Council Me, Please: Pages From My Pocket

In this week’s edition of Pages From My Pocket: Reconciliation

This one comes from our time in the Surge. Post-Baghdad the Regiment moved to Ba’qubah in Diyala province. Diyala was where Abu Al Zarqawi had been hiding before the U.S. leveled him and his house. The continued sectarian issues in the region, coupled with the lack of employment and rule of law, were large factors in what was going on in Diyala at the time. This instability created rife opportunities for the Jaish Al-Mahdi (JAM – Shia) and various splinter groups of what was left of Al Qaeda in Iraq (Sunni). Diyala had become what we felt was a “mini Mosul” – most of us in the Regiment having been in and around Mosul during the Brigade’s first tour in OIF III. It was a support bed for illicit and insurgent activities. Other than kinetic operations, a lot of what we worked on was influence operations (IO) and non-lethal battlefield effects.

Think – ‘Hearts and Minds’ touchy-feely stuff…

IMG_4440a

This page here documents a series of meetings we attended of the local area reconciliation council. There were a lot of meetings, and there were a lot of councils.

  • Neighborhood advisory councils, the NAC
  • District advisory councils, the DAC
  • Shura councils, for attempting to establish governmental representation
  • Reconciliation councils, for re-integrating regional sectarian partisans
  • Belladiya council, the municipality (so water, power, etc. but generally the lack thereof)

You get the idea. So listed here we see notes that the Outlaw Troop Commander (‘Out 6’), our Squadron Commander (‘Saber 6’), the Isnad Group (‘ODA’ which is operational detachment alpha – a special forces team) and a slew of Iraqi local leaders are to be primary participants in the meeting. The Isnad Group (Isnad in Arabic meaning ‘support’) was a US-backed influence campaign to aid in the reconciliation process. That’s why the special forces guys were personally involved, as that is one of their many fortes.

Coalition Forces (CF) were requested to aid in the reconciliation process with a local group / sect led by Abu Tamir. I forget which side he was on, but he had made a name in the community for being a stalwart, un-agreeable to many of the local terms of reconciliation, and an overall pain in the ass. He was also seeking local district representation on the Shura council. Not someone you want in a position of influence (if you’re the opposing side, that is).

Life in Iraq was funny in this way. Prior to the Surge, possibly even as early on as the initial invasion, people were fleeing towns and areas and trying to go somewhere safe (or lay low). When the sectarian violence instigated by Al Qaeda in Iraq flourished, a lot of folks caught on the wrong side of isle opted to seek temporary residence elsewhere – in a new area, with family out of town, or just going anywhere else, period. And when reconciliation was occurring, people were showing up and going “hey, what are you doing in my house??”

In the interim, anyone showing that they were in a dwelling for a year or more could get a certificate from the local government stating their residency; you had to grease the right palms, naturally. And people who abandoned their homes and businesses to return two or three years later were now faced with squatters, some of them ‘legitimized’ by the local government. And the only recourse was to pay the fees, bribe who you could, and then try to get your claim to rightful ownership through the maze of local and area councils and court systems. Sometime someone had their original deed, but more often than not they had to request a copy from the Baghdad Government – imagine how bureaucratic and slow that process would be when you had been deeded your home by the pre-invasion Saddam government. When there was still some type of government at all.

So reconciliation, getting ‘your people’ back to their homes, was important to your street cred as a local leader (or getting them legitimized in the home, if they were resisting someone else’s claim). So, naturally there was a lot of arguments and differing opinions in this matter. And in the process there were a lot of internally-displaced persons (IDP’s). ALL of this is irrespective of the larger issues of local government, such as getting the municipality working, getting funds from taxes and fees, providing enough water for crops and homes, etc. etc. etc. Iraq was rife with issues – that’s about it, really. We were unprepared to rebuild a country.

So the endless stream of meetings dragged on; the same old story told by different people, in different towns, with different names and faces. Aswad, Khalis, Hib Hib, Khan Bani Saad, Muqdadiya… the list went on. And when you have to go to these meetings, and listen to the local leaders listen to their people’s problems, you get tired. And you get bored. And its get hot – really hot in there. Maybe there is a fan, maybe.

My Squadron S3 operations officer, (then) Major Jim Dunivan, and me would try to keep each other awake and alert with little games. You’ll note different ‘counts’ I made at the bottom of the page. Cell-phone interruptions were the ultimate winner on that particular day. [People would just answer them right in the middle of the meeting and then begin having a conversation with whomever about whatever – no concept of courtesy] I am actually surprised there was only one ‘outburst of rage’ in that meeting, and of course, the over-shaken pop can causing a ‘soda can explosion’ interruption.

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Here’s a fun series of photos I snapped once: Some guy angrily blaming everyone for being corrupt, and then the head of the meeting storms out.  Classic Iraqi drama.

Other notes you’d see in my scribbles from these types of meetings would be “The Sheik wants free-Ameriky back surgery – can the Army do this? Hahaha!” Ameriky being how the Arabs would pronounce America. Or “I am writing this to make this dude think I care about his problems.” And the ever popular “blah blah blah I HATE IRAQ!!!!!”

I mean after all, there is only so much of this type of futility thing a person can take…

About anotherwarriorpoet

Mathew Bocian served as a Captain in the United States Army with the Stryker Brigade and was deployed to Mosul and Tal'Afar in 2004 - 2005, and to Baghdad for The Surge in 2007 - 2008. He left the Army in 2012 and now uses his poetry as a way to heal from the traumas of war, while attempting to express to readers the realities of war. He is the recipient of the Bronze Star and Purple Heart, and holds a master's from the Graduate School for Public and International Affairs at the University of Pittsburgh.
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2 Responses to Council Me, Please: Pages From My Pocket

  1. robakers says:

    Long time reader here. I love the insight that you give to your side of the fight. Back in 2003, I thought invading Iraq was a bad idea and 13 years later, I am sure that it was a bad idea. Too much blood and treasure wasted over there. I love figuring out where I was when I read your articles. We knew things were messed up at the time but I don’t remember hearing stories like your documenting now. You guys had it so much tougher than we did, and I thought having a missile shot at us on a daily basis was bad.

    I had my own little book of notes but from the flying perspective, it really isn’t interesting.

    Keep up the great articles,

    rob

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks so much, Rob. I appreciate the words. My thoughts on the invasion and occupation sure changed as time went on. I had a lot of varied feelings and attitudes. And we certainly seemed to be ill-equipped; after the military re-tooled for a prolonged counterinsurgency, now it looks like Russia, China, and other nations are more postured for what we’d consider traditional ‘force on force’ warfare (while we pluck parts and planes from the boneyard to keep the force flying!)

      I personally wouldn’t want SAM’s and MANPADS being thrown at me on the daily so, I give you ALL the props! And hey – even if they may seem uninteresting, they’re surely reminders of the missions you flew, what you hauled, and I am sure there were very little “typical flights” over there.

      Thanks for reading, and thanks for your sacrifice of service.

      Like

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