Sunday, April 17, 2005


Search Parties and Changing Attitudes

I have had several personal encounters with US army search parties. Two of them reflect a certain trend.

One was in June of 2003, two months after the fall of Baghdad. I was at the farm, sitting with some of my share-croppers, discussing things. Three Hummers came in; three soldiers came out and walked toward us. I went to meet them. I asked if I could help them. The most senior said that they were on a routine search and asked if we had any weapons. I said that I did have an AK47 at the farm and that everybody else did. He smiled and asked me how I happened to speak English. I asked him where he came from… and that wherever that was, I was sure it couldn't possibly be that hot.

There are many storerooms at the farm for grains, fertilizers, machinery, etc. but they didn't ask to inspect them. We just exchanged some small talk, shook hands and they took off. Before leaving the main gate, a girl soldier leaned out of the side window, face flushing red from the heat, smiled and shouted: " Hey, we want to be your friends!" and waved. After translation, one of the younger men there remarked that he didn't mind being friends with her!


Last November, we were visited at home in Baghdad by another search party. Four soldiers came into the house, the others remained outside. One of the guys asked if they could search the house. I said of course (it would have been silly to ask if they had a search warrant!). He then asked if we had any weapons. I said "Yes, everybody does". He then asked how many we had and I said two, one mine and the other my son's. So, he asked to see them and I took him to where they were stashed. He inspected them (apparently for having been used recently). The others were roaming the house, looking around.

The whole procedure took around 10 minutes.

The difference was that we all had our stone-faces on; there was no small talk and no smiles. Everything was cold, professional and business-like.

Of course, I don't know whether they were aware that during the time they were searching our home, word of what they were doing in the neighborhood must have traveled at least three blocks ahead of them.


There was quite a difference in approach and attitude between the two encounters. The first time at least that particular group of soldiers tried not to behave like an army of occupation. The second time… there was no question about it.

But also, the change of attitude was not just from their side, it was from mine too.


Less than half an hour from their visit to our home, that second party literally ransacked the house of a neighbor – an old lady living alone.

(Moral: it can be useful to be able to speak English in Iraq today ;)

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