I'm serving outside the Iraqi town of Hilla, in the central South, with a small detachment of U.S. Marines. A couple of days ago we drove up to Baghdad on the main supply route, "MSR Tampa" -- basically a six-lane highway. Since April it's been closed to civilian traffic because a half-dozen bridges were blown up along the route. Driving on it you feel as if you're a cast member in a remake of "Mad Max" -- "Where are all the people?"
On the way we came across a semi-trailer that about 50 Iraqis were in the process of looting. As they saw us approach they scattered. I told the sergeant driving me that by the time we drove by later in the day the semi would be nothing more than a shell. I'd seen this often.
Four hours later we drove by and the site was secured by the Iraqi National Guard; no looters were in sight. Apparently the guard was even involved in a firefight protecting the property. Maybe the Iraqis are getting fed up with the lawlessness and the anarchy and are beginning to take matters into their own hands. Still, it will take time. Some units in the guard are good, some not so good. Standardization is a problem across the board, but the biggest obstacle to overcome will be that of the traumatized mind-set of the Iraqi people.
For 30 years Iraqis were brutalized by a tyrant. The collective psyche of the Iraqi people is akin to that of a battered wife whose oppressor has finally been removed from the household. They're far better off with the batterer gone, but they're scared, confused and lacking the confidence to go it on their own just yet. It will take continuous mentoring, counseling and a lot of time. Our Marines are doing these things with great skill and patience. The sooner we fix it the sooner we can come home.
I've become friends with a lieutenant colonel in the Iraqi National Guard here. Real bright guy, speaks good English, lived in Europe for five years. He makes $250 a month, doesn't own a car, rides a bus for two hours to get to work and lives in constant fear that his family will be targeted because he is in the guard. "Why do you do it," I asked him, knowing he could make five times that amount as a translator or a contractor here on the base. His response was that doing nothing is not an option. If you ask me, guys like him are the true heroes over here. "Is there hope for this place?" I asked. "No, there is no hope," he responded sardonically. Again, "Why do you do it," and again the answer: You can't just do nothing.
Our Marines are getting so much support from back home and so many "care packages" that I've decided to start asking people to send those packages instead to my Iraqi friend, packages that he can then hand out and distribute to his troops and their families. We have so much, and they have so little.
The writer is a major in the U.S. Marine Corps. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.