BAGHDAD AND CAMP FALLUJAH, Iraq — Sorry this is a bit late folks, but this old man was pretty beat last night. We had dinner with Gen. George Casey, the overall commander, late last night. It’s now about 0730 in Baghdad and we’re leaving shortly to visit the Iraqis’ army-in-training.
Their army in training is only a small part of what Iraq is doing to defend itself. Their active army is, as I saw yesterday, something in being. Note to Dr. Dean: you’re not needed at home, but the docs in the hospital I visited yesterday can always use a couple of extra hands. Those Iraqis you think aren’t fighting for themselves are showing up for treatment, and not for runny noses. The guy in the ICU I saw yesterday had been shot in the stomach. Our people (those docs are fabulous) are giving him the same care our people get (except that he won’t be evacuated to the States within hours of being hit). Our troops are surviving really grievous wounds because these docs are working endlessly, skillfully, and with the Air Force’s support getting patients back to the States often within a day of being wounded.
Oh. Sorry. More for Dr. Dean. The Iraqis — who you think aren’t doing anything on their own — are now fighting on their own in great numbers. Eleven of the twenty-one Iraqi batallions in the Baghdad region have their own “battlespace.” They are responsible for everything that goes on (or doesn’t) in those areas. And our commanders say the Iraqis are doing pretty damned good.
The helicopter is an oddity of nature. In my book, it’s like a bumblebee. If they complied with the laws of physics, neither should be able to fly. But fly they do, and we have been riding around in some Blackhawks, a big, fast armed bird. Things here are serious, as evidenced by the two Apache gunships that fly with us, one on each side, wherever we go. The Apache is a superb gun platform, and the front-back seating of the crew provides great visibility to see and shoot. They haven’t had to shoot while flying cover for us. Their presence is enough to keep all bad guys but those with a really strong death wish under cover.
Yesterday afternoon, we spent a couple of hours with the Marines near Fallujah. The situation in MNF-West is still very serious. The Sunni rejectionists are in considerable strength, and — in Ramadi — may not vote in next week’s election. The conflict there is likely to continue for a long time.
One thing we cleared up yesterday: according to a senior military leader, we are not — as much as the publicity has said — fighting Syrian troops along the Iraq border and into Syria. Those reports last week are, simply, wrong.
Later today we’re flying out to one of the bases where the Iraqi troops are being trained. This should be one of the highlights of the trip. We’re out of here tonight, back to Kuwait City. I’ll check back with you later, as time permits.