Iraq Journal: The Future of Iraq

Michael J. Totten is an independent journalist reporting on the war in Iraq. Here is a portion of his latest journal entry provided exclusively for

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"Al Qaeda terrifies locals," said Major Mike Garcia from Canyon, Texas, before he put me in a convoy of Humvees with 18 American military police on their way to the small town of Mushadah just north of Baghdad. “The only people Iraqis may be more afraid of is their mothers.

"When we arrest or detain people and threaten to call up their mom, they completely freak out. 'Please, no, don’t tell my mother,' they say," Garcia continues. "Women are quiet outside the house, but they severely smack down their bad kids inside the house. When your Iraqi mother tells you to knock something off, you knock it off.”

The American military has slowly figured out how to leverage Iraq’s culture to its advantage, but it only works to an extent. Locating, killing, capturing and interrogating terrorists and insurgents is the easy part. The hard part is training Iraqis to do it themselves.

Our destination in Mushadah, a town considered extremely dangerous, was the local police station where the American MPs train and equip Iraqi police.

“I am not trying to scare you,” said Capt. Maryanne Naro of Fort Drum, N.Y. “But don’t get out of your vehicle unless something catastrophic has happened to it.”

I walked the streets of Baghdad every day with soldiers from the 82nd Airborne Division, but that clearly wasn’t going to happen in Mushadah.

“It’s pretty bad up there,” she added. “AQI [Al Qaeda in Iraq] is all over the area because they’ve been pushed out of Baghdad, Ramadi and Fallujah.”

Just driving to Mushadah from the base at Camp Taji was dangerous in a weird sort of way.

“Our convoys are hit with IEDs every day on the road,” she said.

I swallowed hard. “Should I really be going up there?” I said.

“Oh, don’t worry,” she said. “It’s fine.”

I laughed. It’s fine? How is that fine? Nothing, except perhaps kidnappers, is scarier in Iraq than IEDs, especially now that Iranian-manufactured armor-piercing EFPs — Explosively Formed Penetrators — are deployed by Shiite militias.

“None of us have been hurt,” she said. “They’re just small harassment attacks. Most of the IEDs are mortar rounds, and the Humvees are armored. They usually just pop tires and blow off our mirrors. They do it to piss us off.”

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