Friday, November 30, 2007

Good News from Iraq

The following article is encouraging and a great holiday gift to the members of the American military who have been working so hard to give the Iraqis a better life. The above picture was published with the article:

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6,000 Sunni Iraqis Join Pact With U.S.
Associated Press - November 29, 2007

HAWIJA, Iraq - Nearly 6,000 Sunni Arab residents joined a security pact with American forces Nov. 28 in what U.S. officers described as a critical step in plugging the remaining escape routes for extremists flushed from former strongholds.

The new alliance - called the single largest single volunteer mobilization since the war began - covers the "last gateway" for groups such as al-Qaida in Iraq seeking new havens in northern Iraq, U.S. military officials said.

U.S. commanders have tried to build a ring around insurgents who fled military offensives launched earlier this year in the western Anbar province and later into Baghdad and surrounding areas. In many places, the U.S.-led battles were given key help from tribal militias - mainly Sunnis - that had turned against al-Qaida and other groups.

Extremists have sought new footholds in northern areas once loyal to Saddam Hussein's Baath party as the U.S.-led gains have mounted across central regions. But their ability to strike near the capital remains.

A woman wearing an explosive-rigged belt blew herself up near an American patrol near Baqouba, about 35 miles northeast of Baghdad, the military announced Wednesday. The blast on Nov. 27 - a rare attack by a female suicide bomber - wounded seven U.S. troops and five Iraqis, the statement said.

The ceremony to pledge the 6,000 new fighters was presided over by dozen sheiks - each draped in black robes trimmed with gold braiding - who signed the contract on behalf of tribesmen at a small U.S. outpost in north-central Iraq.

For about $275 a month - nearly the salary for the typical Iraqi policeman - the tribesmen will man about 200 security checkpoints beginning Dec. 7, supplementing hundreds of Iraqi forces already in the area.

About 77,000 Iraqis nationwide, mostly Sunnis, have broken with the insurgents and joined U.S.-backed self-defense groups.

Those groups have played a major role in the lull in violence: 648 Iraqi civilians have been killed or found dead in November to date, according to figures compiled by The Associated Press. This compares with 2,155 in May as the so-called "surge" of nearly 30,000 additional American troops gained momentum. U.S. troop deaths in Iraq have also dropped sharply. So far this month, the military has reported 34 deaths, compared with 38 in October. In June, 101 U.S. soldiers died in Iraq.

Village mayors and others who signed Wednesday's agreement say about 200 militants have sought refuge in the area, about 30 miles southwest of Kirkuk on the edge of northern Iraq's semi-autonomous Kurdish region. Hawija is a predominantly Sunni Arab cluster of villages which has long been an insurgent flashpoint.

The recently arrived militants have waged a campaign of killing and intimidation to try to establish a new base, said Sheikh Khalaf Ali Issa, mayor of Zaab village.

"They killed 476 of my citizens, and I will not let them continue their killing," Issa said.

With the help of the new Sunni allies, "the Hawija area will be an obstacle to militants, rather than a pathway for them," said Maj. Sean Wilson, with the Army's 1st Brigade, 10th Mountain Division. "They're another set of eyes that we needed in this critical area."

By defeating militants in Hawija, U.S. and Iraqi leaders hope to keep them away from Kirkuk, an ethnically diverse city that is also the hub of Iraq's northern oil fields.

"They want to go north into Kirkuk and wreak havoc there, and that's exactly what we're trying to avoid," Army Maj. Gen. Mark P. Hertling, the top U.S. commander in northern Iraq, told The Associated Press this week.

Kurds often consider Kurkik part of their ancestral homeland and often refer to the city as the "Kurdish Jerusalem." Saddam, however, relocated tens of thousands of pro-regime Arabs to the city in the 1980s and 1990s under his "Arabization" policy.

The Iraqi government has begun resettling some of those Arabs to their home regions, making room for thousands of Kurds who have gradually returned to Kirkuk since Saddam's ouster.

Tension has been rising over the city's status - whether it will join the semi-autonomous Kurdish region or continue being governed by Baghdad.

"Hawija is the gateway through which all our communities - Kurdish, Turkomen and Arab alike - can become unsafe," said Abu Saif al-Jabouri, mayor of al-Multaqa village north of Kirkuk. "Do I love my neighbor in Hawija? That question no longer matters. I must work to help him, because his safety helps me."

In Baghdad, a bus convoy arrived carrying hundreds of refugees home from Syria. The buses, funded by the Iraqi government, left Damascus on Tuesday as part of a plan to speed the return of the estimated 2.2 million Iraqis who have fled to neighboring Syria and Jordan.

Also Wednesday, an Iraqi journalist Dhia al-Kawaz who said 11 members of his family -two sisters, their husbands and their seven children - were killed in their Baghdad home challenged the government's denial of the deaths.

The Iraqi government spokesman, Ali al-Dabbagh, insisted that the deaths - reportedly Sunday in a northern neighborhood of Baghdad known to be a Shiite militia stronghold - never took place.

Al-Kawaz, who has lived outside Iraq for 20 years, told Al-Jazeera television: "I ask the spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh to let all of my family appear on TV."

The media advocacy group Reporters Without Borders condemned the attack and claimed Iraqi police at a nearby checkpoint failed to intervene.

Copyright 2007 Associated Press.

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Americans must keep the faith that it will work out in the end. We cannot give up when so many have given their lives.

SFC Chuck Grist

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

A World War II Story of Chivalry & Courage

The item below was forwarded to me by one of the officers with whom I served in Iraq:

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A B-17 War Story:

Charlie Brown was a B-17 Flying Fortress pilot with the 379th Bomber Group at Kimbolton, England. His B-17 was called 'Ye Old Pub' and was in a terrible state, having been hit by flak and fighters. The compass was damaged and they were flying deeper over enemy territory instead of heading home to Kimbolton.

After flying over an enemy airfield, a German pilot named Franz Steigler was ordered to take off and shoot down the B-17. When he got near the B-17, he could not believe his eyes. In his words, he 'had never seen a plane in such a bad state'. The tail and rear section was severely damaged, and the tail gunner wounded. The top gunner was all over the top of the fuselage. The nose was smashed, a propeller feathered and there were holes everywhere.

Despite having ammunition, Franz flew to the side of the B-17 and looked at Charlie Brown, the pilot. Brown was scared and struggling to control his damaged and blood-stained plane.

Aware that they had no idea where they were going, Franz waved at Charlie to turn 180degrees. Franz escorted and guided the stricken plane to and slightly over the North Sea towards England. He then saluted Charlie Brown and turned away, back to Europe.

When Franz landed he told the C/O that the plane had been shot down over the sea, and never told the truth to anybody. Charlie Brown and the remains of his crew told all at their briefing, but were ordered never to talk about it.

More than 40 years later, Charlie Brown wanted to find the Luftwaffe pilot who had spared the lives of the crew. After years of research, Franz was found at last. He had never talked about the incident either, not even at post-war reunions

They met in the USA at a 379th Bomber Group reunion, together with 25 people who are alive now - all because Franz never fired his guns that day.

Research shows that Charlie Brown lived in Seattle and Franz Steigler had moved to Vancouver, BC after the war. When they finally met, they discovered they had lived less than 200 miles apart for the past 50 years !!!

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Quite a story!

SFC Chuck Grist

Monday, November 26, 2007

Terrorists and the Border

Securing America’s borders is not about “political correctness”; it’s about enforcing the law as written and it’s about the safety and security of the American people.

America will be attacked from within its borders again. You can buy all the fancy TVs you want, all the big, gas-guzzling SUVs you desire and you can stick your head in the sand like a lot of politicians, but it’s going to happen.

See the article below:

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Washington Times – November 26, 2007

Islamists Target Arizona Base
Terrorists said aided by cartel

By Sara A. Carter, Washington Times

Fort Huachuca, the nation's largest intelligence-training center, changed security measures in May after being warned that Islamist terrorists, with the aid of Mexican drug cartels, were planning an attack on the facility.

Fort officials changed security measures after sources warned that possibly 60 Afghan and Iraqi terrorists were to be smuggled into the U.S. through underground tunnels with high-powered weapons to attack the Arizona Army base, according to multiple confidential law enforcement documents obtained by The Washington Times.

"A portion of the operatives were in the United States, with the remainder not yet in the United States," according to one of the documents, an FBI advisory that was distributed to the Defense Intelligence Agency, the CIA, Customs and Border Protection and the Justice Department, among several other law enforcement agencies throughout the nation. "The Afghanis and Iraqis shaved their beards so as not to appear to be Middle Easterners."

According to the FBI advisory, each Middle Easterner paid Mexican drug lords $20,000"or the equivalent in weapons" for the cartel's assistance in smuggling them and their weapons through tunnels along the border into the U.S. The weapons would be sent through tunnels that supposedly ended in Arizona and New Mexico, but the Islamist terrorists would be smuggled through Laredo, Texas, and reclaim the weapons later.

A number of the Afghans and Iraqis are already in a safe house in Texas, the FBI advisory said.

Fort Huachuca, which lies about 20 miles from the Mexican border, has members of all four service branches training in intelligence and secret operations. About 12,000 persons work at the fort and many have their families on base.

Lt. Col. Matthew Garner, spokesman for Fort Huachuca, said details about the current phase of the investigation or security changes on the post "will not be disclosed."

"We are always taking precautions to ensure that soldiers, family members and civilians that work and live on Fort Huachuca are safe," Col. Garner said. "With this specific threat, we did change some aspects of our security that we did have in place."

According to the FBI report, some of the weapons associated with the plot have been smuggled through a tunnel from Mexico to the U.S.

The FBI report is based on Drug Enforcement Administration sources, including Mexican nationals with access to "sub-sources" in the drug cartels. The report's assessment is that the DEA's Mexican contacts have proven reliable in the past but the "sub-source" is of uncertain reliability.

According to the source who spoke with DEA intelligence agents, the weapons included two Milan anti-tank missiles, Soviet-made surface-to-air missiles, grenade launchers, long guns and handguns.

"FBI Comment: The surface-to-air missiles may in fact be RPGs," the advisory stated, adding that the weapons stash in Mexico could include two or three more Milan missiles.

The Milan, a French-German portable anti-tank weapon, was developed in the 1970s and widely sold to militaries around the world, including Saddam Hussein's Iraq. Insurgents in Iraq reportedly have used a Milan missile in an attack on a British tank. Iraqi guerrillas also have shot down U.S. helicopters using RPGs, or rocket-propelled grenades.

FBI spokesman Paul Bresson would not elaborate on the current investigation regarding the threat, but said that many times the initial reports are based on "raw, uncorroborated information that has not been completely vetted." He added that this report shows the extent to which all law enforcement and intelligence agencies cooperate in terror investigations.

"If nothing else, it provides a good look at the inner working of the law-enforcement and intelligence community and how they work together on a daily basis to share and deal with threat information," Mr. Bresson said. "It also demonstrates the cross-pollination that frequently exists between criminal and terrorist groups."

The connections between criminal enterprises, such as powerful drug cartels, and terrorist organizations have become a serious concern for intelligence agencies monitoring the U.S.-Mexico border.

"Based upon the information provided by the DEA handling agent, the DEA has classified the source as credible," stated a Department of Homeland Security document, regarding the possibility of an attack on Fort Huachuca. "The identity of the sub-source has been established; however, none of the information provided by the sub-source in the past has been corroborated."

The FBI advisory stated the "sub-source" for the information "is a member of the Zetas," the military arm of one of Mexico's most dangerous drug-trafficking organizations, the Gulf Cartel. The Gulf Cartel controls the movement of narcotics from Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, into the U.S. along the Laredo corridor.
However, the sub-source "for this information is of unknown reliability," the FBI advisory stated.

According to the DEA, the sub-source identified Mexico's Sinaloa cartel as the drug lords who would assist the terrorists in their plot.

This led the DEA to caution the FBI that its information may be a Gulf Cartel plant to bring the U.S. military in against its main rival. The Sinaloa and Gulf cartels have fought bloody battles along the border for control of shipping routes into the U.S.

"It doesn't mean that there isn't truth to some of what this source delivered to U.S. agents," said one law-enforcement intelligence agent, on the condition of anonymity. "The cartels have no loyalty to any nation or person. It isn't surprising that for the right price they would assist terrorists, knowingly or unknowingly."

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If your local leaders, your law enforcement agencies, your Senators or your Representatives won't take action against illegal immigration and won't actively promote stronger border security, then you need to vote their sorry asses out of office or petition their removal from their jobs.

After all - it is YOUR country. Participate in its defense now....

SFC Chuck Grist

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Happy Thanksgiving - Remember the Troops

I will be leaving my temporary military training assignment to travel home for a few days. I'm looking forward to spending Thanksgiving with my family in Florida.

Even though I have to be back here the weekend after the holiday, I am keenly aware that I am so much more fortunate than my comrades in the war zones.

Many of these brave men and women haven't seen their families in a year or more. It is their efforts that make it possible for all of us to enjoy a blessed holiday with our families in peace and safety.

To all of America's soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines: Thanks for your service, your courage and your sacrifice. I am unbelievably proud to be one of you. God bless you all and please be safe.

America, enjoy your Thanksgiving; your children are taking care of you in Iraq and Afghanistan....

SFC Chuck Grist

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Can the Sunnis and Shiites Ever Reconcile?

America’s soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines have done a magnificent job of removing Saddam Hussein and creating an atmosphere in which the new Iraqi government can take advantage of its freedom. With cooperation, decisive action and a spirit of reconciliation, Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds can build a prosperous nation of the kind never seen before in the Middle East.

The problem is that the Shiite-dominated government still won’t reach out to the Sunnis because they represent the party of Saddam Hussein. The Sunni minority ruled over Iraq – and the Shiites – with an iron hand. Now that the Shiite majority has the power, they fear sharing any of that power with the Sunnis. (Above picture shows me with some Shiite security guards in Baghdad's Green Zone in 2004.)

Unless the people of Iraq try to put their past behind them for the sake of all their people, there will be little the Americans or the Coalition can do to prevent a catastrophe. Our presence alone will not fix Iraq. Only Iraqis can ultimately build their own nation.

As the article below says, there is now a window of opportunity for the Iraqis to move ahead, to improve the daily lives of all their people, to create a rich future for an ancient land and to learn to live together in peace and brotherhood.

If thousand-year-old feuds and hatreds cannot be quelled, then America will soon face some hard decisions. We can’t do everything for the Iraqis. We’ve opened the door to freedom and prosperity, but they must accept the ultimate responsibility for the success or failure of the new Iraq.

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Washington Post
November 15, 2007
Pg. 1

Iraqis Wasting An Opportunity, U.S. Officers Say
Amid Relative Calm, Government Is Urged to Reach Out to Opponents

By Thomas E. Ricks, Washington Post Staff Writer

CAMP LIBERTY, Iraq -- Senior military commanders here now portray the intransigence of Iraq's Shiite-dominated government as the key threat facing the U.S. effort in Iraq, rather than al-Qaeda terrorists, Sunni insurgents or Iranian-backed militias.

In more than a dozen interviews, U.S. military officials expressed growing concern over the Iraqi government's failure to capitalize on sharp declines in attacks against U.S. troops and Iraqi civilians. A window of opportunity has opened for the government to reach out to its former foes, said Army Lt. Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, the commander of day-to-day U.S. military operations in Iraq, but "it's unclear how long that window is going to be open."

The lack of political progress calls into question the core rationale behind the troop buildup President Bush announced in January, which was premised on the notion that improved security would create space for Iraqis to arrive at new power-sharing arrangements. And what if there is no such breakthrough by next summer? "If that doesn't happen," Odierno said, "we're going to have to review our strategy."

Brig. Gen. John F. Campbell, deputy commanding general of the 1st Cavalry Division, complained last week that Iraqi politicians appear out of touch with everyday citizens. "The ministers, they don't get out," he said. "They don't know what the hell is going on on the ground." Campbell noted approvingly that Lt. Gen. Aboud Qanbar, the top Iraqi commander in the Baghdad security offensive, lately has begun escorting cabinet officials involved in health, housing, oil and other issues out of the Green Zone to show them, as Campbell put it, "Hey, I got the security, bring in the [expletive] essential services."

Indeed, some U.S. Army officers now talk more sympathetically about former insurgents than they do about their ostensible allies in the Shiite-led central government. "It is painful, very painful," dealing with the obstructionism of Iraqi officials, said Army Lt. Col. Mark Fetter. As for the Sunni fighters who for years bombed and shot U.S. soldiers and now want to join the police, Fetter shrugged. "They have got to eat," he said over lunch in the 1st Cavalry Division's mess hall here. "There are so many we've detained and interrogated, they did what they did for money."

The best promise for breaking the deadlock would be holding provincial elections, officers said -- though they recognize that elections could turn bloody and turbulent, undercutting the fragile stability they now see developing in Iraq.

"The tipping point that I've been looking for as an intel officer, we are there," said one Army officer here who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of his position. "The GOI [government of Iraq] and ISF [Iraqi security forces] are at the point where they can make it or break it."

The latest news of declining violence comes as the U.S. troop contingent in Iraq has reached an all-time high. This week, the U.S. troop number will hit 175,000 -- the largest presence so far in the 4 1/2 -year war -- as units that are rotating in and out overlap briefly. But those numbers are scheduled to come down rapidly over the next several months, which will place an increasing burden on Iraqi security forces and an Iraqi government that has yet to demonstrate it is up to the challenge, senior military officials said.

Indeed, after years of seizing on every positive development and complaining that the good news wasn't being adequately conveyed, American military officials now warn against excessive optimism. "It's never as bad as it was, and it's not as good as it's being reported now," said Army Maj. Gen. Michael Barbero, chief of strategic operations for U.S. forces in Iraq.

On the diplomatic side of the Iraq equation, U.S. officials said they realize time is short. "We've got six months because the military is leaving," said one official. But this official and others expressed irritation with the military's negativity toward the Iraqi government -- which they interpret as blaming the State Department for not speeding reconciliation.

"That's their out," the official said of the military. "It's convenient, and I know plenty of them have been helping that story around."

Diplomatic officials, none of whom were authorized to speak on the record, insisted that progress is being made, even if it lags behind military successes. They highlighted two key elements needed for political reconciliation in Iraq, one domestic and one external. Internally, sectarian politicians remain deadlocked on a range of issues. Shiite political groups are holding back as they vie for national power and control over resources, while the majority Shiite population fears that the Sunnis hope to recapture the dominance they held under Saddam Hussein.

In recent weeks, U.S. Ambassador Ryan C. Crocker has focused on external forces, hoping to persuade neighboring Sunni Arab governments to increase their official presence in Iraq -- no Arab government currently has an embassy in Baghdad -- to boost the confidence of Iraqi Sunnis.

Late last month, Crocker traveled to virtually every nearby Arab country except Syria and Saudi Arabia. His message, one official said, was "Look, you have got to get behind this because you've got to do everything you can to give all sides confidence."

The U.S. military approach in Iraq this year has focused on striking deals with Sunni insurgents, under which they stop fighting the Americans and instead protect their own neighborhoods. So far about 70,000 such volunteers have been enrolled -- a trend that makes the Shiite-led central government nervous, especially as the movement gets closer to Baghdad.

Indeed, all the U.S. military officials interviewed said their most pressing concern is that the Sunnis will sour if the Iraqi government doesn't begin to reciprocate their peace overtures. "The Sunnis have shown great patience," said Campbell. "You don't want the Sunnis that are working with you . . . to go back to the dark side."

The Army officer who requested anonymity said that if the Iraqi government doesn't reach out, then for former Sunni insurgents "it's game on -- they're back to attacking again."

The year-long progress in fighting al-Qaeda in Iraq could carry a downside: Maj. Mark Brady, who works on reconciliation issues, noted that a Sunni leader told him: "As soon as we finish with al-Qaeda, we start with the Shiite extremists." Talk like that is sharply discouraged, Brady noted as he walked across the dusty ground of Camp Liberty, on the western fringes of Baghdad.

But not all agreed that the Sunnis would take up arms. "I don't think going back to violence is in the cards," said Barbero. Rather, he predicted that if they give up on reaching an accommodation, they will resort to new political actions. One possibility mentioned by other officials is a symbolic Sunni move to secede from Iraq.

Also, some outside experts contend that U.S. officials still don't grasp how their empowerment of militias under the bottom-up model of reconciliation is helping tear apart Iraq. Marc Lynch, a George Washington University expert on the Middle East, argued recently on his blog, Abu Aardvark, that partly because of U.S. political tactics in Iraq, the country is drifting "towards a warlord state, along a Basra model, with power devolved to local militias, gangs, tribes, and power-brokers, with a purely nominal central state."

Officials identified other potential problems flowing from reductions in violence. Military planners already worry that if security continues to improve, many of the 2 million Iraqis who fled the country will return. Those who left are overwhelmingly Sunni, and many of their old houses are occupied by Shiites. How would the Shiite-dominated Iraqi army and police handle the likely friction? "Displaced people is a major flashpoint" to worry about in 2008, said Fetter.

The answer to many of Iraq's problems, several military officials said, would be to hold provincial elections, which they said would inject new blood into Iraq's political life and also better link the Baghdad government to the people. The question under debate is whether to hold them sooner, while the U.S. military still has available its five "surge" brigades, or hold them later and let Iraqis enjoy their growing sense of safety -- even though a smaller U.S. military would have less flexibility. "Some areas, you need them right now, to get people into the government," said Campbell. "But the other side of me says, let it settle in, let security develop, let people see some services." Later rather than sooner is especially appealing because the election campaigns are expected to turn violent.

But the longer the provincial balloting is put off, the more likely the current political stalemate will continue. Also, if the elections are postponed until, say, the fall of next year, they will be held on the eve of a U.S. presidential vote in which the Iraq war promises to be a major issue, military planners here note.

So, how to force political change in Iraq without destabilizing the country further? "I pity the guy who has to reconcile that tension," said Lt. Col. Douglas Ollivant, the chief of planning for U.S. military operations in Baghdad, whose tour of duty ends next month.

Staff writer Karen DeYoung in Washington contributed to this report.

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SFC Chuck Grist

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Veteran's Day, 2007

I would like to remember all of my fellow veterans today. They are my brothers and sisters in arms and there is an unspoken link between us that spans the generations.

Veterans from World War I, War War II and Korea inspired me by their example and by their deeds to serve my country in the military. I thank all of them for their service and their sacrifice.

My fellow veterans from Vietnam and Iraq are my blood brothers and blood sisters. There is nothing I would not do for them. They have my respect and my gratitude for being there when I needed them and when their country needed them.

As I continue to train and prepare soldiers who will soon head to one of the war zones, I am inspired daily by their positive attitudes, their desire to learn and their dedication to each other. This new "greatest generation" is continuing the tradition they learned from their fathers and grandfathers.

Today let us take the time to remember the veterans who have served their country in both peace and war as well as those who have made the ultimate sacrifice on our behalf.

May God continue to bless America.

SFC Chuck Grist

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Retired Colonel Continues to Serve in Iraq

One of the men who made quite an impact on me in Iraq was Colonel Logan Barbee. Since our tour in 2004, Barbee has retired as both an Army Colonel and as an Agricultural Professor at the University of Florida. Instead of heading to the country to goof off, he has continued to serve his nation while working for the State Department on a Provincial Reconstruction Team in Iraq.

The following article about Barbee and his work appeared recently:

Down on the farm in Iraq

by Amanda Marquart of Medill Reports at Northwestern University

Oct 25, 2007 - WASHINGTON -- Carp farms. Not exactly what you expect in the sandy, citified Iraq we see on television. But you can find thousands of acres of watery fields teeming with fish in southern Iraq.

Aquaculture is just one farming industry in Iraq. Wheat, rye, barley, vegetables, mushrooms and olives are also grown there -- so too dates, livestock and honeybees. “Farming – that’s where people’s hearts are,” said American advisor Logan Barbee.

Barbee is the agricultural adviser with the Babil Provincial Reconstruction Team. He said similar to many third-world countries, Iraq is in need of “newness” for its agricultural sector – new brood livestock, new seeds and new queen honeybees. He helps the Iraqis acquire these things legally and also brings in experts ranging from artificial insemination technicians for livestock to experts specializing in date palms.

Provincial Reconstruction Teams, or PRTs, are groups made up of U.S. and coalition troops, civilian federal employees and expert contractors. Their purpose is to bolster local authorities in Iraq through coaching, teaching and mentoring of provincial and local government officials in governance and economic development, according to the Special Inspector General of Iraq Reconstruction.

Barbee is one of eight agricultural advisers working with the Iraq PRTs. He was an agricultural extension agent for the University of Florida for 25 years before beginning work for the USDA in Iraq. He works with landowners, sheiks, farmers and female beekeepers among a “wide spectrum of Shi’a, Sunni and tribal entities,” he said.

Asked about his work in Iraq, Barbee replied in a thick Southern accent, "We’re not teaching these people how to farm. They’ve been farming since the beginning of time - we can learn more from them."

Despite the common perception that Iraq is full of sandy desert, he said “this is the only Arab country with abundant water.” Barbee’s area, Al Hillah, located 60 miles south of Baghdad, is fed by both the Tigris and Euphrates rivers.

One thing Iraqis learned from the U.S. years ago was how to use American-imported hormones to increase carp production by 40 percent. The three types of carp grown in Iraq, silver, grass and common carp, are enjoyed as delicacies.

A typical day for Barbee involves leaving an old Baathist hotel in a Blackwater Security-protected convoy. He attends meetings with local people who have agricultural backgrounds and bilingual advisors who help him navigate Iraqi culture. He also may spend time with farmers and agricultural workers on their farms.

Barbee said he takes certain precautions even though the areas he works are secure and "only a few areas are contested."

"We haven’t been shot at for a few months," he admitted cheerfully in a telephone interview from Al Hillah. "The guards are pretty aggressive. But they have to drive fast – we’re only in an armored Suburban with heavy windows and doors. Those vehicles can’t protect us from explosives."

Of the controversial Blackwater security details, he said, "We’d all have to go home if it weren’t for them. Our troops are busy working on the PRTs (reconstruction teams). We need someone to protect us (civilians) while we do what we need to do."

The dangerous environment that teams labor in has led some to question their presence in Iraq.

"In many areas PRTs have to be careful about revealing themselves -- revealing an American face on any project that’s U.S.-funded -- because of the potential controversy or conflict it could stir," said Stuart Bowen, special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction, in testimony to the House Armed Services Committee on Oct. 18.

This admission led Rep. Jim Cooper, D-Tenn., to ask, "How do I explain to my taxpayers back home that the American face on a project makes it unappreciated? . . . This is an untenable situation. If they don’t want the help, if they actively despise us, why are we there?"

At a Tuesday hearing of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, however, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice praised the reconstruction teams.

"We have found a formula that puts the reconstruction effort at the local level where it can get to the people," she said, calling the PRTs a "real breakthrough" in the rebuilding of the country’s infrastructure.

By the end of the year, the USDA plans to send in an additional 13 agricultural advisers to join the reconstruction teams across Iraq. The U.S. Agency for International Development estimates that the Iraqi agricultural sector can grow from 5 percent to 15 percent of the national GDP if fully developed. Already agriculture provides one quarter of Iraq’s employment opportunities.

That makes sense to Barbee. He said, "This is Mesopotamia - where farming began."

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Logan Barbee is quite an American. Keep it up, Colonel!

SFC Chuck Grist