Third Way in Iraq #10: Life in a War Zone

May 16th, 2006

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(This arrived as a letter from Sean dated May 1, 2006)

Well, one month down, six months to go. Time is moving fairly quickly here. The days that we are patrolling or conducting other operations are hectic, so time flies. The days we are on the FOB security move more slowly, but they provide us a chance to rest our bodies.

The city of Fallujah has been relatively quiet (knock on wood) for the last week or so. We conducted some major raids and detained some key figures a couple of weeks ago. Maybe that has something to do with the relative period of calm we’re experiencing. The lull won’t last, but it’s nice for the moment.

The last couple of weeks have not been entirely without incident. A suicide bomber detonated his explosive-laden vehicle close to one of our convoys. My platoon was also attacked with RPG and small-arms fire while we were cordoning off a suspected IED site. However, we haven’t been experiencing the kind of constant, harassing attacks that greeted us upon our arrival here.

We don’t get a lot of news here about the larger political situation in Iraq as a whole, but my sense (admittedly, based only on a months’ time here) is that a civil war would be very likely in the area where we are, were the US to pull out right now. Tensions between the Iraqi Army (which is recruited nationally and is predominately Shia) and the Iraqi Police (which is recruited locally and in Fallujah is overwhelmingly Sunni) run very high here. The insurgents may provide our best hope in this regard, oddly enough. Despite the fact that the police in Fallujah are Sunni, and despite rumors that the police force is heavily infiltrated by the insurgency, the insurgents continue to attack and kill police all the time. Perhaps the “enemy-of-my-enemy-is-my-friend” principle is the only influencing factor that can get Sunnis and Shia to work together here.

It continues to amaze me how routine life in a combat zone has become for the populous of Fallujah. People will scatter if gunfire erupts in their immediate vicinity, but otherwise they couldn’t be bothered. Traffic stops smartly when an American convoy rolls through and then starts back up just as indifferently once the convoy has passed. When we patrol through busy streets, people mill about and go on with their business as if there were not, in fact, heavily armed foreigners in full combat gear walking just feet away from them. The other day, I was standing on a street corner scanning rooftops. A voice called out from the storefront behind me. I turned around to see an ice-cream vendor smiling at me. “Would you like some ice cream?” he asked me in perfect English. “You look hot.” Needless to say, it wasn’t in our mission plan for Lcpl. Barney to take an ice cream break at that moment, so I had to politely decline.