AP’s Iraq Blog Offers Informal Insight

By: E&P Staff

As E&P has noted in the past, a “blog” that The Associated Press regularly moves on its wire often provides informal, but revealing, slices of life from the war zone that often gets missed in the “straight” reporting from the region.

Here are some of the current postings by AP journalists.

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Aug. 4, 2006, 9:30 p.m. local

CAMP ANACONDA

There was no Diet Coke today at the dining facility. For a few seconds, I was a little irritated. I try to limit my caffeine intake and keep it to one Diet Coke a day, but I do look forward to my soda with a little ice.

After a few seconds I remembered that just about all the food that is eaten on this base is driven by truck, possibly from Kuwait to the south or Turkey to the north. And those truck drivers — many from neighboring countries such as Saudi Arabia or Jordan — take horrible risks driving on roads that are filled with homemade bombs set by insurgents and ambushes set up by people wanting to steal their loads.

So every time that something such as Diet Coke doesn’t make it to the dining facility or the mail doesn’t arrive or there’s no sour cream for the baked potatoes, it could mean that a driver out on the roads of Iraq is dead.

Of course, it could mean that an order wasn’t put in on time or there was a shortage of sour cream, but there’s always a strong chance that the food convoy was ambushed.

The military has taken steps to cut down on the number of convoys on the roads, including building water purification centers at different bases so bottled water doesn’t have to be imported. The food at this base, Camp Anaconda, is relatively good, complete with macaroni and cheese, usually four flavors of Baskin Robbins ice cream, including one of my favorites, mint chocolate chip, and a refrigerator full of canned sodas.

The military tries to take care of the soldiers who are usually spending a year of their lives over here by giving them good meals instead of forcing them to eat the packaged food called ”Meals Ready to Eat” that are often found on the battlefield.

Also, troops who are well taken care of also tend to stay in the military. But for everything that I eat, I can’t help thinking of whoever drove it here.

–Rebecca Santana

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Aug. 1, 8:30 p.m. local

CAMP ANACONDA

When I need to file my stories or check e-mail, I take my computer and satellite phone out to a gravel field near the trailer where I’m staying. I sit down, set up my equipment and type away. As I was sitting there a few nights ago, I noticed helicopters coming in, pairs of Black Hawks flying low and slow, almost tracing the road that runs in front of the field where I was sitting. First two helicopters, one following the other, flew by. Then, maybe 20 minutes later, another pair flew by. I didn’t think too much of it because if you look into the sky around Camp Anaconda, there’s almost always a plane or helicopter flying overhead.

It wasn’t until the next day that I found out what was going on. The Black Hawks were most likely taking patients to the Air Force hospital on base, where the most seriously injured American soldiers or Marines in Iraq are treated, usually before moving on to a hospital in Germany. The hospital also treats Iraqi military, police, civilians, even insurgents. Now, every time I now see those helicopters — and you see them with frightening regularity — I can’t help thinking of whoever’s inside, ripped open by shrapnel or pockmarked by bullets.

–Rebecca Santana

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July 28, 2:17 p.m. local

CAMP ANACONDA

One of Command Sgt. Major Lawrence A. Halls biggest worries in Iraq is Gatorade. Too much Gatorade, to be precise. The problem started with making sure the troops were hydrated in the hot July sun, when the low temperature is still in the 90s and the high often goes well above 110.

And in this case, hydrated doesn’t mean seven to eight glasses of water a day as is recommended by many beauty magazines to keep your skin glowing. It means seven to eight liters of water a day. But liter after liter of water obviously doesnt have a lot of taste to it, so troops like to mix up what theyre drinking, and Gatorade is an obvious choice.

Then Hall, of the Army’s 1st Squadron, 167th Cavalry, learned that the medical staff is starting to notice an increase in kidney stones and gall stones in troops. They believe its because the guys — and gals — are drinking a lot of Gatorade and at the same time, not getting enough exercise. So soldiers are encouraged to either exercise more or drink water instead of Gatorade. Theyre also rationing the amount of Gatorade troops can pick up at the dining facility to two bottles per person, whereas in the past, troops could — and often did — fill up every pocket with a bottle of the green or orange liquid.

Cutting back on the amount of Gatorade also means fewer convoys on the highways bringing the stuff in and, as a result, fewer people dying from roadside bomb attacks. Hall said he didnt know whether it was the medical reasons or the aim of limiting convoys that originally led to the 2-bottles per person rule, but the end result has been a Gatorade crackdown. ”Who would have thought that wed come to Iraq and my biggest problem would be too much Gatorade?” said Hall. ”Little things that you would think never matter, are a big deal around here.”

— Rebecca Santana

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July 29, 9:30 a.m. local

BAGHDAD

Eight months ago, it all seemed quite different. The Iraqis were going to ”stand up,” and American troops were going ”to stand down.”

Sure, the Iraqis may not have the firepower nor all the fancy computer gadgetry of the high-tech American fighting force, U.S. officials said last year. And the potbellies all too familiar at Iraqi recruiting stations might not pass muster at Fort Benning.

But the Iraqis were going to bring something else to the equation that American and other international troops in Iraq never could.

”Bringing skills and knowledge to the fight that coalition forces cannot, Iraqi troops know their people, language, and culture,” the White House said in a November 2005 fact sheet entitled Training Iraqi Security Forces.

”They know who the terrorists are and are earning the trust of their countrymen. As Iraqi forces grow in size and capability, they are helping to keep a better hold on cities and are increasingly taking the lead.”

Things look different now — after 6,000 Iraqis were killed in May and June alone, according to the United Nations.

”Undoubtedly the Iraqi people have lost confidence in the police,” Britain’s outgoing ambassador to Iraq, William Patey, told the British Broadcasting Corporation last Thursday.

On the same day, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld was lengthening the tours of about 3,500 members of the 172nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team for up to four more months as part of a plan to bolster U.S. troop strength to shore up Iraqi security forces that are in danger of losing this capital to the gunmen.

What’s more, the Pentagon is signaling plans to maintain or possibly increase the number of American service members in Iraq. Not so long ago, word was that substantial troop cuts were in the works by the end of the year — and in time for the midterm U.S. elections.

Now, it looks like even more Americans will be spending Christmas in Iraq — and not with their families back home.

It’s by no means clear the new strategy will be more successful than the old. At best, success will take time, patience and support from the public — not only in Iraq but in the United States as well.

-Robert H. Reid


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