Thursday, April 19, 2007

Iraqi History & Col Sami

25 Feb 07
Quick history lesson: Iraq’s population is predominantly Shiia Muslim. During World War I Lieutenant T.E. Lawrence of “Lawrence of Arabia” fame was sent by the British to convince various sheiks to rise up against the Ottoman Empire. Prince Faisal of the Hashemite tribe from Arabia (a Sunni Muslim) supported Lawrence and Britain in the fight against the Ottomans. In return, Britain agreed to make him a king when they divided up the Ottoman Empire at the end of the war. Faisal was made the King of Syria, however, within one year he was overthrown and Faisal went back to the British and asked for another kingdom to fulfill their promise. So the British made the Sunni prince the King of Iraq—a predominantly Shiite country. He set up a parliamentary style government (Iraq’s first attempt at democracy) with British political and military assistance. However, after three generations of Sunni kings the Baath Party (also Sunni) overthrew and killed King Faisal II (King Faisal I’s grandson) and the British withdrew their forces from the country. Saddam Hussein rose through the Baath Party ranks and landed in the top seat. Under his regime, the Sunnis oppressed the Shiites and Kurds killing tens of thousands of the two. The Kurds are Sunnis but they are an ethnic minority and oppressed by Saddam’s regime alongside the Shiites.

Got rocketed today at approx 1330. Very loud explosion sounded just outside our door but was in fact down on the C-130 ramp. Has been very quiet up until then. Lt Col Adnan said it’s because Muqtada Al Sadr ordered the Mahdi Army to stand down. Sadr is a Shiite cleric and since Adnan is also Shiite I asked him if he thought it is a good thing that the Mahdi Army stood down. He said there are mixed opinions. The bombing has been far less than the base has seen, however, the Mahdi Army did some “good things” for the people. For instance, the son of one of our Iraqi aircraft maintenance technicians was abducted by Sunnis. He went to the Iraqi Police who said they will investigate the disappearance. He then went to the local head of the Mahdi Army and they went into a Sunni region and abducted four Sunnis then relayed a message to the head of the local Sunni tribe that the boy will be returned or all four Sunnis would die. Our technician got a call that evening to come to the local bridge to retrieve his son.

Adnan also asked me if I knew of the Arabian Gulf. Then asked why the western world calls it the “Persian Gulf.” It reminded me of the Sea of Japan: Koreans hate Japan so they call the Sea of Japan the “East Sea” and are offended if you call it the Sea of Japan.

Had a discussion with Capt Asaad today. He was previously a Colonel in the Iraqi Air Force (Iraqi Air Force) under Saddam Hussein. When he rejoined the Iraqi Air Force, he was offered the rank of captain. Nonetheless, he decided to volunteer to serve his country and believed the Ministry of Defense (MoD) would take care of him. He is bitter that new officers have come in after him and the MoD has made some of them majors already…can’t say I blame him. He was born and raised in Baghdad but recently moved his family to Basrah because Baghdad has become so dangerous.

One of the maintenance technicians’ wife gave birth to a daughter yesterday. Today he brought in cookies that had peanuts showered on top and orange Fanta sodas for the entire squadron. We maintainers were invited to the maintenance lounge to sit and eat the cookies with them.

During the gathering Adnan asked Master Sergeant Darin “DC” Covert what he would do if his son brought home his girlfriend to live with him. DC said he’d send them away. So DC asked Adnan what he would do. Adnan laughed and said that he would shoot his son. He explained that a girl’s honor was to be protected like gold. He went on at some length about virtue and the community’s responsibility to protect that virtue and that girls must be a virgin at marriage. I asked him if it were the same for men…those in the room that speak English laughed then one of them translated into Arabic and all of those laughed. Adnan said, “no, no…it is not the same for men.”

We were sent a great article by a UPI reporter written about our squadron commander Col Sami (Air Reconnaissance Squadron 70). Under the Saddam regime he piloted Russian made IL-76 cargo aircraft. During the first Gulf War (GW1) he was ordered to fly his aircraft to Iran. He couldn’t believe the order but complied. The next few weeks were out of an espionage book as he was covertly moved across Iran back to Iraq. At one point the Iranian police where charged with carrying them and thought they were prisoners of war from the Iran-Iraq War finally being set free. Once at the border they were put in trucks that happened by and smuggled back into the country. They believed they would get their aircraft back but as of today, they have not seen a thing…no doubt they were kept as war reparations by the Iranian government. He said they are still flying them in Iran.

As I mentioned, most Iraqis are Shiia Muslims and Squadron 70 is no different. There are only a few Sunnis in the squadron. Most of the squadron lives in Basrah which is known for the Shiia uprising at the end of GW1. The uprising was brutally put down with the help of attack helicopters by the Saddam regime. However, many make the 8 hour drive from Baghdad to serve their country. The roads are littered with checkpoints and, considering the Sunni insurgents have been known to target and kill Shiias at checkpoints based on Shiia tribal names, serving their country is a dangerous proposition.

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