Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Close Encounters

Updated 7/27/07

I have several friends who are cops. I work with cops sometimes. Still, I don't really like being pulled over by them. "Oh, whadaya know? My windshield is cracked..." "Hey, lookee there! My tags are expired!" And so on.

One time, about a decade ago, my friends and I were making our yearly pilgrimage from Phoenix, AZ to Anaheim, CA for the first supercross of the season. We were passing through Blythe, CA (which I pronounce "Blight") and my friend who was driving missed both of the exits that offered food & gas. We pointed this out to him. The next exit was about a mile up the road, at which time he could double back.

However, he began to slow and move to the
left. He was obviously going to make a U-turn through the median. All three of the passengers pointed out that this was illegal, and to reinforce the point there were "No U-turn" signs at every break in the median. He counter-protested and was not willing to invest another two minutes in being off-course, so he made the U-turn. Right in front of a California Highway Patrol, of course.

So they pull us over. As we stop, and just as they were getting out of their vehicle, my friend exits the car in a rush and scoots back to the trunk, where he hurries to get something out. "I packed my sunglasses" or something like that, he would say later. But how did it look to the CHiPs? How did they react? Completely predictably- guns drawn, they aggressively made contact with him and determined they were only witnessing an act of incredible stupidity, and not one of aggression. However, any chances to talk them out of the ticket evaporated. He was lucky to get off with only one, actually.

This little episode has nestled itself in my memory as possibly the dumbest thing I've ever personally witnessed. Top ten, for sure. And none of the other three friends in that car will ever let the fourth forget it.

So, with the 'surge' well under way, I've noticed that several Iraqi bloggers have had encounters with American troops lately. We all know that sometimes American searches can be pretty disruptive, rude, and humiliating. That's certainly what the third-party impression is. In fact,
The Nation magazine recently published an article (The Other War: Iraq Vets Bear Witness, July 30, 2007 Issue) where it found fifty vets willing to talk about their actions, which The Nation helpfully frames as crimes & atrocities for us. Many of these describe searches of Iraqi homes.

How have the Iraqis described their encounters?

Omar at Iraq the Model was first. He was visited around midnight on a Friday evening, March 30, 2007. He happened to have several friends over for a visit. The soldiers were friendly and courteous, and they questioned him about the gathering and so on. He concluded his post with this:
The Americans and Iraqis shook hands and exchanged take care's and stay safe's.
They went on to continue their patrol, and we went back to our fish.
Some of us will definitely have a joke or a short story to tell from this night, I thought.

I realize that for some other Iraqis having their homes searched wasn't as smooth or as pleasant an experience as ours but this is my story and I thought I'd share it.
And he got a picture with the Americans:


Zeyad's brother Nabil was next. He posted in his comments on June 29, 2007 that he had been woken up by an American search of his home. They questioned him about weapons and appear to have been in & out pretty quickly. Nabil had this to say:
they were very polite when dealing with me, my father and my mum but they were very aggressive when they dealt with my neighbours across the street, they called them bad names and trashed their house.
The next day, Zeyad gave a little more information. He described the encounter as "civil and well-mannered", until the end, where he said:
My mother said two soldiers suddenly turned and pointed their weapons at my mother and father for no particular reason. They stayed in that position until their fellow team members finished the search and they left.
Nabil had another encounter with American troops on his way to the airport to escape to Jordan:
I had to get out of my house at 6:30 am, but there was an American patrol blocking the street, I thought thats it I wouldn't be able to reach the air port at the right time, then my mum went there slowly and talked to them and convinced them to clear the road for us becuase we have a plane to catch.
Zeyad's brother-in-law Mohammed at Last-of-Iraqis was next. He described a search by Americans on July 23, 2007. He describes a routine search and a realtively amicable talk with them, as well as a followup conversation with his neighbor who said they are the root of the trouble in Iraq. He concludes with this:
I have nothing certain , but what I found out that those guys were very nice and polite , I wish that all the US army is like them but it's impossible to have such a large number as the American Army and all of them are good guys.
Those are the most recent examples of Iraqi encounters with Americans that I could find. Does anybody have any more first-person examples from the recent or distant past to share?

Updates:

From the comments, Craig notes that Sunshine in Mosul was searched twice in 2005, and almost a third time.

First, the 'near miss' from July 24, 2005:
After I was ready, I saw a panzer in front of our house ,I thought this is our turn, but I was wrong , they decided to stop checking the houses& that wasn’t the first time that they check part of the neighborhood.
Then, less than a month later (August 22nd, 2005) they did enter her house. Two of the soldiers were nice to her, but a third was rude and left a lasting impression on her:
My mother was a little bit uncomfortable in the beginning , but the soldiers were nice with us, except one ,he was rude, he crushed the TV remote control , squeezed a tube of gel on the ground & on the bed cover & sheets.
He also powdered two bottles of Baby powder on my mother clothes in side her closet & on the bed cover, that was unseemly deportment.
...
Every time I hear people saying that the soldiers broke this & did that , I would say: come on they are targets all the time , they expect attacks in every minute , certainly they will be nervous.
But if they see a co-operative family they will be nice!!!!.
Give me a reason i am confused...
The third time was a charm- literally. Her post of December 1, 2005 described a polite & even friendly search:
Anyway , they were very polite & nice with us ,& of course I showed off & talked about my blog , I also told them that I copied my blog if they want to take a look . You won't believe what happened , every one from the three soldiers read some posts from my blog during their stay in my house , but that was very funny , they took off there weapons , sun glasses & balaclavas , sat & started reading, with suckers in everyone mouth showing a bulbous cheeks , they read the post "an adventure" , they talked with me about some posts …
Well it took three tries to get it right, but it sounds like that wasn't so bad!

In comments to the middle post, the one with the rude soldier, someone made a reference to Sunshine's mom's blog, so I went over there to see what she wrote about it. Her August 22nd, 2005 post titled "Stop the Hate" covers the incident and her reaction. She wrote a letter to a hotline she was given, where she says this in part:
I want to stop the hate that is increasing even among the most peaceful Iraqis ,due to such irresponsible behavior, such soldiers affect the reputation of the American military forces ,whom already have enough scandals.
She's right about that, unfortunately. I don't know if any actions were taken on this particular situation, but at least by Sunshine's third visit things seemed much improved.


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