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Letters from Iraq

Staff Sergeant Christopher E. Alley
United States Army
Emmitsburg Native

Baghdad News

Well here we are again, anxiously awaiting another edition of the "Baghdad News" from a soldier's perspective here in the International Zone. Well I hope I don't disappoint anyone with the day to day monotony. I feel like the phrase from the movie "Mister Roberts" when Henry Fonda says "All the guys everywhere who sail from Tedium to Apathy and back again, with occasional side trip to Monotony." which basically sums up the day to day life we endure here.

The Trial

Although sometimes life here is sometimes monotonous, things happen that you will never forget. One such occurrence was the chance for me to attend the Saddam Hussein trial on the 17th of October. I could not pass up the chance to see history, nor the chance to be in the mist of history. Well to make a long story short about just getting in is about a 2 week process which worked out well, since you are also not allowed in court in a military uniform. So after an order to Macy's online I have the proper Khakis and collared shirt to attend, although this outfit was complemented by combat boots for footwear. Anyway once inside the courthouse, which used to be the Baath Party Headquarters, we were escorted up to the observation room. This room was big enough for about 30 people and was situated above the defendants (35 feet from Saddam, 20 feet from Chemical Ali) behind a one way mirror. We were also provided wireless headsets which were linked to translators so that we understood everything said in the court during the proceedings. After about 20 minutes or so the Defendants were escorted into court. First was "Chemical" Ali, then the Governor of Mosul, the Intelligence Chief, Chief of Staff, the Defense Minister, the Assistant Intelligence Chief, and then Saddam. Saddam was properly dressed in a suit with no tie and carried his ornate Koran with him. Which is odd, since he was never looked upon as a religious person in the first place? Other observations I had were that he isn't very tall and he was very thin, but not sickly thin. Although this was before his verdict and sentencing from the first trial all the Defendants look somewhat solemn in their actions and attitude.

After a few procedural actions the witnesses started being interviewed. The procedures in an Iraqi courtroom don't mirror American courts so this was also an interesting point of learning as well. Unlike American court, the Judge asks questions to the witnesses and once he and his panel are finished then the Prosecution is allowed to ask their questions. Then the Civil Attorney's have their chance, and then the Defending Attorney's, and then the Defendants themselves are allowed to ask questions. This is all very orderly and civil until the Defendants start. Not always but usually this is where Saddam or one of his henchmen go off on their tangent about whatever is on their mind at the moment, from Zionist occupation to requesting a different menu while in their cells.

During my attendance, there were 4 witnesses who testified to the court. Now remember this can be a lengthy process since the witnesses are Kurdish, and the court is being held in Baghdad so even they need everything translated back and forth, but I must commend our translators on headsets because they kept up with the pace and we never really felt lagging in the actions of the court. The witnesses were all older gentlemen in their late 60's to early 70's. One reason for this is because a generation is missing in the north of Iraq that some refer to as Kurdishstan. During the early 80's when these atrocities happened, all people that were of military age were herded up and shipped all over Iraq to camps and prisons. Does this sound familiar? Anyway, once at these camps, if they made it, they were locked away in rooms averaging 15-25 men or women per room. Some families were able to stay together but mostly segregation by gender was the rule. Once there, very little food or water was given out, usually 3-4 pitas of bread and a liter of water per person a day. Once these Kurds were there they did nothing but wait much like animals at a zoo. Once in awhile they were allowed to go to a courtyard and walk but sometimes when people left to do this, they never returned. Not to get to in depth with all the details, but after hearing the testimony and seeing the witnesses and what effects are still lasting I have to say the Saddam regime mirrored Hitler's Reich very closely. The comparisons between these trials of Saddam and the Nuremberg trials are very eerily similar. The brutality and mindless killing by the regime is just unbelievable.

Well after 7 hours, which I kept notes and drew sketches of, court finished and was adjourned. After reversing the security obstacles and finally returning to our base the long day was over. I can honestly say it is an experience in my life that I will never forget. Just being there and seeing and hearing the accounts from the witnesses validated my reason for being in Iraq.

Other Day to Day Happenings

Well we survived Ramadan, Muslim month of day time fasting and nightly gorging. During this time our interpreters were tested not only by their faith but also by their bravery as well. It has been a proven fact around the world that during Ramadan that violence increases against "non believers" and those who support them. Our interpreters, Iraqi military, Iraqi police, and common people are proof that Iraqi's want Freedom as we know it and are willing to risk their lives to taste it. Although the news from here is always portrayed in a negative light, people must understand that the negativity and attacks here are performed by a minority of the people, of which half are not even Iraqis.

Also during Ramadan we received numerous mortar and rocket attacks, which in the evening when we are in our rooms we have to go to our "Duck and Cover" shelters. This is a great time to meet your neighbors and strike up conversations. Conversations vary as usual between the odds of a rocket hitting our trailer, which would really suck, to how people are doing in their fantasy football leagues. The Soldiers /Sailors /Airmen / Marines here along with our Coalition Troops are all very adaptive people. Even during a barrage of rockets conversations are about everything but the attack. This is our way of dealing with it.

As for work, we continue to plan and coordinate the future shrinking of the International Zone (IZ). It is a tedious task which involves many people, groups and work cultures. The Department of State (DoS) has a really hard time understanding our thought process and planning. They seem to have a standard formula or cookie cutter for each task or problem and they don't want to ever deviate from it. This is fine if it is proven to work time and time again, but that never seems to be true and it leads constantly to the same issues each time we work on a project, or this can be blamed on the Bureaucracy which is the government we all know. The contractors who are here in the IZ seem to integrate seamlessly with us but that is probably due to the large amount of former military who work for these organizations.

Halloween, which was also my 9th wedding anniversary and second away from my wife, was celebrated by a showing of "Rocky Horror Picture Show" a cult favorite! Well let's just say it was a huge hit and the clean up crews earned their money the next day! I much would have rather to been home with my wife and children but it was an experience that may come up again over a beer in VFW or AMVETS years from now.

The elections are over and the Democrats have won on the "Change" platform. We let's see what happens! At the same time the major casualty of this was the resignation of The Secretary of Defense "Rummie" Rumsfeld. The troop's reaction to this is pretty low key. We in the military are here to follow orders from whoever is appointed above us, but at the same time what is the message to the troops when a major shake up happens during a war right after an election? Many will miss "Rummie" and his wit, and some won't, but we will do our jobs and follow our orders from Mr. Gates and those he appoints over us.

Well that's all for now folks. I will try to have another edition out before I head home for leave! I leave Baghdad on the 15th of December and will be home for approximately 15 days over Christmas and New Years! I was lucky to get this date, but the command here is very adamant about families, so soldiers with young children received priority for leave over the holidays.

Until the next update, everyone stay safe and feel free to pass this along to whomever you feel will enjoy it, and I leave you with a quote to think about:

"In Italy for thirty years under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murder, bloodshed - they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had brotherly love, five hundred years of democracy and peace and what did that produce…? The cuckoo clock."

The Third Man, spoken by Orson Welles, Director

Until next months addition, stay safe and everyone keep your heads down!


Read other Letters from Iraq by Sergeant Christopher E. Alley

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