June 03, 2004

things that make you go "hmmmm"

Three of them immediately come to mind:

1) "The Italians". Before I arrived there was a group of Italian security folks that worked with us, a lot of the guys around here knew them personally. They decided to go on R&R for a while but all the flights to Amman were booked -- so they decided to drive. They planned to go during the day, and avoid the hot spots, so they figured it would be okay. Here is where the series of errors began:
a. They booked a taxi with a guy they didn't know.
b. The taxi showed up four hours late, so now it's a night drive, but they went anyway.
c. They left their guns here because they wouldn't be able to take them into Jordan.

Well, there is a price (~$10k) on foreigner's heads around here. If you're a taxi driver this is a lot of money, like a few life-fortunes' worth. Apparently the Taxi driver's showing up late was an intentional ploy so that they couldn't see the wrong turn he took later in the dark. In any case, they were captured. The captors released a video tape in which they had put a hood over one guy's head, put a gun to his head and said that they were going to kill him. The guy reportedly said "I'll show you how an Italian dies" while taking off his hood ... and they shot him. Story is here: Washington Post Story

2) Mess hall chatter. The mess hall is a fascinating place here, not only because it's in the middle of a palace but because it draws a complete cross section of the coalition members here in Baghdad. There are soldiers and diplomats and consultants all sharing a table for 15 minutes, it makes for really fun networking. One day you'll hear all about the currency issues, the next day you'll hear about what it's like playing with military hardware. Well, most soldiers I've talked to eventually asks "have you been to the red zone?" (outside the green zone). They're in a pretty unique situation because they "get" to go outside, most people here haven't. And I say "yeah, uh, I live there". They look at you really funny after that. I tell them all about the security we do have, from the Iraqi guards in the semi-private neighborhood where we live, to the UK private security that drives us. They still look at me funny, clearly expressing that this doesn't sound like much fun to them. When I explain to them that I'm not allowed to have a gun, every one of them, from the enlisted guy who had to drop out of school because his guard unit got called up for the first time since WWI, all the way up, has said "I wouldn't take that job".

3) IED. Improvised Explosive Device. One of the guys I work with was heading home one day when the car he was in drove by an IED. This one was apparently a howitzer shell buried in the street with a guy off to the side who detonated it right as they went by. He explained it to me like this "it was all in slow motion. I saw the back window of the car in front of us blow out, and the three Iraqi children in the back seat get blown into the front seat." The car next to them was destroyed as well. The car he was in was well armored so it survived the blast, though it was heavily damaged and a tire was blown out. The private security guy floors it and just starts pushing cars out of the way left and right. They get clear, abandon the damaged car and hop in their chase car, and take off. But not before they snapped a few pictures of the car they were in. I saw them the other day. There were big holes in the sheet metal that clearly would have gone all the way through the door, except you could see the Kevlar weave behind it that stopped it. There was a big impact point in the glass on one of the rear seat windows right at head height that the lexan stopped. Some ride home.

So chew on this: not all of our vehicles are armored. In fact, most aren't. When you ask about this you're told that "well, the SUV's are armored but they really stand out. These sedans are better at blending in." Okaaaaay, why not just use armored sedans then? In fact, I think most armored cars are sedans. The answer is that this place is fresh out of armored cars. I'm going to come back and open a car armoring shop -- you could over charge everyone and never run out of business.

Well, there are rumors today of this project being over budget and everyone going home soon. If it takes them as long to get me home as it took them to get me here then I'll be here until the winter...

Posted by rick at June 3, 2004 06:39 AM