Most of the people I work with are proud to serve their country, and more importantly (I think) they are proud of their accomplishments. In my case, it really helps to be able to see the results of our hard work. During my time in Iraq I got to travel all over the place, visiting almost every major city. As we drove around, a majority of the locals would stop what they were doing when they saw us so that they could smile and wave as we passed them. Quite a few of them would shout nice things at us in their limited English, such as, "Thank you! Thank you! Bad Saddam, good Bush! Good Bush!". It was the interaction with the locals that meant the most to me. Through translators or the occasional luck of finding a local that spoke decent English, I got to hear their side of the story. The more I heard, the more shocked I was. Before I ever entered Iraq I had known that Saddam was a bad person, along with his sons and all the other cruel people that had unfairly been placed in positions of power. But some of the stories that the locals enlightened me with were just amazing.
Plenty of people know the story of Uday torturing Iraqi national team athletes, and if you don', you should read this article:
The horrors of Saddam's 'sadist' son
By Tom Farrey
In the history of the world, an expanse that covers Genghis Khan and Adolf Hitler and other despots both past and present, there is no shortage of absolute rulers whose human rights records compare with that of today's designated pariah, Saddam Hussein.
There may never have been a sports official, though, as brutal as his son, Uday.
As president of the Iraqi National Olympic Committee, Uday allegedly tortures athletes for losing games. He sticks them in prison for days or months at a time. Has them beaten with iron bars. Caned on the soles of their feet. Chained to walls and left to stay in contorted positions for days. Dragged on pavement until their backs are bloody, then dunked in sewage to ensure the wounds become infected. If Uday stops by a player's jail cell, he might urinate on his bowed, shaven head. Just to humiliate him.
. . .
But there are plenty of unknown horrors that the mainstream doesn't know about. I'll leave those unsaid for now, and instead impart two stories that aren't so grim.
The palace in Babylon is a holy site, and one that I had the good fortune to visit. (You can read more about Babylon at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Babylon) I only got to stay for a few hours before having to move on, but the memory will stay with me for a long time to come. I got there in early April of 2003, while the palace was still being looted. Most of the looting was over; locals were left with striping the wiring out of the walls and stealing the electrical outlets. Anyway, I got to walk through all the rooms and gawk at the fantastic mural painted on the ceiling of what I like to call the "throne room". A large portion of the inside of the palace is made of marble, but the "throne room" was pretty much pure marble. The reason I like to call it the throne room is because it was mostly white marble on the floor and walls, except for a section of black marble on one wall that was roughly 10 feet wide and 20 feet tall, tapering to a point at the top (if my memory serves me right), and then a ~3" platform of black marble extending out in front of it about 10 feet. It looked like the perfect spot for a throne to sit or for someone to stand behind a podium and give a speech. But I digress; as I moved on to the next room I came across a group of four locals that seemed to be sight-seeing rather than looting. One of them approached me and asked me to take a picture of them, holding out his camera. I was surprised by how well he spoke English. He told me that he was a college professor in An Najaf, I believe. He then went on to explain what the different parts of the mural in the "throne room" meant, its significance, the history of the palace, etc. I probably spent half an hour talking to him and soaking it all in. Really interesting stuff. Towards the end though, I asked him why he and his group were sight-seeing during a time of war. He said that they had never been allowed to visit the palace before and that they wanted to take the opportunity to see it while they had the chance - despite the risks. Apparently Saddam had guards posted around the perimeter with orders to shoot-to-kill anyone who approached within 200 meters of the palace. So, it was nice to open up this holy site for the locals to visit - it's just a shame that we weren't able to preserve it intact and prevent the looting.
Months later, when most of my operations were focused in the northern part of Iraq, mostly in Mosul, I came across another interesting story. I was working/staying at one of the palaces in Mosul, and life was not too bad. They had gotten one of the pools cleaned up and operational so that we had some recreation in between missions, and they were working on building a fairly big dining facility. While the big dining facility was under construction, they had a temporary one set up (one of the military on-wheels type). So we were able to get two hot meals a day, which was nice even if it was just heated T-rations (Thermostabilized Rations) they were serving, which is food that is sealed in large tin containers. The entire container has to be boiled to heat the food. Powdered eggs the color of sand are a common T-ration breakfast entree. Yum. But they also managed to procure and fly in some fresh fruit for us, so would grab a couple pieces of fruit at each meal. That was really nice! Well, one day I didn't feel like eating all the fruit, so I gave an apple to one of the locals. We had about 40 or so locals working on our camp to rebuild damage, clean up, and construct new buildings such as the dining facility. Anyway, when I gave him the apple, he was very happy and appreciative. So, I figured that when I could, I would give a piece or two of fruit away each day. Well, the locals continued to be very appreciative, but every once in a while just about went nuts! I didn't quite understand it, but after a couple weeks I noticed that it was only one particular piece of fruit that they became ecstatic about. It was the plum that did it for them. I asked one of the locals that spoke broken English why the plums were so popular, and he did his best to explain. He told me that Saddam loved plums. Saddam loved plums so much that he declared only he could eat plums. No one was allowed to eat plums unless they were handed a plum by Saddam himself. So I asked the local, "Isn't there at least a black market for the plums?" To which he replied, "Oh, no! NO!!! No black market! Penalty death!" as he emphatically shook his head back and forth. Now what kind of country do you have to live in for there to be a death penalty if you possess or eat a plum? Iraq, apparently. Wow. Saddam sounds like a great guy, I'd really like to meet him . . .
Well, I guess the point of those stories is that the people of Iraq appreciate what we've done for them. What we are still doing for them. It was personally very gratifying to see the results of our efforts first hand and hear the other side of the story - the story viewed from the inside, not from our typical outside-peering-in view. And probably most important, I want you to know that there is a lot of good being done over there. Unfortunately, the media tends to neglect that area, in favor of stories that will garner higher ratings (such as, "There's been another suicide bombing today . . .)"
I hope that my stories have offered a different perspective about Iraq. As a side note (since this is the GRMN board), my Garmin eTrex was right there with me the whole time!! ^_^