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Monday, August 08, 2005

Iraq Pictures Set 3


The famous Imam Ali Mosque in An Najaf, Iraq. The Imam Ali Mosque was built over 1000 years ago. Because of this and the fact that the prophet is buried here, this is the most important holy place for Shite Muslims. This was the main reason why U.S. forces were extremely careful to avoid causing any damage to the mosque when fighting raged in An Najaf during the late summer of 2004 between US/Iraqi Army forces and the followers of Muqtada Al Sadr. I arrived in An Najaf at the end of August 2004. I missed the major fighting but little skirmishes were still going on (I got into a brief fire fight at a police check point on the outskirts of the city). When I took this picture, I was about 100-200 yards from the mosque. I could not get any closer because snipers were still active in the area.


The famous four chimneys of the electric power plant in Dora, Iraq. Dora is actually on the outskirts of Baghdad; a sort of suburb of the city of Baghdad. The electric power plant in Dora supplies the bulk of the electricity for the city of Baghdad. A good sign for the people living in Baghdad was to observe all four chimneys belching smoke. This indicated that the plant was fully operational and supplying enough electricity for the entire city of Baghdad. Unfortunately during the entire time I was in Iraq (10 months), I only observed smoke coming out of one chimney. When I arrived in Baghdad, none of the traffic lights were working. This was also the case with the street lights. This made driving during the day very difficult and driving at night VERY dangerous. Because of the electricity problem in Baghdad, everyday living was extremely hard for the Iraqis living there. Keeping food from spoiling was a major problem because power outages or no power at all was a constant problem. It was especially bad during the summer months where the temperatures averaged 120-130 degrees Fahrenheit every single day [The heat was simply unbelievable with a three month period (June-August) where every single day there was not a single cloud in the sky!!!!!!]. In order to escape from this summer heat, many Iraqis living in Baghdad simply slept outside on the roofs of their houses.


If anyone asks you, this is what a $500,000 trailer looks like. At least this is what I was told the U.S. government was being charged by the company responsible for building and delivering these trailers to Iraq for U.S. military personnel to live in. Each trailer has two air conditioned rooms for sleeping quarters with each room having enough space for two twin size beds, two wall lockers, a small refrigerator and a small entertainment center containing a 25" color TV set and a DVD player. The two rooms are connected by a bathroom that contains one sink, one toilet and one shower stall. A small hot water heater is also located in the bathroom. These trailers were actually quite comfortable living quarters but if the $500,000 price tag is correct, the profit margin on these structures must be pretty high. MG Smedley Butler, USMC, once made the comment that "war is a racket". I guess this is just as true nowadays as it was back in the 1920's when he was around. When I was in Iraq, I also heard a rumor that Kellog, Brown & Root (KBR), the subsidiary of Haliburton in charge of operating all the dining facilities (DFACs) for the U.S. military in Iraq, was charging the U.S. government $235 for every three hot meals served. That seemed to me to be pretty steep as well but in defense of KBR, I have to admit that the food they served was pretty good and wherever a significant number of U.S. military/government personnel were stationed in Iraq, KBR was right there as well providing three hot squares a day. I am really grateful to KBR because, thanks to them, during my entire tour of duty in Iraq, I did not have to eat one MRE (I guess I am an old soldier at heart; I will ALWAYS prefer C rations to MREs!!!).


This is part of Camp Victory from the air. This area with its man-made lakes and waterfront palaces and chalets was actually a complete resort town built by Saddam in 1998 for his 61st birthday. The waterfront palaces were for himself and members of his immediate family while the waterfront chalets were for his most loyal followers (i.e., his kiss asses). To see such extravagance for a select few in a country so poor and destitute was extremely disgusting to me. In a country where the average working adult made about $3 US a month (before the war), Saddam had about thirty palaces scattered about the countryside for his own personal use. All of this proved to me that Saddam was just like all the other dirtbag dictators who plagued the human race throughout the 20th Century; he was/is a complete and total sociopath.


The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier near the Presidential Palace in the Green Zone, Baghdad, Iraq. Despite its size, it was rather unimpressive to me and appeared to have been constructed on the cheap. It seemed to me that Saddam was more interested in spending lots of money and time on monuments to himself rather than on the poor unfortunate Iraqi soldiers who were forced to fight his many senseless wars. Practically all of the Iraqi men who were of military age during the Saddam years had to serve in the Iraqi military. Officers serving in Saddam's army had their passports confiscated so that they could not leave the country.


An unfinished mosque in Baghdad, Iraq. This mosque, once finished, was to be proclaimed the largest mosque in the world. The toppling of Saddam's regime brought its construction to a halt. Like everything else in Iraq, it was picked clean by scavengers once the fighting was over. However unlike many unguarded sites, there were no squatters living in it because it was inside the guarded compound housing the Baghdad recruiting center and the Iraqi infantry battalion tasked with garrison duty for the city of Baghdad. Squatters were a BIG problem in Baghdad. They were basically the homeless who would move into any unoccupied building and basically set up house. Squatters had no problems coping with no running water, no indoor plumbing, no electricity, etc. And once they moved in, it was almost impossible to evict them because practically all the male squatters were armed. In Iraq, it is legal for every male to own at least one weapon so practically every male has an AK-47 since this is the weapon of choice in Iraq.


Babylon. Babylon is about 100 miles south of Baghdad. Saddam was in the process of renovating this historical site when his regime was toppled. Babylon is only one of the many ancient historical sites in Iraq. The real tragedy of Iraq is that it could really have a booming economy based upon oil production and tourism. However the insurgency currently going on within the country is preventing this from happening. As I see it, this insurgency is the work of hardcore fanatics because only fanatics would refuse to realize that now that the Iraqi people have experienced true freedom and the benefits that come with it, many simply do not want to go back to way things use to be (i.e., a few haves and many have nots).


Some of my Iraqi buddies. COL Taha, MAJ Aqil and CWO Hasim from HHQ, 1st Brigade, 1st Division, Iraqi Army, at Ar Rustamiyah, Iraq. Colonel Taha was my boss when I was briefly attached to the 1st Brigade, Iraqi Army. Major Aqil was my Iraqi Army counterpart. He and I still correspond regularly via email. Chief Hasim was in charge of the 1st Brigade security detachment that provided protection for me when I was running payroll for the Iraqi Intervention Force. Ar Rustamiyah is where the Iraqi Army Military Academy is located. It is about 20 minutes south of Baghdad. This picture was taken at the small Iraqi shopette that was located on the post. The Iraqi gentleman running the shopette was a BIG Notre Dame football fan. That explains the ND poster on the wall in the background. I offered him $100 for the poster, which is a LOT of money in Iraq, but he refused to sell it. I ran into several Iraqis who were ND football fans. I also ran into several Germans who were ND football fans when I served in Germany. From these encounters it became apparent to me that the University of Notre Dame is probably the ONLY American university that can claim an international fan base in regards to its football program. GO IRISH!!!!!


My Mike Force, Baghdad, Iraq [this is why we were code named Baghdad Mike Force (BMF)]. This is a pic of me with SSG Craig Patrick and Chief Petty Officer Theodore Wilson taken on the grounds of the Presidential Palace, Baghdad, Iraq (not pictured, CPT Michael Gaines, USMC). These are the guys I used in Iraq for running payroll for the Iraqi Army for a three month period. During this period of time, we transported the equivalent of $4 million US in Iraqi dinars without the lost of a single dinar. We initially started with practically nothing to aid us in accomplishing our mission (the individual who tasked me with this job was my first boss in Iraq, COL Thomas "Tex" Hammes, USMC, the author of "The Sling and the Stone"). Note that CPO Wilson is holding an old beat up AK-47. At the beginning of June when I did my battle hand off to the Iraqis, all of my men were carrying brand new MP5's and Barretta pistols, all of them were getting weekly target practice at the Baghdad RC rifle range and all of them knew how to get around Baghdad unescorted. We had our own code system so we could email and telephone payroll information in the clear without the worry of being compromised. It was roughly based on American old west terminology. The Iraqis working with us eventually caught on towards the end and because they got a kick out it, they started calling us Buffalo Soldiers. This was because, for this three month period of time, the U.S. military personnel responsible for paying the entire Iraqi Armed Forces were all African-Americans. The reason as to why was simple: survival. At times when we had to roll without armed escort and in civilian clothes, we had to blend in. Since there are blacks in Iraq (some Sudanese and some native Iraqis from southern Iraq around the Basra area), the solution to blending in was simple: use African-American military personnel. However in spite of our success and our innovative ways to stay alive in the line of duty, I had to endure a lot of grief from REMFs who simply could not or would not TOTB (think outside the box). The Green Zone is inundated with these "warriors". The danger with this is that a preponderance of these guys in a war zone inevitably leads to the triggering of the Sukhomlinov effect.
The Sukhomlinov Effect. Named after General Vladimir Sukhomlinov, the Imperial Russian Minister of War at the start of World War I, this "rule" holds that in any given conflict the loser is most likely to be the side whose generals wear the better uniforms (modern day examples: the Vietnam War: 1965-72, the Afghanistan conflict:1979-1989, Somalia: 1993).
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6 Comments:

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7:28 PM  
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2:51 PM  
Blogger Emma said...

Wow amazing Pictures. Your blog is so informative thanks for all the info I'll make sure to stop by more offten.

7:59 PM  
Blogger CMATT 7 said...

Elton Johnson, I can't tell you how long I have searched the web for information and images from that area and that time. I was at KMTB with CMATT from Sep 03-Jan 04. I rode some of those same convoy routes and in the same conditions. To you and any other CMATT guys (or gals) that see this ....HOOOAH!!!

8:32 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't know Johnson, you claim to despise the REMF's but it sure looks like you had a considerable amount of time to sightsee in the Greeen Zone and hang out at the Embassy. Oh, and I really wouldn't brag about running cash between Victory and the Green Zone along Irish; it's a 20 minute drive and not that big of a deal.

8:13 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Elton, this is Galeazzi... LTC? congrats, I remember when we were snotty nosed E-4's. drop me a line when you get a chance.

7:44 AM  

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