Michael Yon is an independent journalist and former Green Beret who was embedded in Iraq for nine months in 2005. He has returned to Iraq for 2007 to continue reporting on the war. Here is a portion of his latest dispatch exclusively for FOXNews.com.
There is an entirely different war out in the desert. I’ve been telling American soldiers since my return from the British army that our brothers and sisters are good to go, no matter what their own press says.
American soldiers think our press is bad to them, but we get off light compared to the Brits. One British soldier told me that when he made a journey of several hours across London, in uniform, not a single person acknowledged him. I said he should go to America where British soldiers are always welcome.
The Brits are in for a scorching summer in the deserts of Maysan Province. By the time I left, the sleeping bags weren’t necessary, though nights were cool. The soldiers are living out there on cots under mosquito nets, and their outhouse is a shovel. This past winter, the rains and cold created an opponent in the form of mud. The Iraqi mud — I know it well — is a special kind that sticks to boots and adds about five pounds to each foot.
Sunrise came a few short hours after the parachute re-supply during the darkness. Once the explosives experts had destroyed the armored vehicle damaged in the ambush that also killed two British soldiers, we headed off on a patrol to the Iraqi border.
The area is loaded with munitions: vast fields of land mines from the Iran-Iraq slaughter and uncounted tons of other explosives.
I’d seen miles and miles of minefields up north along the Iran/Iraq border when I was running with the Tennessee National Guard (278th). The shepherds know every rock and cranny out there, and they know where the explosives are.
Treat those shepherds badly, and soldiers get blown up. Treat them with humanity and respect, and they can be business partners. The 278th was good to the shepherds, who were paid to collect large amounts of explosives that the 278th would then destroy, sometimes in massive explosions.
One day the 278th accidentally ran over a sheep. On a different patrol, they spent hours trying to find that shepherd to pay him for that sheep. Because the 278th took the smart approach, despite all the people who have died from IEDs, I’m sure that number is vastly less than it could have been. Moral leadership lesson: Treating people with respect goes a long way.
Up with the 278th, I sat out on the Iran/Iraq border and watched with ground surveillance radar. We saw smugglers. Most of the “smuggling” was of no account: not guns or bombs, but simple commodities like carpets and whiskey, just people doing business.
One Iraqi commander, a Kurdish general, got a tattoo on his arm to match the tattoo of LTC Jeff Holmes, who commanded one of the 278th battalions at that time. The tattoo said (I believe) “Freedom Isn’t Free.”
We went to a number of picnics with that same Iraqi general and his soldiers, and I can remember his offering cases of captured whiskey. Of course, the Americans couldn’t accept the whiskey, but the smuggling was a different story. In any country where a desired commodity is restricted or scarce, the smuggler becomes a commodity.
British and American commanders increasingly report a huge problem with the porous Iraqi borders and, sure enough, mostly they are as unguarded as the Florida/Georgia border — just a line on a map. So we have been building border forts around Iraq, and part of the job of the Queen’s Royal Lancers is to keep an eye on that border.
Down with the Brits, the soldiers were driving along the border, passing herds of camels, and I was sitting up front watching for land mines or whatever, when the British soldier who was driving started talking about how tough the Bedouins really are. He related how Bedouins had just ambushed some smugglers and killed a bunch of them.
“Really?” I asked. When he confirmed they’d ambushed a whole slew and just wiped them out, it sounded like another one of those stories you hear every day in the war, that are probably mostly true, or mostly wrong, but interesting nonetheless.
I told the soldier that many Arabs look at the Bedouins sort of like how Americans look at cowboys. John Wayne. Clint Eastwood. Almost iconic, semi-mythical. Not totally real, but not really fake, either. Like special forces or SAS dudes: not really Supermen, but definitely super men. That’s how Arabs see the Bedouins.
Independent journalist Michael Yon’s dispatches from Iraq appear exclusively on FOXNews.com. Click to read Yon's online magazine MichaelYon-online.com