November 15, 2004


An Aussie working in Baghdad recently sent this e-mail to friends back home. Reader Marc K. passes it on:

Just to break up the monotony (is there such a thing in a war zone?) today I ventured outside of the Workshop compound to do an emergency house call at the Australian Embassy. One of the armoured Toyota Landcruisers that they use for transporting staff had developed a gremlin in the immobiliser system rendering the vehicle unusable. Towing the vehicle was not possible as our tow-truck driver was recovering after being shot in leg doing a pickup job a couple of days ago and was not expected to be back to work (in the words of his son) till the end of the week.

This meant transiting out of the relative safety of the Green Zone and into the Red. Red and Green denotes at what state of readiness soldiers have their weapons set - green being unloaded and the magazines removed with red meaning loaded, safety catch on and plenty more spares close at hand. Unfortunately as a measure of how badly the situation has deteriorated, the miniscule little green zones on the map of Iraq are lost amongst the huge swathes of red that dominates the country.

So in the same way as mechanics world wide, preparing for a call-out job, I grabbed a set of jumper leads, a selection of spare parts, my tool kit, flak jacket, Kevlar helmet, passport, GPS, credit cards and a 1000 Dollars in cash. My transport consisted of a convoy of Australian LAV's (Light Armoured Vehicle) for the short trip to the Embassy. Travel time is less than 5 minutes, but it's a tense 5 minutes - the close proximity of the Embassy to the Green Zone means that there are only a couple of routes that these convoys can take, and as such are relatively predictable, a fact the bad guys exploited only 2 weeks ago when a VBIED (Vehicle borne Improvised Explosive Device) was detonated as an Australian convoy was passing by. We drove by the site where the attack took place, and it was a rather sobering experience as the wreckage and damage to the surrounding buildings is still plainly visible. Thankfully the one Aussie soldier that was badly injured in the face is expected to make a full recovery and is now back home. The locals were not so lucky, 3 Iraqi civilians were killed outright and several more were seriously injured.

Construction is underway on a brand new Embassy building within the Green Zone and is scheduled to be finished in the next few months, but until then they have to make do with the current location. Despite the incidents of the last month around the Embassy, it's still one of the safer areas of Baghdad and is another suburb that has been turned into a mini fortified city by the local residents and the Australian Soldiers. Locals man the outer ring of checkpoints and are the first line of defence against intruders. Back home residents band together to form action groups to complain about the pesky dog down the road, or an awful exterior paintjob on a house, but as a measure of how serious the situation is here, the locals manning the checkpoints will open fire on any strange vehicle that passes the same place more than twice.

The local residents really like having the Australians around, not just because of the security they provide, but because they appreciate the professional and courteous nature of the troops who patrol the area. Many of the houses on the street that the embassy is located have intricately trimmed hedges shaped like chickens, and I finally got around to asking why that is the case - only to be told that they are actually kangaroos.

We need pictures! Meanwhile, on the subject of war and Australians, Arthur Chrenkoff presents his latest edition of good news from Afghanistan.

Posted by Tim Blair at November 15, 2004 10:21 PM

Yeah, but the Aussies are members of the coalition of the coerced and the bribed according to President-elect John Kerry who swept to a large victory on the promise of re-uniting the U.S. with our non-coerced and non-bribed allies in France.

Posted by: Randal Robinson at November 16, 2004 at 12:01 AM

mixed blessings this post.

it is great--and unsurprising--that the Aussies presence has created a community that is doing the things that communities in australia and the US, such as poorly trimming the hedges.

however, it is an indirect confirmation of the fact that many of us had suspected all along: That there are some archipelago's of sanity and safety in Iraq's major areas, but or the most part, we have only scrathced the surface.

fallujah is neutralized for now. But Mosul, Ramadi and more of Baghdad remains to be fought and died for again.

I support the war--voted for Bush twice--but its about time that we faced up to the fact that we need about 350,000 more troops there to do it right.

And let's not even talk about Syria and Iran....

Posted by: rod at November 16, 2004 at 12:57 AM

Rod, what would 200,000 additional troops do there? We've got to get the Iraqis up to speed if we are ever going to finish the job there.

Do you really think Mosul and Ramhadi are in the same class as Falluja? We have enough troops. Bush has zero political fallout if he were to suddenly call up more. If the commanders want more, they'll get more. You are listening to the old time pentagon generals who never went anywhere without 350,00 troops. We just don't require that many to do the job any more. The highly defended city of Falluja, being prepared against invasion for 6 months, held out for about 6 days against 6500 troops look at what actually happened, not what was forecast and hoped to happen by people with an agenda.

We are not likely to need to invade Iran, Syria is another matter.

Posted by: EddieP at November 16, 2004 at 07:37 AM

I too supported the war, and am desperate for information from Iraq that isn't from a biased media or a sanitised miliary viewpoint, so emails like this are worrying:

"Unfortunately as a measure of how badly the situation has deteriorated, the miniscule little green zones on the map of Iraq are lost amongst the huge swathes of red that dominates the country."

Posted by: attila at November 16, 2004 at 08:00 AM

Well, gee, attila, I hope you're not one of those fair-weather "supporters" who lose their nerve and bug out the minute the going gets difficult.

By the way, I don't know what you mean by "sanitised miliary viewpoint," but if you want some info and perspective from people actually in the area, you could start here. And check the sidebar for his list of Iraqi blogs too. (Scroll down.)

Posted by: Andrea Harris at November 16, 2004 at 08:33 AM

Here's a shot of the chicken/kangaroo hedges:

Chicken/kangaroo hedges

And a couple of others of the run:

LAV escort 1

LAV escort 2

LAV escort 3

Marc K

Posted by: Tortfeaser at November 16, 2004 at 10:08 AM

Farsi Blog Explosion would be an awesome name for a band!

Posted by: Amos at November 16, 2004 at 10:32 AM

EddieP is right, the Iraqis must stand on their own.

We can't put thousands of troops into one country for generations like we did in Europe. Those situations are completely different.

President Bush has chosen a good course, but it's a painful one. We'll just have to put our faith in our soldiers. Again. Borrowing trouble is something that we don't need to do.

Posted by: The Real JeffS at November 16, 2004 at 10:49 AM

They're great chickens, but their not kangaroos.

Posted by: mr magoo at November 16, 2004 at 01:41 PM

Hang on Andrea, I never indicated anything about 'losing my nerve' (my other comments on this site, as well as my blog should also clear up any mistake on that part) or being a fair weather supporter.

As for sanitised military viewpoint, I was referring to offical military announcements. I don't think I am being treasonous to suggest that they generally seek to paint an optimistic picture.

Thanks for the suggested link, but i already follow many milblogs and iraqblogs closely, to try and get as much info, and from as many sources, as possible.

Posted by: attila at November 16, 2004 at 02:51 PM

If this bloke repairs cars as well as he writes he can change my oil anyday.

Posted by: tony at November 16, 2004 at 07:11 PM

Just checking, attila. You seemed to be going awfully wobbly there.

Posted by: Andrea Harris at November 16, 2004 at 10:22 PM

I was trying out this newfandangled 'nuance' that all the kids are talking about nowadays!

Posted by: attila at November 17, 2004 at 08:00 AM