As the conflict in Iraq continues, U.S. News has dispatched Pentagon correspondent Julian E. Barnes for a frontline view. Barnes, who has periodically reported from Iraq since the war began in 2003, is blogging his impressions for usnews.com.
IEDs and disappearing kids
Lt. Col. Jeffrey Kelly, commander of the 1-17 Infantry Regiment, stopped his Stryker armored vehicle along one of the main roads of Mosul today when he saw that one of the usual soccer pitches used by the children was empty. The Americans have learned that it is a sign that an improvised explosive device has been set up when children disappear from the street or normal play areas. Kelly dismounted and asked a group of men working there where the children had gone.
"Why is no one playing soccer this morning?" Kelly asked.
"They are afraid," said one of the men in Arabic. "There was an IED blast yesterday and one of the kids got hurt."
The same blast that hit Sgt. 1st Class Michael Steffey's Stryker on Tuesday as he was coming back from visiting the girl who had been injured by an IED turned out to have injured another small child.
One of the vicious circles of Iraq.
Polling the Mosul electorate
The most substantive question most soldiers have asked residents of Mosul this week was: "Whom are you going to vote for?" Judging from a small and completely unscientific sampling of the people of Mosul's west side neighborhoods, Ayad Allawi's list is going to do well in Iraq's second-largest city.
Many of the Sunni Arab residents questioned by the American soldiers say they trust Allawi to be tough on all ethnic groups. And Sunnis believe he is the candidate the least in favor of a federal division of Iraq, which they oppose because they see it as a first step to dissolving the country.
Translating with eloquence
Arabs tend to call the military forces in Iraq "Amerique" Americans. That, after all, is where the vast majority of the international forces in Iraq come from. But the U.S. military translators almost always translate Amerique as "coalition forces." Another interesting translation: IED, or improvised explosive device. The Arabic for IED sounds something like "obo kassif" and translates literally as explosive charge. Far more eloquent than yet another military abbreviation.
A straight talker in a Mosul market
Most of the conversations in Mosul between residents and American soldiers are pretty superficial. Platoon leaders and sergeants tend to ask what is going on in the neighborhood and what a particular resident does for a living.
Most Iraqis do not want to talk to the Americans about specific bad guys they know about. The Iraqis have a habit of telling the Americans what they want to hear. But when Lt. Col. Jeffrey Kelly finds someone who will talk straight with him, he stops to listen.
On Wednesday, the day before the Iraqi election, he was in a large produce market in Mosul. The market was virtually shut down because of an election-related no-driving policy in Mosul and other Iraqi cities. One man was sadly sorting through a giant pile of parsley and complaining that because of the restrictions on vehicles, the parsley would go bad before he could sell it.