Startled by the question and the soldier’s aggressive tone, I stammered a reply, “It’s a notepad.”
With his automatic rifle still aimed at my chest, the big American guard stepped closer and barked, “What is it for?”
Thinking that he was now joking with me, I laughingly responded, ” Uh, taking notes?”
I realised my error when the young soldier angrily continued his questioning. “What kind of notes?” he yelled as though I were hard of hearing.
“I’m a journalist, so I’m simply writing down my personal observations and recording my own thoughts,” I quickly explained.
Still evidently disturbed by my response, the American MP bellowed once again, “Do you have the necessary authority to take such notes?”
“If I get home alive, I plan to get out of the army and forget forever that there is a place on earth called Iraq”
When I began replying that I did not even know where to start seeking authorisation which would permit me to record my personal thoughts, the soldier quickly interrupted me.
“Until you can produce written authorisation, I must ask you to refrain from using your notepad on these premises!”
Admittedly, there is a good reason for the US occupation troops in Iraq to be jumpy. Over the past few weeks, the number of ambushes mounted by Saddam loyalists against occupation forces has increased dramatically.
Killed or wounded
On average, allied troops are coming under attack a dozen times a day, and the Operation Iraqi Freedom casualty list continues to increase at a rate of about 10 killed and 60 wounded per week.
Some US soldiers hold nothing but
“If you do the math – with 150,000 US personnel each serving at least a 12 month tour of duty in Iraq – the chance for one of us being killed or wounded is a one in 50 possibility,” said Sgt Chris Jones, a tank commander with the US First Armoured (Old Ironsides) Division in Baghdad.
“Those are not exactly comforting odds – and it’s something which most soldiers think about every day.”
The constant stress and demanding workload have already taken a tremendous toll on both the US Forces’ individual psysches and their collective morale.
Units such as the 173 Airborne Brigade, stationed in northern Iraq, have spent over seven months in theatre, without any of these soldiers being able to enjoy so much as a weekend off for R & R.
More than the physical hardship, the lack of American progress in restoring stability to Iraq has seriously undermined the resolve of the coalition troops.
“Our guys are disillusioned,” said Corporal Miller, one of the US soldiers stationed in central Baghdad. “First they told us that we would be welcomed as liberators, and [George] Bush promised us that we would not have to stay in Iraq.
“However ‘stabilisation’ is just another word for ‘occupation’ no matter what Bush tells America.”
Since the US President declared an end to major combat operations on 1 May, the American forces in Iraq have developed a ‘bunker’ mentality.
While armoured patrols are mounted and weapons search’s are conducted on Iraqi streets, for the most part, US troops remain completely isolated from the general population.
“Our guys are disillusioned. First they told us that we would be welcomed as liberators, and [George] Bush promised us that we would not have to stay in Iraq … ‘stabilisation’ is just another word for ‘occupation’ no matter what Bush tells America”
Their barracks and camps are ringed by barbed wire fences and cement bastions complete with watchtowers and floodlights.
“I’ve not been outside the camp wall since we moved into this bivouac on 20 April,” said Corporal David Slaughter, a 22-year-old West Virginian serving with the 4th Infantry Division in the Central Iraq town of Taji.
When asked whether he would he would like the opportunity to venture into town to meet with the locals, during his tour Slaughter replied, ” Are you out of your mind? I can’t stand these Iraqis.”
When pressed as to how many Iraqis he had actually met, Slaughter confessed he had never so much as spoken to one of the local civilians.
“I can’t stand these Iraqis … all they do is sit around in cafes on little stools drinking tea. That’s stupid”
Corporal David Slaughter,
“But I know that I wouldn’t like them. All they do is sit around in cafes on little stools drinking tea. That’s just stupid.”
For most of the young American troops, Iraq is a living hell that they can’t wait to depart. “Unfortunately, the only way to get out of Iraq early is either in a body bag or on a stretcher,” said Corporal Slaughter.
While senior members of the US Administration continue to deny that Iraq is fast becoming another Vietnam, the troops on the ground have no problem making such an analogy.
“My only mission here is to survive my tour,” said Sergeant Chris Jones. “If I get home alive, I plan to get out of the army and forget forever that there is a place on earth called Iraq.”
* Scott Taylor is also the author of Spinning on the Axis of Evil – America’s War Against Iraq, to be published by Esprit de Corps Books on 23 October