Iraq Peace is boring

The soldiers of the Second Brigade, based in Fort Stewart, Georgia, were the heroes of the battle for Baghdad. Now they want to return home, but instead they must remain in Iraq and teach yesterday's enemies about democracy and capitalism – as quickly as possible. By Klaus Brinkbäumer

Lieutenant Colonel Philip de Camp was stationed in Germany for nine years, and is able to make rather wise statements about the war in German. "If you're on your feet," he says, "war isn't a lot of fun. It's a lot more fun in a tank."

Lieutenant Colonel Philip de Camp is certainly qualified to make this assessment. He spent the war in an M1A1 Abrams tank that costs $4.3 million, consumes 56 gallons of gasoline per hour, and comes equipped with a 120 mm artillery gun, a 12.7 mm machine gun, and two 7.62 mm MGs. This monster is protected from above by the air force and from behind by artillery.

How many Iraqis did you hit, Sir? "I don't care," says soldier Philip de Camp.

The enemy came on foot or was brought to the battlefield in buses and deposited within shooting range, and sometimes the enemy arrived by truck or by boat on the Tigris River. The enemy was concealed in the bushes or in sand pits, the enemy stood on roof tops and underneath bridges, the enemy wore uniforms or jeans and t-shirts, the enemy shot a lot, hitting nothing but the walls of the tank, and the enemy has been defeated.

"How many Iraqis did you hit, Sir? "I don't care," says Lieutenant Colonel de Camp, "I completed my mission." Lieutenant Colonel de Camp is sitting in Udai's office in the government section of Baghdad. Udai is, or was, the son of Saddam Hussein. Lieutenant Colonel de Camp takes a Coke and a slice of pizza from Udai's refrigerator. There is one slice of salami and one olive on the pizza. No cheese, no tomatoes. "The best pizza I've ever eaten," he says. Two workers are picking up broken glass outside the window. Much was destroyed in Udai's small palace. That's why de Camp hired the workers. They're paid five dollars a day, and de Camp has lent them his gloves. As they finish their work, they say "bye-bye, Sir," and run away. De Camp has to call the guard, who takes his gloves away from the men. "You can't turn your back on these guys," he says.

What, exactly, was your mission, Sir? "The people of Iraq are free," he says, and stands up.

It is 8 a.m. in Baghdad. His men are sitting around in Udai's living room drinking Coke and watching "Apocalypse Now." They've seen it hundreds of times, but they still think it's great. The Lieutenant Colonel has to go. That's because 41-year-old Philip de Camp - son of a general and a member of the U.S. Army for the past 23 years, commander of Task Force 4-64 of the 2nd Brigade of the 3rd Infantry Division, which captured Baghdad - has two new missions: the Nakha School has to be reopened so that its 460 boys can return to school, and the gas station a few blocks away needs to be able to sell gasoline without gun battles at the pump.

"Let's roll! Another day in paradise," de Camp yells and jumps into his Humvee. "Where to, Sir?," asks his driver, Sergeant Mark Macey.

"To the school, Macey," says the Lieutenant Colonel. His "shitter chair," a folding chair with a hole cut in it for bowel movements in combat regions, is tied to the roof of the vehicle. He arrives at the schoolyard five minutes later, pats two boys on the head, puts his arm around a cleaning woman, consoles the teachers, who are waiting to be paid, and wonders what to do next: The students aren't coming to school, because they or their parents are afraid. Afraid of the street, of muggings, of this brand new, difficult life.

The Lieutenant Colonel, who looks like the young Herbert Grönemeyer in uniform, doesn't spend much time thinking. He never does that. In a 23-year army career, you learn to make decisions. During war, he makes hundreds of decisions every day. On the first day after the war ended, the Lieutenant Colonel promptly had his men clear the school and arranged for new desks, and he handed out dollar bills to the teachers. The problem is not that he is lazy. In fact, the Lieutenant Colonel is fast and focused, and he works 16 hours a day. The problem is that Baghdad is tired and worn out. The problem is that two worlds have collided in Baghdad and are now grotesquely intertwined: the hard, clear world of the US Army and the world of the Iraqis, who, in 24 years under Saddam, had long since learned to manage, and who did not wish to be liberated, at least not by Lieutenant Colonel de Camp and his 400 soldiers and their monsters.

The walls of buildings are covered with such slogans as "US Army, you'll die" and "Give us back our human rights." The soldiers of the 2nd Brigade from Fort Stewart, Georgia, have written "The Big Show" on their tanks.

These are two worlds that have nothing in common. Their respective inhabitants distrust one another and are impatient. Consequently, neither side forgives any errors on the part of the other side. Baghdad is a little like East Germany in 1990, except that there was a war in Iraq. A war of humiliation and death, demolished buildings, conquerors and the conquered.

They must teach them about freedom. They do it with sandbags and barbed wire.

And now, in the courtyard of the Nakha School, de Camp tells the teachers: "You must take your destiny into your own hands, and you must protect yourselves. That's freedom. That's what America is like. You are responsible for yourselves and the community." He speaks quickly and broadly, and not even Hamad Ali Hussein, the English teacher, understands him. "The Mister is certainly going to a lot of trouble," says the English teacher, as de Camp leaves, "but before we had a government, and now we have none." Then, very quietly, he adds: "We just don't want them here. The Mister is part of the power that has occupied our country. Illegally." The rift between the West and the East has never been as deep as that which has now formed between America and Iraq.

It is now noon in Baghdad. The temperature is 40° Celsius (104° Fahrenheit), and the main telephone switchboard in downtown Baghdad is on fire. But de Camp has a meeting to attend at the new presidential palace. The news: Another US soldier has died. He was a rooftop sharpshooter. A major was driving to the airport when his vehicle hit a mine as it turned onto Highway 8. It was already his second mine in Iraq. The joke was that the major should join the minesweeping task force. But this was a defective mine, and all it took was a little vibration to detonate it. What else? Gun battles in the night, a failed attempt to assassinate US soldiers with hand grenades, looters, a demonstration. It does not appear that things are quieting down in Baghdad.

It does appear, however, that the Americans are more capable of handling war than peace.

The 2nd Brigade from Fort Stewart was sent to Kuwait for training back in September, and when the war began, the men were in shape. On the first day, they covered 300 kilometers of desert, with 2,000 vehicles. After ten days, the brigade was split, fighting in four locations at the same time. It destroyed the Medina Division and the remaining troops of the Republican Guard, and it passed through the bottleneck at Kerbela from four directions. The Iraqis expected Baghdad to be attacked from the south, where the other American units were, but the 2nd Brigade took the city from the west. At 10:30 a.m. on April 7, after 18 days, the monsters stood before the new presidential palace.

They are still there. Tanks and 25,000 American soldiers, stationed throughout the entire city and at Saddam International Airport, and now the 2nd Brigade is living in Saddam's palaces and guest houses.

The new presidential palace, built by Saddam to please his wife, is a cathedral of yellowish stone and golden kitsch. Behind the palace, along the Tigris River, are ponds and flower gardens. At the front are marble staircases, and at the top is a blue glass dome. Inside, the rooms have high ceilings and are filled with marble. The furniture is heavy, dark, and hideous. Each room has its own power circuit - evidence of Saddam's paranoia - and Saddam's rubbish is everywhere: walking sticks that double as rifles, briefcases with built-in machine guns, paintings, more paintings, all Saddam's. The palace isn't quite the same as it was before the war. The right half of the cathedral was destroyed by a bomb, and the left half is now covered with a thick layer of dust. This is where the troops live, without running water and using power from the generators they've brought with them.

The commanders of the brigade live on the ground floor, the captains in the basement, and the boys from the 10th Engineer Battalion, whose job it is to get Baghdad up and running again, are on the second floor. Outside, encircling the palace, are the field beds of the GIs. They watch DVDs and lie around on their field beds. They guard the looters, whom they have locked into Saddam's tennis court. They eat potato chips and those awful MREs ("meals read to eat"), and look forward to the occasional kebab and water pipe. Fucking great party, man. And they all lose at chess against Master Gunner Sergeant First Class La Pointe.

For the past nine months, America's warriors have been dirty and sweaty, and they are tired of peace. "I'm looking forward to taking a shit on a real toilet," says Sergeant First Class La Pointe.

"A steak. A glass of wine. A beer," says Captain Glaser. "How does fucking work again?" asks Private Miller. "Here I am. Send me." That's the motto of the 2nd Brigade, and it's from the Book of Isaiah. The GIs have scratched "Send me home" onto the dashboards of their vehicles. And now the warriors must teach democracy and freedom, made in USA, to the people they have liberated and who did not wish to be liberated. They do this by building checkpoints everywhere, with concrete barriers, sandbags and a lot of barbed wire. Of course, checkpoints are also erected in front of the palaces, which are now just as closed to the people of Baghdad as they were before, except that the identity of those in power has changed.

Living in bombed-out houses during the post-war period is not a lot of fun. Living in palaces is a lot more fun. They have been on duty since September. They are more capable of handling war than peace.

The soldiers teach democracy and freedom by wearing mirrored sunglasses and shouting at some people who walk by carrying a table: "You Ali Baba?" There were too many suicide attacks during the war, too many Iraqi fighters in civilian clothing - the American soldiers have no desire to protect Iraqis, nor are they interested in building trust or in trusting any Iraqis. What they do want, now that they war has ended, is to avoid becoming the target of an attack.

Archaeology professor Abdullah Fadhil, who has no idea how the university is to operate in the future, a university before whose gates a dozen people were again shot just yesterday, says: "Water, power, safety, these things do not interest the Americans. Nor are they interested in our liberation. They wanted to conquer our country and change the map of the Middle East." But few things in life are that simple, especially in Baghdad. Iraqis have destroyed what there was to destroy: schools, hospitals, museums, water purification plants. Baghdad's banks are burned-out shells, and the shops on Rashid Street are barricaded and abandoned. Up in Saddam's palaces, Major Mike Poloquin, 10th Engineer Battalion, points out of the bullet-proof window and says: "Smoke should be coming out of all four chimneys at those gasworks over there. That thing is supposed to supply all of Baghdad!" One chimney is smoking. Baghdad has become a scrap yard, and the responsibility lies with Saddam, the Americans, and the looters. Naturally, people like Lieutenant Colonel Philip de Camp, with their many decisions and the grids they place over satellite photographs to divide Baghdad into zones, are trying to finally bring order to the Moloch. Naturally, Major Poloquin's men confiscate hundreds of weapons day after day. They train police officers, and they have hired a company to clean the battle debris and the shoes and hats of dead Iraqis from the streets. The company is paid $1,000 a day. This somehow represents the resumption of trade relations.

When a blind bear falls into a hole at the zoo, a platoon of the 2nd Brigade arrives to weld the hole shut, and when two lions escape, sharpshooters arrive on the scene and shoot them.

Of course, there are also people in this palace like Colonel Eric Wesley, a quiet and thoughtful man, who believe "that the incredible experiment of creating a democratic state in this region and then returning Iraq to the Iraqis" can truly succeed. They also believe that Syria and Jordan must develop better relations with the West and Israel. And that somehow a better Middle East is being born on the scrap yard that is Baghdad, and that this will somehow lead to a better world.

This is because people like 38-year-old Colonel Wesley see themselves as "soldier statesmen." They love these assignments, in which they are "at the forefront of the United States' national strategy and at the world's focal point." They love this mixture of military and politics, and the power that lies in the connection. Wesley, commanding officer of the 2nd Brigade of the 3rd Infantry Division, is in charge of 3500 troops. On April 7, he directed the battle for Baghdad from the TOC (Tactical Operation Center) on the outskirts of the city, at least until a missile hit Wesley's Humvee and killed five men. He survived. And now he is directing the peace.

Wesley, born in Yorba Linda, California, has been to just about all the world's hot spots. Based on his experiences in Kosovo and Bosnia, he knows "that we don't have much time. People are getting restless, and their dissatisfaction is creating more and more opportunities for fanatics." The question is, why should soldiers, of whom George W. Bush' National Security Advisor Condoleeza Rice says, "they are certainly not trained to build a civil society," be building a civil society? Why should the administration install a cowboy like Jay Garner as Bush' governor in Baghdad and waste four weeks in the process? Why should organizations such as the UNHCR and the World Food Program not be allowed to do what they do best, and why should the airport still be under such tight control of the US Army that relief supplies can only be permitted to arrive in small quantities, or not at all?

In any event, his soldiers are burned-out, "smoked," says Wesley. "We need peacekeeping troops," says de Camp, but the Pentagon has been delaying their deployment week after week. So life goes on. The Lieutenant Colonel puts on his helmet and bullet-proof vest. Like all American soldiers here, he wears a beige uniform and coarse leather boots, and at least the colors fit wonderfully to Baghdad, to the sand and dust. Lieutenant Colonel de Camp was born in Fort Benning, Georgia. He is a fourth-generation soldier and is very happy that his third child was a boy. He named him Alexander-Philip, after Alexander the Great and Philip de Camp. De Camp attended four different high schools in four years. He is a man who has lived in West Point, New Orleans, Washington, and Vilseck in Germany, a new post every two years, a man who was already a tank commander in the first Gulf War.

He sees missions, not people. He is a soldier. He is a man who loves the army's rules: short hair, a daily shave, even during battle, since "we're not animals," no alcohol, and no sex in the Middle East. Anyone who loses his weapon spends six months in a military prison. Subordinates address their superiors as "Sir," and superiors address their subordinates by their last names. "Where to, Sir?"

"To the gas station, Macey." Sergeant Macey is one of the many here who enlisted after September 11, 2001, because they believed they should do something for their country. For the United States of America, not for howling, stinking Iraqis. Sergeant Macey wears mirror-coated sunglasses and chews gum.

Soldiers guard the gas station, waving the cars in one by one. Each citizen of Baghdad is entitled to 50 liters, and 50 liters cost $1.30, provided there is gasoline. There is rarely gasoline. That's why some of the lines at gas stations are four lanes wide and several kilometers long. You have to get in line at 4 a.m. to be able to fill up by noon. The customers have plenty of tricks up their sleeves: forged papers, interchangeable license plates, canisters with hoses connected to their gas tanks. The customers want more than 50 liters because they intend to resell the gasoline on the street. All they have to do is stick a hose into the tank, get the gasoline flowing by sucking on the hose, and stick the hose into a buyer's canister or gas tank. It's easy and it brings in money. Initially, the Americans weren't quite sure as to whether this isn't simply capitalism: buying and selling, the original American way. But then a general decided that this is the black market, and that it's prohibited.

The fact that oil, of all things, has become a concern to the Iraqis, and that American soldiers, of all people, are advocating a planned economy for its distribution, is endlessly absurd. But production has stalled. The country needs twelve million liters a day, while only five million are being produced. "Iraq is now a country that imports oil," says de Camp. He has trucks drive around the area to supply his gas station.

The trucks tap into Saddam's reserves at the palaces, and they collect wrecked tanks along the river. No matter how contaminated the gasoline, it can still be mixed. "Add Saddam gas to dirty gas and you get OK gas," says de Camp, and the gas station attendant laughs.

Then two men tell stories about Udai, about how Udai would feed guests who had said something wrong to the lions, how Udai would go out to a restaurant with his tiger on a leach, and would tie up the tiger at the door so that he could eat in peace. An American and an Iraqi share a laugh, something that doesn't happen often in Baghdad.

And then they go into the office, an office without paper, and the attendant says that he would like to hire a few of his friends. "You have nine people working here. Two people could take care of this in Germany," says de Camp. Then the daily reprimand: The fifth pump still isn't working, and the walls haven't been painted yet. "What do we pay you for? You're getting competition here. Get ready, man, I'm talking big!"

It is 7:00 p.m. Lieutenant Colonel Philip de Camp of Task Force 4-64 returns to Udai's palace. Today, two boys attended class for two hours at the Nakha School, and the gas station pumped 6,000 liters, after all. A good day? "Another day in paradise," he says. The Lieutenant Colonel takes a can of Coke from Udai's refrigerator.

He has found a few bottles of 1985 Dom Pérignon in Udai's wall cabinet. War booty, provided the Pentagon permits it. Lieutenant Colonel Philip de Camp will drink the stuff back in Fort Stewart. After the parade. After he has been awarded the US Army's Silver Star for the battle for Baghdad, that dirty city in the Middle East that he conquered and that will be nothing but a distant memory at the heroes' ball.

translated by Chris Sultan

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