Another Letter to a Friend (Iraq)

Alright, I’m back now, after several days. I went to stay with a local tribe a couple of days ago—well, to be more precise, I was at the palatial estate of the sheiks who run the million-member Hamdani tribe—and was sort of evacuated from there last night. There was a firefight on the sprawling property earlier in the day and somebody died. Colonel Wisam, whose base I’m staying at here at the Iraqi Army Second Battalion [25th Brigade, 17th Division] thought the shooting reason enough to send for me.

I was sitting in a side diwan, watching swallows fly around inside, in circles around the ceiling of this room, as I was being grilled by this shithead 12-year old Iraqi kid (a real aspiring prick) who had a hard-on for the U.S. You know me, I’m about the least flag-waving person you’re going to meet, but I’m also a natural contrarian. So when this shithead starts in with the notion—through hand gestures and broken English—that the U.S. comes here only to shoot and kill Iraqis, I just shut down and tuned him out. In all candor, I was sitting in a room with three other Iraqis, the uneducated help (people with whom I usually identify) and I wasn’t real comfortable with the way this kid was skewing the group dynamics.

He started asking me questions in Arabic, to which I’d just give him Ma fahemptic, I don’t understand you. He was giving me shit, I could tell, about being American. And hell, on one level I agreed with him. I felt like saying, “You wanna talk about empire and neo-modern colonialism, motherfucker, ‘cause I can put together a much more thorough run-down than your illiterate, uneducated ass is going to trundle through.”

Part of what burned my ass is not only that I’d come there unarmed and in good will to hear what they had to tell the world, but that I was working hand-in-hand with Sheik Mizher Hamdani to put together a piece talking about a new council of sheiks he wants to institute to involve that system more directly with the government. I was there to help. And the Hamdanis were being gracious hosts (I didn’t want for anything). Here this rat-bastard dumbfuck son of the slave-servant, a guy who dresses like Sinbad from the 16th Century and runs for coffee when someone calls for it (why is it that the indentured help, like that dumbfuck kid, is always so fucking brainwashed into dying first for its oppressors?) is grilling me, the one fucking American that’s come to his town without an M-4 and body armor (I showed up in a dishdasha and flip flops, for Christ’s sake).

I was just sitting there listening to the little prick, nodding my head and watching those swallows, when a blur went past the window and another little kid peaked his head in and said the jaish Iraqi had arrived. I was already in a slightly weird space because of that precocious little prick and when that kid said jaish Iraqi (Iraqi Army) I thought he said Jaish Al Mahdi, the militia of Muqutada Al Sadr and the most prominent terrorist organization in the area (these are the guys who went hand to hand with Al Qaeda, and more recently against the Americans). My heart fluttered. For that briefest of moments I thought the game was up. I thought I’d just seen a half-dozen of my own executioners flitter past that window. But then I realized the kid was talking about the Iraqi army—and those are my boys.

Sure enough, it was Lieutenant Ahmed, about the best friend I have here at Second Battalion, with a squad of his soldiers following him. And he wasn’t fucking around. This is the first time I’ve really replayed his arrival in my head, and he rolled straight up onto the Hamdani’s property boldly and without asking questions (they’re powerful and influential sheiks, but then again Ahmed represents the army—an interesting clash of power models in contemporary Iraq). He had that look in his eye like ‘I’m going in there with or without your permission, do yourself a favor and cooperate.’

He came into that diwan and I was like, ‘Ahmed, what’s up you ole fucker?’ This is a social land, where etiquette is important—even more so at a sheik’s house—and in the short time I was there a constant stream of people (sheiks, politicians, dignitaries, etc.) showed up and strolled through the property. At first, in fact, I thought the soldiers were there for a social call.

“Get your bags,” Ahmed said. “We’re going.”

“What?”

“Yeah, man, I telling you.”

“Everything okay, man?”

“Yeah, okay.”

It wasn’t till we were loaded up in the Humvees he told me somebody had died three hours earlier, in that firefight.

“No shit, man. I heard that firefight plain as day.”

Pulling me out of there was merely a preventative measure, but it was sure nice to know I got people looking out for me. Ahmed once told me, in Colonel Wisam’s presence, “I’d rather lose one of my soldiers than have something happen to you.” I thought, Shit, man, you better be careful saying that in front of your CO. But Colonel Wisam goes, “Rather lose a hundred.” And I’m starting to believe the dirty ole dogs are serious.

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