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.
Few things are as reliably deceptive as appearance. If one of our jet pilots must eject, he might land out here among someone’s camels. I recall an officer talking about one of our helicopters crashing in Mosul, where local Iraqis were the first to the scene and tried to help our people. Of course, sometimes the opposite occurs. The point is these people who live different lives and have different religions are not all out here plotting ways to kill us.
In journeys I made before the war to places like India, Nepal, Tibet and China, most of the people I encountered seemed to think about us just as often as we think about them: practically never.
Most of the peoples of the world are living simply, and simply living. Or trying to. They do not aspire to map and explore the depths of the seas or to tease the secrets out of quarks and quasars.
Most people in the world cannot read. Many languages have no alphabets. No dictionaries. Many peoples have no access to libraries, museums or cultural institutions. Most haven’t time to care about geo-politics.
But when war begins, usually caused by big people for big reasons — be it money, power, religious crusade or jihad — native peoples such as the Kampas in Tibet suddenly become important to big people. Most don’t appreciate the new status and the disruption and danger it brings.
Take the Bedouin. Suddenly, what they think of us is important. Even very important. Arbitrary borders of Iran and Iraq mean nothing to many of these people. But rest assured that collectively, in their wanderings, they know everything that goes on here.
There is no way for our people to just “melt into the desert” unnoticed. The battle here, as Gen. Petraeus keeps saying, is for the people. Whoever wins the people will hold the greater influence Iraq, and therefore the region.
Soldiers, be they from Scotland or Scottsdale, come out here and battle for the sentiments or business sense of the people. Soldiers, who only months ago were perhaps drinking beers in London pubs, and who speak only English, who’ve been taught to shoot straight and to blow things up, now are learning to win battles without firing shots.
It is being done, at least to some degree, because it has to be done. Over the course of the past couple of years, our own military has had to quickly adjust its mindset.
The Brits I ran with down in Maysan Province were good at stopping to talk with locals. These British soldiers had just lost two buddies in an ambush nearly exactly 72 hours ago, yet they had treated the locals, even at the ambush site, with respect. Some Iraqis have told me that we treat them too well, that we should wipe out a village after such an ambush, and truly that must be tempting at times. But we didn’t come to Iraq to wipe out villages, and should it come down to that, it would be time to go home.
When we saw this Bedouin family, the British officer ordered the vehicles to be parked far away from the house, weapons pointing away from their home. He didn’t approach with a platoon of soldiers, but only with his interpreter. He left his helmet and rifle back at the truck, and carried only a pistol on his leg. As he walked up, the Bedouin man walked out to greet him.
Greetings done, the British officer introduced me, saying I was a photographer, and asked if it were OK for me to be there. The Bedouin man welcomed us all in. I asked if I could take pictures, and he answered through the interpreter that I could photograph the children but not the women. The women stayed hidden; I have no idea how many wives there were.
Independent journalist Michael Yon’s dispatches from Iraq appear exclusively on FOXNews.com. Click to read Yon's online magazine MichaelYon-online.com.