11 December 2003
An army maxim taught from early in basic training is to constantly improve one’s fighting position. If you’re in a place for an hour, perhaps all you can do is dig a shallow fox hole. If you’re there for three days, you should have built some overhead protection, made your hole at least chest-deep, dug grenade sumps in the bottom of it, and even prepared an alternate fighting position that you can move to when need be. You’d put obstacles around your perimeter and have patrols out constantly looking for bad guys. The point is, the longer you’re in a place, the more secure you can make it, and you should always be making it more secure.
The same goes for the CPA compound in the center of Baghdad. When we first got here, ease of movement around the grounds was high. But over the course of time, more and more obstacles were put up around and throughout the compound to keep those who wish to us harm from succeeding in their mission. This is a good thing, of course. If anything ever happened to anyone on the compound, the first thing everyone would ask would be “Why didn’t you have better security?” But just because it’s the smart thing to do, doesn’t mean it’s always appreciated. It seems now like every road and path on our compound is blocked at various points along the way. The overnight appearance of concrete barricades and concertina wire can really frustrate a morning run or double the time it takes one to walk or drive to work.
These are small prices to pay for safety. And while people out there are still lobbing mortars, setting off car bombs, planting improvised explosive devices in the lifeless carcasses of road-side animals, shooting shoulder-fired missiles at cargo planes and helicopters, or firing rocket-propelled grenades at columns of humvees, I’m glad we have people on our side thinking of ways to constantly improve our position.
Of course, these rotten terrorist apples make life rough for everyone. The most decent, hard-working, pro-Coalition Iraqi still has to go through a dozen checkpoints a day. His car is searched, his body frisked, his bag emptied. You need the appropriate ID to go anywhere, and even then you’ll be standing in line for an hour to get passed security. At least now, the weather has cooled off. During the summer, when temperatures reached 120 degrees Fahrenheit, even the most good-natured Iraqi got fed up.
There is, perhaps, a dangerous chicken and egg situation developing here. As long as there is a threat to Coalition forces, we need to keep improving security. But as long as we keep increasing security, the angrier we make even the ordinary citizens, thus increasing the threat to Coalition forces.
And sometimes there are moments that border on the absurd. The other day, Ambassador Bremer paid a visit to one of the offices located in the Baghdad Convention Center. Now my office is located in that same building, right across the ground-floor concourse from the Ambassador’s destination. The distance between the two offices is about as wide as a high school basketball court. The Convention Center was empty at the time of Mr. Bremer’s arrival. While he was inside receiving his brief, I asked his private, civilian security guards if afterwards he could come across and say hi to my soldiers and Iraqi staff. “We haven’t reconned the route,” was their reply. “But it’s right over there,” I protested, pointing literally 50 feet across the floor. “Sorry, we can’t,” they said again, “We haven’t reconned the route.” To his credit, when Ambassador Bremer emerged from his meeting and saw us standing across the way, he made a point to come over and say hi. That was really great and it gave me hope that common sense can prevail.