Back in the Saddle

Day 50 with the Iraqi Army

Day 50 with the Iraqi Army

I’m sitting at a polished dining room table in an affluent neighborhood in Madrid. It’s been a month since I left Baghdad on a C-130 military transport. My head is fully immersed in the First World and Iraq already seems far away. For the first week, however, I was in awe of Iberia’s sturdy buildings, the trashless streets (and working traffic lights) and the people thronging its boulevards. My hosts insist Spain is economically imploding under the pressures of bad fiscal policy and massive reverse-immigration. But looking around I can only say, “Are you kidding me? What I’m seeing here—including the adherence of the people to the social contract and their will to contribute to the community—is a preeminent and beautiful success.”

Between Iraq and Spain, I spent one hellish night in Kuwait. That country is lavishly rich (immigrants are imported—by quota, I’m told—to man blue-collar positions) and it is secure. The people walk the streets in peace and harmony. It’s also dry, not a drop of alcohol to be found (which I realized in horror, after eight months of enforced sobriety in Iraq). The only possible thing to do there is shop at one of the ubiquitous malls—which struck me as something of a slow death. Give me the shit and blood and death of a war zone any day, over that torpid suburban entropy.

Violence in Iraq has spiked in the last few weeks, but yesterday another milestone was achieved—the pullout of U.S. forces from all Iraqi cities. If progress continues as it has for the past two years, I believe Iraq could be a stable and contributing country within a decade; perhaps even a tourism destination. It will take fifty years to restore the country’s infrastructure (electricity, water, sewage, roads, schools, etc.) which languished for thirty years as Saddam used 90-percent of the country’s economy for his war machine. Then, of course, it was hit by terrorists and American-bombs, alike. Most of the world—largely due to the reprehensible job the U.S. media has done—has no idea of the internal challenges Iraq has ahead of it. Though progress has been dramatic, sometimes startling, there are many things that could go wrong in the coming years and decades.

I’m optimistic though. I have to be. In two months living with the Iraqi Army and a month living with civilians, I made some deep friendships. I came to know many good and decent people over there, people who were fed up with the violence and determined to ensure it wouldn’t return. Some of them wanted the U.S. out; others thanked me profusely for the sacrifices of my country. If I had to offer a composite of the wide array of responses I heard, vis-à-vis U.S. presence in the Middle East, it would be this: “The U.S. should leave Iraq—but not now.” Even those who didn’t want the Americans around agreed that the Iraqi Army and security forces need several more years of support to ensure domestic security. The military schedule has been pushed ahead by a U.S. public equally fed up with war. The American commanders I talked to said that’s not a bad thing—they want to expedite the pullout as rapidly as possible. Now it’s wait and see. If Iraqi forces can maintain domestic security, I’m certain foreign investment will begin pouring into the country (which, I’m told by American commanders, has been the plan all along).

That’s the next step, and I think many people tied-up in the country’s future are waiting—is Iraq on the way to renewal or is the other shoe about to drop? Time will tell. Meanwhile, I’ve moved my site and will be blogging regularly again—I have tomes of material from the eight-months I was in country and am compelled to share the stories of the hundreds of soldiers and civilians I met there. Please check back frequently for new pictures, audio, video and blogs. In the meantime, San Diego Magazine has published a three-part article I wrote about the narco war in northern Mexico; please have a look.

Comments are welcome here on the site and perhaps you’ve seen the donation button on the right. As journalism continues sinking under the dual weight of the Internet-threat and the economic crisis, making a living at investigative reporting has become even more tenuous (a legion of talentless scalawags, meanwhile, has taken to the digital world, filling it with half-truths and bile). The donation button may just be the panhandler’s open palm in the world of journalism, but I’m holding my out shamelessly—as I gather funds and equipment for a trek to Afghanistan next fall. Any help would be appreciated. So have a look around and let me know what strikes you.


7 Responses to “Back in the Saddle”

  1. manny lopez Says:


    Great writing as usual. I’ll read the article in SD Magazine and make additional comments. WHen you get back you’ll have to tell me some of the great stories you encountered.

    Your friend, Manny

  2. Greetings Shane

    I’ve been busy as a motha…… I will check all this out in the coming week…. You want a little smile? check this…….

    I’ll get back w/ you soon matt

  3. Joshua Back Says:

    Great work, I hope you had a great time up in Spain it sucks that you couldn’t make the backpackers journey that would have been some story to tell people about and how crazy you are is just like a Mortarman well we all here in the 1/63 Mortars want to say thanks for the time you spent with us here in Iraq. Later SPC Back Joshua US ARMY

  4. Hey Bro,
    I’m proud of your work. It feels good to find some footing for my foundation on how I feel about this war. You’ve helped to change my perspective a bit, for we basically know we can’t believe 50% of what we hear, so to read what is really happening enables me to gain insight into this war. I’ll continue to promote your work as much as possible. It is powerful, but we’d really like to see you state-side in the next year or so……..peace mi hermano

  5. Linda, Marcellous, Edmund Says:

    Hi Shane,
    First I would like to tell you that we love you and miss you very much, Secondly, We are reading your work. It is wonderful. I am picturing myself walking with you as you tell what you have seen and heard. You are a very good writer. It took courage to do what you have done. May God continue to bless you and keep you. You look the part.
    Marcellous said you look just like am Arab and probably had to dress like that so that you could do your job. I told him 9if it got half as hot here has it does there then he would dress like that too. We will write soon. Keep doing your work and sharing your self with others. It is very important to hear what is going on over there. It is funny how things come alive when you get the information first hand from someone that you know love and trust. Thanks
    We love you

  6. Shane,

    Just taking a break from surfing. I continue to enjoy your website. Thanks for posting your amazing adventures and insight for the world to see!! Miss you hermano!

  7. Daniel Schilling Says:

    Hey Shane great work I love reading your writing. Knowing that you were here with us and saw more then just what you saw with us makes it interesting to read. Knowing the material you have is really first hand and not picked up from someone else down the line. Great work and shoot me an email and we can catch up on things. Take car man.
    Spc. Daniel Schilling
    U.S. Army 1/63 mortars
    Baghdad ,Iraq

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