Saturday, May 01, 2004

Yankee One!

Living and working within a British compound has been a very interesting experience. Although we share a common language and heritage, the British ways of conducting business are far different than that practiced by most of the Americans living within the CPA. It seems the more we try to understand each other, the less we find we have in common.

Take the Ambassador’s security manager, for instance. The security manager is responsible for developing and implementing a security plan for the CPA, which includes the construction of bomb shelters, the placement of barrier walls and sandbags throughout the CPA, and the refinement of perimeter security around the compound. Completely understandable duties considering the environment within which we work. However, in the British mind, those mundane tasks are secondary in nature. Our security manager focuses his efforts on more important, self-appointed duties, and I quote his recent remarks....

1. Chow Hall Monitor – please do not take food nor drink from the dining facility
2. Bathroom Cop - please maintain a tidy appearance in the loo, as women also enjoy the use of these facilities
3. Laundry Police – Your laundry may not be hung from lines beside your lodging, for it may attract flies or other vermin. Please keep all laundry within your quarters.

More frustrating, however, is the overwhelming attitude amongst the British civilian and military staffs that everything should be handled in a politically sensitive nature, as not to offend our Arab hosts (yes, the British do refer to the Iraqi’s as our hosts, although I have yet to be offered a beer or cocktail weenie). For instance, my team had the opportunity to obtain a trained bomb dog for use during the Ambassador’s tenure at the CPA. A bomb dog would have been extremely helpful when checking our vehicles for improvised explosive devices (IED’s) or to ensure explosives aren’t hidden at the various locations to which we escort the Ambassador. However, the British staffers advised us that “Arabs do not like dogs and believe they are filthy creatures. Hence, their presence might risk offending our hosts, and we shall not cause such issue.”

A favorite term of our British counterparts is “celebratory fireworks.” Occasionally, the sound of automatic gunfire will interrupt our sleep. Yet, ask a member of the British staff what occurred the next morning and you will invariably get the response, “probably just celebratory fireworks”. It seems the British have a deep-rooted fear of admitting that bullets are actually being fired at the CPA at 2:00 a.m., or that some of the local populace really doesn’t want us around. Perhaps the 8 mortar rounds launched against our compound over the last 2 evenings were actually kids playing with firecrackers. Extremely large, loud and powerful firecrackers, but firecrackers nonetheless.

The Brits also seem afraid to stand their ground and face adversity, much like British actor Hugh Grant has done in all of the chick-flick movies he has starred. Last week, approximately 1000 followers of the radical Iraqi Shiite leader Muqtada Al-Sadr swarmed the city of Basra and seized the governor’s building in the center of town. This action followed a day of battles between the militia and U.S. led forces elsewhere in Iraq, in which officials said ten U.S. troops and almost 100 Iraqi’s were killed. The Sadr supporters were demanding the release of a Sadr aide arrested by U.S. forces and the lifting of a U.S. ban placed on Sadr’s newspaper. Still, nearly a week after its seizure, the Basra governate remains in the hands of the Sadr militants. The group has sent word that they will leave the governor’s building when the coalition departs Basra. The surprising part is the British are openly permitting the situation to remain this way. Rumor has it that Brit leadership has entered into negotiations with local clerics and allegedly agreed to lobby for the reduction or removal of coalition forces from Basra if order is restored to the governate. The truth and extent of this rumor remain to be seen.

Despite our similar jobs, even the British protection teams enjoy a different outlook from the one I share with my teammates. As a member of the Ambassador’s close protection team, I wear body armor. I also carry a pistol, a carbine, and 300 rounds of ammunition conspicuously exposed when I am in public. In the team’s opinion, deterrence is our best protection! Deterrence works wonders. Yet, we are labeled “cowboys” by the private security contractors (British) who share similar duties at the CPA. Their rules forbid them to expose weapons or carry their rifles outside of their vehicles. In fact, in an attempt to poke fun at our American methods of operation, the British Communications Office changed our radio call-sign. Previously, all security units in Basra were referred to as Golf 1, Golf 2, Golf 3, etc. In a weak attempt at embarrassing us, we were ceremoniously renamed “Yankee 1”. Since no other “Yankees” conduct protective services in southern Iraq, we now own a unique moniker which has gotten more than its share of positive comments during our previous travels to Nasiriyah and Baghdad.

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