abu Ali if I could videotape him for Americans to see. On camera, he demonstrated the media savvy of a NASCAR driver, and managed to effect the same dynamic mix of confidence and humility. Through moral corruption, al Qaeda lost support then alienated a persuasive, courageous communicator, who can directly inhibit their ability to survive another day.

 

Before the tape was running, I asked Abu Ali why he and the 1920s turned against al Qaeda in Buhriz. Speaking through LT David Wallach, a native Arabic speaker, Abu Ali said that “al Qaeda is an abomination of Islam: cutting off heads, stealing people’s money, kidnapping . . . every type of torture they have done.”

 

The recent stories of baked children came to mind. I asked if Abu Ali had heard about children being baked. Ali said no, he had not heard such a story, but he would not be surprised if it were true because al Qaeda had done so many crimes, such as cutting off a man’s head, putting it up on a stick and parading it around town.

 

Ali said people had been afraid in their own homes because of al Qaeda. I asked if he had fought Americans and Ali laughed and said through Wallach, “What kind of question is that?” I chuckled. Unfortunately, we had to go to other meetings, so the time for taping was short. In closing, I asked Abu Ali if there was something he would like to say to Americans. The markets that had been closed under al Qaeda were bustling around us.

 

Ali thought for a moment as some local people tried to interrupt him with greetings, and he said, “I ask one thing,” and now I paraphrase Ali’s words: “After the Iraqi Army and Police take hold and the security forces are ready, we want a schedule for the leaving of the American forces.”

 

“I will tell the Americans this,” I said. Ali seemed satisfied as he went off with another American unit. We loaded back into the Stryker and headed to other interesting meetings on other interesting matters, all dealing with the grinding gears of winning or losing this war, and with catching and killing al Qaeda.

Watch the interview here:
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The focus on al Qaeda makes sense here, where local officials have gone on record acknowledging that most of the perhaps one thousand al Qaeda fighters in Baqubah were young men and boys who called the city home. This may clash with the perception in US and other media that only a small percentage of the enemy in Iraq is al Qaeda, which in turn leads to false conclusions that the massive offensive campaign underway across Iraq is a lot of shock and awe aimed at a straw enemy. But as more Sunni tribal leaders renounce former ties with al Qaeda, it’s becoming clearer just how heavily AQ relied on local talent, and how disruptive they have been here in fomenting the civil war.

 

Al Qaeda’s recruiting efforts in Baqubah were not much different than what they used in Mosul as 2004 changed into 2005 and Iraq’s first elections loomed. (I was in Baqubah at that time.) I wrote about how thugs and gangs and fugitive fundamentalists on the run from Fallujah flooded into Mosul and murdered people by the hundreds. Al Qaeda had excellent publicity and media teams and a sales pitch that worked effectively for a long time. But the reason for Zawahiri’s recent desperate recruiting drive is the fact that AQ values in action have turned local people against them. We are not always fighting AQ on the battlefield because they can be so difficult to find, but month by month, year by year, we can destroy them on the moral battlefield; they are savages and most people can see it.

 

Over here, the fact of al Qaeda murdering children is just that: it’s a fact. How they chose to commit the murders is a variable that changes from incident to incident. I’ve written often about how Iraqis, as a rule, love and greatly value their children. This makes the children especially vulnerable as targets for terrorists. That is a brutal fact.

 

Al Qaeda drinks and uses drugs here. This is not propaganda. This is not even news, it’s a fact that I wrote about back in 2005. Zarqawi, the now-dead former leader of AQI, was best known for causing the deaths of thousands or tens of thousands of Iraqis, and raping women all over the land and over in Jordan. Whether Zarqawi raped women from village to village, or one woman from each village, I do not know. But Zarqawi cultivated his image like a pro. Rape and murder were his trademarks.

 

The same Zawahiri who issued al Qaeda’s latest call for recruits sent a letter to Zarqawi back in 2005, warning him to stop cutting off people’s heads and broadcasting it. Zawahiri’s version of a “Values Message” cautioned Zarqawi that these grostesqueries were losing al Qaeda the support of Muslims. He was right. Al Qaeda is no longer welcome in Baqubah.

July 15, 2007 Posted by | GWOT, War News, Yon | Leave a comment

Second Chances


Second Chances…Michael Yon Reporting

Folks, if this doesn’t touch your hearts, you surely must be an empty hearted fool.

Second Chances

General David Petraeus visits Baqubah.

 

When distinguished visitors come to almost-where the action is, it can be disruptive to the point of wasteful. I’ve heard commanders grumble all over Iraq about the steady streams of VIPs who, while intending to be seen observing operations, instead seize the mechanics with their clumsy footprint. These are called “dog and pony shows.”

 

But on D+18, when a most important “visitor” came to Baqubah, not only did he not seem to cause a hiccup, but everyone I talked with was happy to see him. General Petraeus came to Baqubah on 7 July 2007, amid practically zero fuss.

 

The day wasn’t much different from any other. Mine began with an unrelated mission with the Brigade Deputy Commander, from which we returned around noon. General Petraeus had lunch with commanders, followed by a couple of interesting briefings that the tag-along press—there for only those few hours—were allowed to attend.

 

After the briefings, General Petraeus headed downtown to an area where many of the buildings had been made into bombs. Most VIPs will not dare leave base, but the top generals and command sergeant majors in this war all roll into danger taking their chances with getting blown sky-high.

 

When I wrote the dispatch “Be Not Afraid,” I thought at least dozens of soldiers might be killed when we attacked on 19 June, and that hundreds might be wounded. After years of experience, the terrorists had prepared Baqubah to an extent greater than either Fallujah or Ramadi had been. During one of the briefings Saturday, General Petraeus mentioned that Baqubah was probably the most rigged city of the entire war. Another officer at the briefing said there is so much explosives residue in Baqubah that the bomb dogs get confused.

 

Since the beginning of Arrowhead Ripper—with the loss of one 3-2 SBCT soldier killed in action—troops found more than 130 bombs planted in ambush, about two dozen buildings rigged to explode, and more than half a dozen car bombs. (That’s only the beginning.) Yet street by street, house by house, step by step, the infantry soldiers cleared most of Baqubah, working under intensely stressful conditions. They cleared block by block, no place to sleep but the ground, no showers to wash away the sweaty grit of war. This combat-experienced brigade outsmarted the enemy. I’d like to say more, but the enemy will get no help from these pages.

 

Saturday, while riding in a Stryker to where General Petraeus was checking out the ground situation, I met Robert Reid [right] from the Associated Press. Mr. Reid seemed to take interest in the information about the graves I reported recently, taking notes while we drove into Baqubah. Mr. Reid would later email that he has been a journalist for nearly 40 years, having first come to Iraq in 1982.

 

As the soldiers clear Baqubah of the enemy and its deadly trappings, the people here are coming forward and talking. Some Iraqis worry that the US will leave Baqubah too soon, only to have al Qaeda return and start dealing retribution to “collaborators.” That may explain why so many Iraqis here are offering useful information that helps save American lives and keeps al Qaeda out.

 

The fourth update for what I call “The Battle for Baqubah” described a mission to a village about 3.5 miles from the military base where I—and varying numbers of journalists (now down to one photographer)—stay while covering Operation Arrowhead Ripper. No journalists came along when I accompanied American soldiers to the abandoned village whose nearby palm groves offered the overpowering stench of decaying human flesh. I photographed and videotaped Iraqi and American soldiers as they disinterred the remains of adults and children. In one grave, soldiers recovered the heads of decapitated children, some with still partially recognizable remnants of flesh and hair. When I left the village, the digging was still ongoing, but I had seen and heard enough for the update I published the next day.

 

Thinking that the reporters here or their editors back home might have been scared off the topic of mass graves, I offered my source material. These included map coordinates, names of Iraqi and US Army officials, my photographs and videotape, and even, in the end, permission to take what I’d written and photographed and use that free of charge.

 

Today, there are indications that the massacre might be much bigger than what I initially reported in “Bless the Beasts and Children.” Shortly after I published “Bless the Beasts and Children,” I asked a local Iraqi official about the village and the graves. The Diyala Provincial councilmen, Abdul Jabar, went on video explaining why he believes that there might be hundreds of people buried in the area, and he said the correct spelling is actually al Ahamir. (Most Iraqis’ names seem to have variant spellings.)

 

Watch the interview here:
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Meanwhile, “Baqubah Update 05-July 2007” seems to have generated a dust storm of doubts. That dispatch focused on the emerging presence of Iraqi government leaders in Baqubah—both behind the scenes and actually working hard, as well as out front maintaining high visibility—stepping up to get their city operating again.

 

The situation under al Qaeda had degenerated on all levels. Although Diyala is Iraq’s breadbasket, it has been 10 months since a food shipment arrived here. Fuel is at a near standstill; the lights are mostly off; and water flow is better measured by drip rate than cubic liters per second.

 

With dispatches in the works for these topics, the 5-July update was more a chronicle of my observations of the long overdue and very much welcome emergence of Iraqi political leaders from out of hiding. During a meeting, an Iraqi official in the room—who asked to remain anonymous—provided a narrative of how al Qaeda took control of Baqubah and much of Diyala Province. The paragraph that generated controversy follows:

The official reported that on a couple of occasions in Baqubah, al Qaeda invited to lunch families they wanted to convert to their way of thinking. In each instance, the family had a boy, he said, who was about 11 years old. As LT David Wallach interpreted the man’s words, I saw Wallach go blank and silent. He stopped interpreting for a moment. I asked Wallach, “What did he say?” Wallach said that at these luncheons, the families were sat down to eat. And then their boy was brought in with his mouth stuffed. The boy had been baked. Al Qaeda served the boy to his family.

Every syllable I wrote about this reported incident was in that paragraph, which offers no opinion about the veracity of his words.

 

Mr. Abdul Jabar had lived near the al Hamari village. He had more details about what happened there, and he was willing to go on the record. The reported incidents, wretching though they were and are, were reported “as is.”

 

When context is other people’s children

 

As I write these words just a few miles from the graves I saw, the resulting controversy about whether what the man said was true, or whether his words should have been written if the writer couldn’t verify them, seems precious. There is no imaginary line of credulity that al Qaeda might cross should it go from beheading children to baking them.

 

No unnamed Iraqi stringer claimed that al Qaeda had taken over Baqubah. Al Qaeda said this through the press. I sit writing these words in Diyala Province just a short drive from where the self-proclaimed leader of al Qaeda in Iraq was killed by a bomb delivered by a US warplane. Al Qaeda: the organization that gleefully bragged about murdering roughly 3,000 people by smashing jets full of civilians into buildings and earth. Al Qaeda in Iraq: who proudly broadcast their penchant for sawing off the heads of living breathing people, and in such a manner as to ensure lots of spurting blood and gurgles of final pain, in some cases with the added flourish of the executioner raising up the severed head and squealing excitedly.

 

These are the same terrorists I often come face to face with: not on television or in magazines, but on bloodstained streets ablaze with human carnage. I remember the charred corpse of a small Iraqi boy. I remember the wailing Iraqi parents and countless other scenes that I am likely to see again and again. Back in 2005, terrorists here were intentionally attacking children. I shot the photo below on a day when they drove a car bomb through a crowd of children who had run out to American soldiers on patrol.

 

Many soldiers say this photograph symbolizes this war for them. It certainly has become emblematic for me.

 

In the more than two years since that awful day in May 2005, I’ve witnessed innumerable instances of the work of terrorists of many stripes. One clear indicator of just how bad a terrorist group is, is when battle-hardened soldiers—and writers like me who travel with them—don’t find it hard to believe a story which purports that al Qaeda had baked a child and set his roasted body out as the main course at a lunch for his parents.

 

People at home might find it incredible, improbable, even impossible. Yet here in combat with al Qaeda, the idea is no more improbable-sounding than someone saying “The chicken crossed the road.” Maybe the chicken crossed the road. Maybe not. The veterans I’ve been talking with here have no difficulty imagining the chicken crossing the road, or al Qaeda roasting kids. Sickening, yes. Improbable, no.

 

Stringers

 

Many look to mainstream media for “verifiable” news from Iraq, as if all those who work for established publications must by definition practice their profession with some basic level of talent and dedication. Not to unfairly single out the Associated Press—who have had some reporters in Iraq, like Tony Castenada, who produced fair and accurate reports—but the AP’s Director of Media Relations, Paul Colford, went on the record for Confederate Yankee about why the AP had not picked up the story of the Al Hamari gravesites, with a statement that seems to indicate they place a high value on reliable sources:

“With regard to Michael Yon, the Iraqi police and the U.S. military—to our current knowledge—have issued no statements to the AP about 10-14 bodies being found on June 29 in a village outside Baquba, even though the military, according to Mr. Yon’s online account, were involved in the discovery.”—Paul Colford

To see what the AP might have by way of reliable, mainstream, news resources, on the morning of 07 July, I asked Talal, an Associated Press stringer in Baqubah, if he had heard about the Al Hamari murders, and our conversation went something like this:

“Yes,” answered Talal.
“How many had been killed?” I asked.
“35,” answered Talal. Not “about 35”, but precisely 35.
“How do you know?” I asked.
“A medic at the Baqubah hospital told me,” Talal said.
“What was the medic’s name?” I asked.
“I don’t know,” answered Talal.
“You didn’t ask?”
“No,” he said. Talal said a doctor told him the same thing, but that he did not know the doctor’s name. He had not asked. Besides which, Talal said, the doctor and the medic were afraid to give their names.
“How were the people killed?” I asked.
“They were shot,” answered Talal as he motioned shooting with a pistol.
“Did you tell someone at AP headquarters in Baghdad?” I asked.
“Yes,” answered Talal.
“Who did you tell?” I asked.
“I don’t know,” answered Talal.

Captain Baker, who was commanding the Iraqi Army soldiers at al Hamari that day, was a primary source of information. I videotaped this interview as his soldiers were still digging up remains nearby:

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In all fairness to Talal, he is extremely busy doing the most dangerous job in Iraq: Iraqi journalist. It takes extreme courage, and I see Talal all over the place. I did a mission with him today on 9 July. On today’s mission, Talal told me about how two nights ago when he did a mission with Iraqi Army and American soldiers, they started walking at about midnight, trying to sneak up on al Qaeda. They sneaked for six hours, he said, and caught about 30 of them sleeping. Talal said his feet and legs still hurt from the weight of the body armor.

 

Clearly, context like this is not well-served by the adversarial frame of “mainstream-versus-alternative-news.” Reporting from this war is deadly serious business. Deadly for the reporters, but how they report can also be deadly for us all. Writing is only an honorable profession when done honorably. In a market-driven media, cheap stringers who are usually hard to fact-check fit the low-cost model. I do not know what Talal reports and so make no comment on his reporting. But I will say that Talal is intelligent and extremely courageous, and apparently does not sleep much because I see him all over Baqubah.

 

On the subject of credit given where it’s due, Robert Reid from the Associated Press was out there Saturday on the ground with General Petraeus, taking notes. It remains to be seen what will come of those, but at least he made them. The times are different for everyone who dares to report on this war. Including Talal. Including Robert Reid. Including Michael Gordon and Alexandra Zavis and Michael Yon. The bloggers who demand fairness and truth are auditing what we write, but the market ultimately determines how much of any kind of reporting about this war ever gets placed before consumers.

The Ground Truth

LTC Fred Johnson

A couple weeks ago, LTC Fred Johnson told me a story about General Petraeus. Back when LTC Johnson was Captain Johnson, and General Petraeus was Colonel Petraeus, Colonel Petraeus was Captain Johnson’s new commander. They were doing a live-fire exercise at a range at Fort Campbell when a young soldier named Specialist Terrence Jones tripped and accidentally fired his weapon while conducting a live-fire assault. The bullet from Specialist Jones’ weapon struck Colonel Petraeus, slamming through his chest and taking a piece of his back on the way out. Petraeus fell to the ground, bleeding out of his mouth. He nearly died. We could have lost one of the most important and influential military leaders in generations to a mistake. To a professional misstep.

 

The best that Captain Johnson and Specialist Jones might have hoped for was a painless end to their military service. I asked LTC Fred Johnson about the story of his own soldier shooting David Petraeus, and I asked how it could be that Johnson was still in the military. Johnson looked me in the eye and said something like, “Mike. You know what Petraeus did?”

 

“What?” I asked.

 

“He gave me a second chance.”

 

Fred Johnson actually got picked up for promotion early.

 

“But what happened to the young soldier?” I asked, thinking surely there had to be a consequence. Conventional wisdom stipulates that for balance to be restored after accidentally shooting and nearly killing a superior officer, a sacrifice of some magnitude is necessary. A soldier just can’t shoot a commander in the chest and walk away. There is no such thing as an “accidental discharge.” Unplanned bullet launches are called “negligent discharges.” As in negligent homicide.

 

LTC Johnson answered something like, “Mike, you won’t believe how Jones was punished. Petraeus sent Jones to Ranger School.”

 

I couldn’t believe my ears! That’s a punishment that a lot of young soldiers dream about, even though Ranger School is a very difficult course. But after thinking on it awhile, I realized it probably explains why LTC Johnson sometimes says, “I believe in second chances.”

 

Fred Johnson said it just the other day. He said it to me, “When someone gives you a second chance, you should pass it along.”

July 9, 2007 Posted by | GWOT, Jihadists, Terrorists, USArmy, Yon | 5 Comments

Michael Yon Reports


Baqubah Update: 05 July 2007

 

Today marks “D +16” of Operation “Arrowhead Ripper,” the Battle for Baqubah. Arrowhead Ripper kicked off on 19 June 07. I have several dispatches in the works about the major events since that time. Although the serious fighting seems to be over, there remains a possibility for some sharp fighting in the near future.   The morning of 06 July began with the sounds of American cannons firing, shells whizzing through the air, while they checked systems and aiming for combat.  Apache helicopters orbited Baqubah as the orange sun crested into view.

 

Media coverage went from a near monopoly (Michael Gordon from New York Times and me) to a nearly capsized boat as journalists flooded in from other parts of Iraq to see the fight.  They managed to miss most of it. Today, I’m told, there are now only 3 journalists remaining, including one writer (me.)

 

As with the Battle for Mosul, which I held in near monopoly for about five months during 2005, the most interesting parts of the Battle for Baqubah are unfolding after the major fighting ends. But as the guns cool, the media stops raining and starts evaporating, or begins making only short visits of a week or so.

 

The big news on the streets today is that the people of Baqubah are generally ecstatic, although many hold in reserve a serious concern that we will abandon them again. For many Iraqis, we have morphed from being invaders to occupiers to members of a tribe. I call it the “al Ameriki tribe,” or “tribe America.”

 

I’ve seen this kind of progression in Mosul, out in Anbar and other places, and when I ask our military leaders if they have sensed any shift, many have said, yes, they too sense that Iraqis view us differently.  In the context of sectarian and tribal strife, we are the tribe that people can—more or less and with giant caveats—rely on.

 

Most Iraqis I talk with acknowledge that if it was ever about the oil, it’s not now. Not mostly anyway.  It clearly would have been cheaper just to buy the oil or invade somewhere easier that has more.  Similarly, most Iraqis seem now to realize that we really don’t want to stay here, and that many of us can’t wait to get back home.  They realize that we are not resolved to stay, but are impatient to drive down to Kuwait and sail away. And when they consider the Americans who actually deal with Iraqis every day, the Iraqis can no longer deny that we really do want them to succeed. But we want them to succeed without us.  We want to see their streets are clean and safe, their grass is green, and their birds are singing.  We want to see that on television.  Not in person.  We don’t want to be here.  We tell them that every day.  It finally has settled in that we are telling the truth.

 

Now that all those realizations and more have settled in, the dynamics here are changing in palpable ways.

 

Since my reporting of the massacre at the al Hamari village, many readers at home have asked how anyone can know that al Qaeda actually performed the massacre. The question is a very good one, and one that I posed from the first hour to Iraqis and Americans while trying to ascertain facts about the killings.

 

No one can claim with certainty that it was al Qaeda, but the Iraqis here seem convinced of it. At a meeting today in Baqubah one Iraqi official I spoke with framed the al Qaeda infiltration and influence in the province. Although he spoke freely before a group of Iraqi and American commanders, including Staff Major General Abdul Kareem al Robai who commands Iraqi forces in Diyala, and LTC Fred Johnson, the deputy commander of 3-2 Stryker Brigade Combat Team, the Iraqi official asked that I withhold his identity from publication. His opinion, shared by others present, is that al Qaeda came to Baqubah and united many of the otherwise independent criminal gangs.

 

Speaking through an American interpreter, Lieutenant David Wallach who is a native Arabic speaker, the Iraqi official related how al Qaeda united these gangs who then became absorbed into “al Qaeda.” They recruited boys born during the years 1991, 92 and 93 who were each given weapons, including pistols, a bicycle and a phone (with phone cards paid) and a salary of $100 per month, all courtesy of al Qaeda. These boys were used for kidnapping, torturing and murdering people.

 

At first, he said, they would only target Shia, but over time the new al Qaeda directed attacks against Sunni, and then anyone who thought differently. The official reported that on a couple of occasions in Baqubah, al Qaeda invited to lunch families they wanted to convert to their way of thinking. In each instance, the family had a boy, he said, who was about 11-years-old. As LT David Wallach interpreted the man’s words, I saw Wallach go blank and silent.  He stopped interpreting for a moment. I asked Wallach, “What did he say?” Wallach said that at these luncheons, the families were sat down to eat.  And then their boy was brought in with his mouth stuffed. The boy had been baked.  Al Qaeda served the boy to his family.

 

The Deputy Governor for Diyala Province had told me on 04 July that al Qaeda burned the home of a Provincial Council leader named Abdul Jabar.  Jabar, an Iraqi official who has no reservations about being named as a source, provided information about the killings I described in the dispatch “Bless the Beasts and Children.” Abdul Jabar lived in the area of the al Hamira village, which he said is properly spelled al Ahamir. Jabar agreed to a video interview, during which he said al Qaeda killed and disposed of hundreds of people in the area. He also said during the video interview that he did not believe the remains of the murder victims I saw were people from the village. Abdul Jabar believes the villagers were run out, and that the people being dug up were kidnapped from elsewhere.

 Diyala Provincial chair holder Adbul Jabar [All photos shot on 05 Jul 07 in Baqubah]

Like many things in Iraq, the question of whether or not the murderers were al Qaeda is flawed from beginning. Al Qaeda is not a union, it doesn’t issue passports. What is al Qaeda but the collection of people who claim to be al Qaeda? Those responsible for murdering and burying those bodies in al Ahamir (or al Hamira) had the markers of al Qaeda, the same al Qaeda that had boastfully installed itself as the shadow government of Baqubah.  The al Qaeda who committed atrocities in Afghanistan, New York…the list is long.  As for al Ahamir, the massacre “walks like a duck.”  It happened in duck headquarters.  The people here say the duck did it.  The duck laughs.

 

And so on 05 July, or D + 16, after the meeting, Iraqi leaders including the Deputy Governor of Diyala, and also Abdul Jabar, one of the Provincial chair holders, headed to some of the most dangerous areas in Baqubah on what Americans would call “a meet and greet.” At first the people seemed hesitant, but when they saw Iraqi leaders–along with members of their own press–asking citizens what they needed, each place we stopped grew into a festival of smiles.

 

The people were jubilant. None of the kids–and by the end of the day there were hundreds–asked me for anything, other than to take their photos. These were not the kids-made-brats by well-meaning soldiers, but polite Iraqi kids in situ, and the cameras were like a roller coaster ride for them. The kids didn’t care much for the video; they wanted still photos taken. While the kids were trying to get me to photograph them, it was as if the roller coaster was cranking and popping up the tracks, but when I finally turned the camera on them–snap! –it was as if the rollercoaster had crested the apex and slipped into the thrill of gravity. Of course, once the ride ended, it only made some clamor for more. Iraqi kids that have not been spoiled by handouts are the funniest I have seen anywhere.

This boy wanted his photo taken over and over.

These girls–one of them had lost her two front teeth–were like the boys and just wanted more and more photos taken. A man came up and laughed and grabbed her teeth saying she had no teeth, and that really set the girls to giggles.

The man laughed, and so did the girls, but as the girl on the left grabbed her own teeth self-consciously, the boy dived into the scene.

Kids were flooding out of the apartments as their parents talked with the Iraqi leaders.

American soldiers just watched, but during one of the impromptu stops, an Iraqi man who might have been 30-years-old came up and said that he’d been beaten up by soldiers from the 5th Iraqi Army. He had the marks on his face to lend initial credence.  But most striking was that he hadn’t gone to the Iraqi leaders, nor did he come to the man with the camera and note pad. He did what I see Iraqis increasingly doing: he went to the local sheik of “al Ameriki tribe.”  In this case, the sheik was LTC Fred Johnson.  (Note: I have not heard anyone calling the American commanders sheiks, but during meetings around Iraq, American officers often preside like sheiks and with sheiks.)

More and more Iraqis put their trust in Americans as arbiters of justice. The man said he was afraid to complain to Iraqi officials because he might get killed, but he wanted to tell LTC Johnson, who listened carefully. When the man pleaded for anonymity, Johnson said he needed written statements from witnesses. The man pointed to some witnesses, and then disappeared and came back with statements, and I can say from my own eyes that Johnson was careful with those statements, guarding them until he could get alone with an Iraqi general later on 05 July.

These kids crack me up. But you do have to be careful: every once in a while they throw a hand grenade or detonate an IED. The enemy uses them like fodder.

Iraqi fathers constantly dive toward the camera: Got to show those kids off. They’ll walk all the way across the road just to get a photo of their baby taken.

Abdul Jabar (center) and the Deputy Governor of Diyala (right).

On D +1 and for those first few days of Operation Arrowhead Ripper, the Iraqi leaders seemed mostly inert. But now on D+16, only about two weeks later, they are out politicking, showing their faces in public, letting the people know they are in charge.  And, unlike the tired cliché of a politician in a parade, they truly have been working behind the scenes. I know because I sit in on the meetings, and listen to the progress reports as items on the lists get checked off. I hear the whining as each section of Baqubah seems to think they are the forgotten ones. “Why the Sunni getting help first?” They ask. But then in another neighborhood, “Why the Shia getting help first?” But I watch the sausage-making.  LTC Johnson will say, “Mike, c’mon.  It’s time to make suasage and you need to see this.”  It’s messy and frustrating.  But food shipments have resumed to Baqubah after 10 months of nothing.  Not that Diyala Province is starving: Diyala is, after all, Iraq’s breadbasket.

I see this guy all over Baqubah–he’s one of the Associated Press stringers.

Iraqi girls are like Iraqi fathers: they come up to the camera with the babies, but every-once-in-a-baby, the baby wants to be somewhere else.

July 6, 2007 Posted by | GWOT, Yon | 1 Comment

Message From Michael Yon!


Please click to read an important “Update on Bless the Beasts and Children.”

“Bless the Beasts and Children” is one of the most frequently downloaded–and commented on–dispatches for any 24-hour period since “Gates of Fire.” Growing numbers of readers are becoming furious that mainstream media continues to mostly ignore a well-documented mass-murder, while some outlets persist in widely publishing stories known to have been fabricated. The update considers this controversy as it provides new and emerging details about the incident.

New readers have been trying to dive into the difficult-to-navigate archives for some of the more popular previous dispatches. Over the coming months as the site is reworked this will improve. Meanwhile, a few links to vintage dispatches:

The Kids!

Hello, Ameriki

Little Girl
Killing for God

Lost in Translation

Whipping Boy

Camp Bastion

The Floating Village

The Hands of God

Respectfully,

Michael

 

Baqubah, Iraq

 

Since the publication of “Bless the Beasts and Children” many questions have arisen: some of which I can and will answer here, and some whose answers lie elsewhere.

 

Today, late afternoon on 3 July in Baqubah, Colonel Hiduit from 2nd Brigade 5th Iraqi Army was able to provide some additional details about the murders, as the ongoing investigation begins to yield more facts. The name of the village was not on any maps I examined while preparing the dispatch, but Colonel Hiduit said the name is al Hamira. Coordinates to the area of the gravesites are MC 679 381.

 

In my dispatch, I reported that six people were killed, but mentioned that Iraqi soldiers were still digging out bodies when I left. A few hours ago, Colonel Hiduit put the number at 10-14, and said the search for bodies had ended. I made video of the graves, bodies and of interviews with Iraqi and American soldiers while we still were at the scene and have been working to make material from this available on this website.

 

As the investigation unfolds more pertinent details, I’ll continue to update the story. But the biggest question rippling across the internet–“Why hasn’t the mainstream media picked this up?” –is something only representatives of mainstream media can answer.

 

In fairness, several large outlets did publish it online:  National Review Online and Fox News were both quick to place the story prominently on their websites. A few others also published excerpts. It was even briefly up on the Drudge Report. On the blog front, Instapundit, Hugh Hewitt, Blackfive, Andrew Sullivan, Captain’s Quarters and many others picked it up.

 

But for those publications who actually had people embedded in Baqubah when the story first broke and still failed to cover it, their malaise is inexplicable. I do not know why all failed to report the murders and booby-trapped village: apparently no reporters bothered to go out there, even though it’s only about 3.5 miles from this base. Any one of the reporters currently in Baqubah could still go to these coordinates and follow his or her nose and find the gravesites.

 

On this question of media selectivity, the blogosphere has become incensed that big media mostly ignored the murders, especially given that there are reporters currently in Baqubah. Newsbusters and countless others are on it. More disturbing to many bloggers is that major mainstream players were busted (again) by Pajamas Media just days ago for reporting outright fabrications of a “massacre” that never occurred.

 

Although I can’t answer to the cause of the problem, I humbly offer permission to media outlets to republish excerpts of the dispatch or the dispatch in its entirety, including my photographs from the story (if used as they are in the dispatch) at no cost during the month of July 2007.  I only ask that the site receive proper attribution and that any publication taking me up on the offer email the website with the details.

 

If much of mainstream media does not recognize barbarity, clearly their readers can and do. Readers throughout the world might consider contacting their local papers and favorite websites with the link to this update. The story is very important in that it is well-documented with photos and video, and the Iraqi and American soldiers who were present are named and easily reachable. Those mainstream reporters currently in Baqubah could readily take up the baton.

Michael Yon does not receive funding or financial support from Fox News, movie, book or television deals at this time. He is entirely reader supported. He relies on his readers to help him replace his equipment and cover his expenses so that he may remain in Iraq and bring you the stories of our soldiers. If you value his work, please consider supporting his mission.

July 3, 2007 Posted by | GWOT, Lame Stream Media, Yon | Leave a comment

Michael Yon: Bless the Beasts and Children


WARNING!  Very graphic photos here!

And this is just one of many reasons why we are where we are and the urgency there is to utterly destroy the murderers of Islam.

 

Keep up the good work, Yon and may God be with you.

Why are we there?  You decide!

On 29 June, American and Iraqi soldiers were again fighting side-by-side as soldiers from Charley Company 1-12 CAV, led by Captain Clayton Combs, and Iraqi soldiers from the 5th IA, closed in on a village on the outskirts of Baqubah. The village had the apparent misfortune of being located near a main road—about 3.5 miles from FOB Warhorse—that al Qaeda liked to bomb. Al Qaeda had taken over the village. As Iraqi and American soldiers moved in, they came under light contact; but the bombs planted in the roads, and maybe in the houses, were the real threat.

 

The firefight progressed. American missiles were fired. The enemy might have been trying to bait Iraqi and American soldiers into ambush, but it did not work. The village was riddled with bombs, some of them large enough to destroy a tank. One by one, experts destroyed the bombs, leaving small and large craters in the unpaved roads.

 

The village was abandoned. All the people were gone. But where?

 

On 30 June, Soldiers from 1-12 Cav allowed me to go to the village in one of their M-1 tanks.

 

LT Baxter, Tank Commander.

 

As often happens in Iraq, the first time I meet American combat soldiers, we are going off to do something serious. Although the soldiers usually do not know me, they are courteous and professional, and always watching out for me. And so it was with LT Baxter, who was commanding the M-1 tank that I’d be riding along in, and who made sure I didn’t break my neck getting into the tank. I nearly pulled him off the tank while climbing aboard.

 

The tankers drove off FOB Warhorse, and only a few miles later, we arrived at the outskirts of the abandoned village.

 

American soldiers began unloading dozens of body bags, which the Iraqi soldiers, with grim looks, carried into the village.

 

 

July 1, 2007 Posted by | GWOT, Iraq, Terrorists, Yon | 7 Comments

Michael Yon…Drilling For Justice


Drilling for Justice

Drilling for Justice

Army officers have been pleased with Michael Gordon’s portrayal of the events in Baqubah.

 

On 19 June American forces sealed off Baqubah and began attacking targets within the city. The immediate goal of Arrowhead Ripper was to free Baqubah of al Qaeda, by trapping and killing its members, but according to American officers here, public remarks by senior military officials may have flushed many AQI leaders before the attack. Despite this frustrating and significant setback, progress toward the end-state goal of Arrowhead Ripper—turning over Baqubah to Iraqi government control—appears to be working, at least in terms of the removal of the current AQI leadership and its quasi-government. There are conflicting signals about how many of the AQI leadership escaped before Arrowhead Ripper launched. This weekend’s capture of a possible high-value target in Baqubah indicates that not all AQI leaders successfully fled the city before the attack.

 

Media reports indicating that many top leaders escaped before Arrowhead Ripper began appear to be mostly true. But other information suggests some AQI leaders are trapped just down the road from where I write. In addition to the seven men who were caught trying to escape while dressed as women, there is information that some AQI leaders remain trapped in a constricting cordon.

Senior Officer in the Iraqi 5th Division during meeting in Baqubah. The Iraqi Army in Baqubah is far more capable than the police.

 

For security reasons, the Iraqi Army (IA) was not included in the initial planning of Arrowhead Ripper, yet with each succeeding day the IA has taken a larger role in the unfolding attack. The Fifth Iraqi Army Division is considered an increasingly competent group of fighters, and from the limited scope of 5th IA that I personally witnessed, that judgment seems correct. The 5th is committed to battle. Whereas the Iraqi Army is coming into the fight, and playing increasingly critical roles, the local police force is less impressive.

 

June 25, 2007 Posted by | Arrowhead Ripper, Yon | 6 Comments

Arrowhead Ripper: Surrender or Die


HOOAH!!!

First a quick media round-up. (This is not all inclusive.)
Alexandra Zavis from Los Angeles Times is down in the heat of the battle bringing home information. Michael Gordon from New York Times is still slugging it out, and his portions are accurate in the co-authored story, “Heavy Fighting as US Troops Squeeze Insurgents in Iraqi City.”target=”blank” (Long title.)

CNN has joined the fight. AP came but will stay only a few days. Joe Klein from TIME was here on the 21st and his story posted the same day and was accurate. We rode together in a Stryker. Like magic, Joe’s story was out before I got back to base. Joe took a helicopter out and filed from elsewhere. I’m having comms problems here which is greatly slowing the flow. My Thuraya satellite phone and RBGAN satellite dish are not working for hours each day. The AP reporter is having the same problems. The signal degradation is caused by a special sort of RF interference. Moving our antennas around won’t work. We simply get cut off for long periods.

I am with 3-2 Stryker Brigade Combat Team. I’ve run a few missions with them in Baghdad, and they have fought all over Iraq. This Brigade has much recent combat experience, and is expertly commanded. A person does not need to even meet the commanders (though I do each day) to know they are running a tight ship. The professionalism of 3-2 is particularly high, and they are very competent fighters who are maximizing their assets, including the incredible Stryker vehicles.

GODSPEED!!

OH DARN!!

June 22, 2007 Posted by | Arrowhead Ripper, Yon | Leave a comment

Michael Yon…On Day One


Operation Arrowhead Ripper: Day One

The first day of operation Arrowhead Ripper was intense. The Army is giving full access to the battlefield, and while on base full access to the TOC (HQ) which means I see the raw truth on the ground, and as it feeds through the TOC. They are hiding nothing. Or if they are, it’s in plain view. (Special operations notwithstanding.) A reporter can see as much as he or she can stand.

God Be With You And Our Troops, Michael! Thank you for your unending devotion.

HOOAH!

“…I don’t want to say much more about that, but our guys are seriously outsmarting them. Big fights are ahead and we will take serious losses probably, but al Qaeda, unless they find a way to escape, are about to be slaughtered. Nobody is dropping leaflets asking them to surrender. Our guys want to kill them, and that’s the plan…”

June 21, 2007 Posted by | Arrowhead Ripper, Yon | Leave a comment

Michael Yon…Death Or Glory Part 4


As Michael has said to us in previous emails, he has completed his “tour” with the British contingent and as I write this and others read it, he is in The Mix.

Death Or Glory: Part IV of IV

Approaching a Bedouin: a young British Officer wears no Helmet and carryies no rifle. This war cannot be won by mere force. We did not come here to fight every Iraqi—or Bedouin—or whatever they might be. This Bedouin is no threat to our national security, or interests. He can, however, influence both, in his small way.

Few things are as reliably deceptive as appearance. If one of our jet pilots must eject, he might land out here among someone’s camels. I recall an officer talking about one of our helicopters crashing in Mosul, where local Iraqis were the first to the scene, and tried to help our people. Of course, sometimes the opposite occurs. The point is these people who live different lives and have different religions are not all out here plotting ways to kill us.

June 19, 2007 Posted by | Yon | Leave a comment

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