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Hal Bernton & Thomas Hurst
Hal Bernton Thomas Hurst
Iraq dispatches

Reporter Hal Bernton and photographer Thomas James Hurst have returned from spending a month in Iraq, reporting on the U.S. military campaign as well as the lives of Iraqi civilians.

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December 31, 2003

Mice and men

The mice in Iraq have no fear.

They roam with near impunity across U.S. military bases, and have the audacity to nibble on Christmas treat boxes sent from home.

Yesterday, I was writing in a plywood barracks strewn with gift boxes, some of them closed and others open and full of candy.

And then I spied a bold little intruder.

Indeed, he appeared quiet fearless.

He scooted around my feet several times, then climbed into a nearby Christmas box to gorge himself.

After a bit he vaulted out and hit the floor, seemingly in no great hurry.

The soldiers here at Base Vanguard have a lot more contact with Iraqi citizens then do soldiers at some of the larger bases I have visited.

They know which kids will score them a quick kabob sandwich, or a savory roasted chicken. And some soldiers are learning a little Arabic. The community involvement has increased as the violence has ebbed.

The New Year, however, promises no quick cessation of terror.

On an early morning patrol this week, which I had decided to skip, soldiers ran into an ambush on a main route, Highway 1.

They returned fire, and fortunately none were hurt.

A bit later an "improvised explosive device," or IED, blew up on the same highway, damaging a couple of trailers and a piece of heavy machinery in a convoy. Again, no injuries.

In the afternoon, soldiers responded with a search of farms near the base, confiscating weapons and detaining five men for questioning.

As we finally sat down to a New Yearís Eve dinner, a couple of mortars were lobbed at our camp. They fell far short and I didn't even feel them hit.

But it was the first such shots in a long time, and the base deployed a squad to search the perimeter.

So I wonder what will happen in the next few hours before midnight?

None of this has stopped the soldiers from putting on the first annual FOB Vanguard Talent Show. It's scheduled to start in a few minutes.

Most Iraqis who fled the regime of Saddam Hussein did not dare venture back. But at a town council meeting on Tuesday in Ad Dujayl, I met a brave soul who came home.

He is 63-year-old Ali Aldijaili, a short, husky-voiced engineer who spent more than 35 years in America.

He moved around quite a bit in the states, ending up in Alabama. In 2001, he decided to return to Iraq to help aging family members even as his own wife and children remained behind.

Aldijaili told me that when American troops came into the town of Ad Dujayl earlier this year, he greeted them and helped facilitate a peaceful takeover of the town.

Such work has not earned him any friends among the insurgents. He has received numerous threats and a bomb was thrown at his home.

Remember all those messages the Bush administration was broadcasting to the Iraqi military during the war? Telling them to lay down their arms and welcome the American invasion.

Well, those message got through to a lot of people, said a former military officer I spoke to this week.

But he complained that the Bush administration did not follow through in good faith.

He said he was stunned by the war's aftermath, when the Bush administration opted to simply dissolve the Iraqi Army. He said that put a million men out of work in an economy ravaged by runaway inflation. He thinks it was a bad mistake both for Iraq -- and the United States.

Posted by Hal Bernton at December 31, 2003 11:37 AM

 October 2005
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January 2004
December 2003

A reluctant goodbye
Hope amid bloodshed
Rebuilding Iraq
A mortar sendoff
Higher pay, but inflation chews into salaries
Freedom brings protests
Inside, outside the Green Zone
With the Stryker Brigade
Mice and men
Next stop: Bravo Company


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Juan Cole "Informed Comment"

Healing Iraq

L.T. Smash (U.S. military in Iraq)

Lady Sun (Iran)

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