Brothers In Arms
In Fallujah, U.S. Marine advisers are trying to develop a few good men
Back at battalion headquarters, Huggins sat down with Lt. Col. Saleem Naem Hatab, the 2nd Battalion executive officer, to discuss the incident. The Iraqis report that indeed the family of the slain man is angry and Huggins wants to talk about delivering financial compensation. "We want to bring money to family on Wednesday," Huggins tells Hatab. "No good," he responds. "Thursday?" Huggins asks. Hatab seems not to understand. Huggins tries again: "Tomorrow, next tomorrow, next tomorrow." "Yes maybe," Hatab answers. "Not Wednesday, but Thursday. Three days?" Huggins asks. "Three days," Hatab agrees. When the interpreters are not around, such is the pace of conversations at the Iraqi base.
With light seeping through the bullet holes of last November's battle, the metal gates of Jolan homes glowed like star charts as Lieutenant Muhamad launched his midnight operation. With Huggins standing nearby, Muhamad followed his men down the alleys of the market district as they looked into courtyards for curfew violators. Above a Marine unmanned plane buzzed in the sky. The soldiers moved according to Muhamad's plan and their American lessons, stopping at phase lines and reporting their progress. The idea is to squeeze the curfew violators between a patrol advancing from the north and a cordon of soldiers stationed at the south.
The sweep netted just one curfew violator, who said he was out checking his generator at a neighboring house. The story does not ring true to the Iraqis, and under questioning he admitted he was sneaking out to play poker with a neighbor. "First he moved from that house to fix the generator," says Kahdim, the battalion doctor. "Now it's a poker game." Huggins smiles and shakes his head. Turning to Muhamad he asked, "Does anyone in Fallujah tell the truth?" In English, Muhamad answered, "No, not Fallujah."
"Tomorrow tomorrow." Despite failing to net any insurgents, Muhamad's operation is considered an important, but small, success. "This is not going to happen immediately," Capt. Tim Eichhorn, Huggins's deputy, said the morning after the raid. "As the Iraqis say, it will be 'tomorrow tomorrow.' " McCarty, listening in, agrees. "If the Iraqis say 'tomorrow tomorrow' it could be days, or it could be years," McCarty says. "And if we are going to get it right, we are going to have to stay for years." Hatab, the Iraqi battalion executive officer, has a very precise answer for when "tomorrow tomorrow" will come, and the American advisers will no longer be needed. "Five years," he says in English. "Five years, police and Army good."
Iraqi Army officers may have greater patience for a large U.S. presence than the Iraqi people--or the American public. But the Iraqi Army may have to re-evaluate its timeline. For now, though, the Iraqi troops have the help, and the training wheels remain in place.