Featured Embedded Report: Chris Muir from Iraq


In mid-February, Chris Muir, the talented cartoonist behind day by day, a political comic strip prevalent in the blogosphere, embedded in Mosul for five days. Public Multimedia, Inc, my non-profit media company, was proud to sponsor Chris for this embed. Chris is the first of several embeds Public Multimedia will put into the field this year. Chris provides notes and photographs from his travels and time Iraq. His experiences will be shown in the strip this month.

By Chris Muir


Muir%20Picture%202.jpegArrival

Insider Out

Arriving in Kuwait late at night was good, as there are far less people in line for passport/visa check-ins. Burqua-clad women, like strange chess-pieces, glide past 60's retro-clad KLM stewardesses in pillbox hats and high heels. The PAO (Public Affairs Officer), Kevin ____, calls out my name, and importantly, helps haul this old coot's body armor and attendant 50 lbs of gear out to a waiting Bronco that will take us to Ali Al Saleem airbase for transport to Baghdad.


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Ali Al Saleem Airbase

The Great Dust Bowl

Sand is a misnomer; subatomic particulate I think describes the main element present in Kuwait, Iraq, et al. A fine dust that finds it way everywhere and into anything, it also makes for an astonishingly mobile mud that actually travels up one's pants when it (infrequently) rains. I still grind when I walk.

Here Army Paperwork® begins in earnest, and takes on a life of its own. Fortunately, Public Multimedia, Bill Roggio's embed company, plays St.George to the Dragon of Documentation, and I pass with nary a glitch, yet I still camp out in the Manifest area, to make sure I don't miss my 2 am flight to BIAP (Baghdad International Airport). On this tour, I select nocturnal flights to lessen crowding, though by the end of it, I consider hanging upside down when sleeping.

We fly out on a cool C-130, which becomes somewhat less cool when the pilot does the standard "Figure 8" missile avoidance landing in Baghdad. Everyone is strapped close together in in the cargo bay, hence projectile vomiting is frowned upon. My fellow passengers, all SOF types and Army, may be more sensitive to nuance than supposed by the media; they maintain an impressive distance from me for people securely strapped in. We land without incident, and I proceed to the now-appropriately named 'Green Zone'.

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The Green Zone (Baghdad)

Ve Are in Zee Bunker

Upon arrival, all media types share one room with bunk beds, internet access, communications,etc. I claim a top bunk, and arrange with some soldiers on site to tour Baghdad briefly,as there's not a hella lot to see from a bunker.

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Pictured above is where Saddam fired his rifle from, a concrete- and - broken glass shell now. I take crappy photos, but no photographers (except Eric Bowers) would leave the media building to tour Iraq. They were all typing stories from their terminals inside. 'Stories', indeed.

I tried making chicken sounds to them, but it didn't take.

OK, I made that one up, but you get the picture, even if they wouldn't. Baghdad, like any large city, is largely quiet except where terrorist (gang) activity takes place. If you toured Watts in LA, only, well yes, there's violence. But 99.8% of the city is just fine. Then again, there aren't large amounts of US heavily armed soldiers touring through it, so...

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Say what you like about dictators, but they do make cool architecture, blank check,etc. Here's that 'Pass of Swords' monument, though all I could think of was that song lyric, 'Big hands, you know you're the One'. What? You were looking for trenchant analysis? Sorry.
C-A-R-T-O-O-N-I-S-T.

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Mosul

City of Light, Sorta

I arrive at Mosul airfield, the HMO of airports. Not a lot there, but it 'functions'. Surrounded by ultra-cool SOF dudes with special headgear mikes, armor and weapons, I saunter professionally to the terminal and immediately become the Total Lost Tourist®, saved only by the fortunate arrival of Rob____, my PAO for 1-9 Cavalry. Now, I am 6' and 235lbs, yet Rob is seemingly 2 feet taller. With a dual advantage of providing cover from snipers, and shade, Rob is a genial fellow who quickly gets me to FOB (Forward Operating Base) Maretz, which is the base for 1-9 Cav.

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Above is a picture of the base, barriers they call, uh, I forget. [Editors' note: they're HESCO barriers.] There are so many acronyms in the Army I can't recall all of them, so you're SOL. Anyway, pix of the FOB is a no-no, so imagine it.
I can show you the city of Mosul view from the base, though, and here it is in all its glory:

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Sorry, storage facility, wait:

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No, that's a power generator (snore). Here we go:

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Seems a bit barren, hold on:

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or:

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Not Club Med, I know. But the area is cleared out so Islamic Wahabis can't sneak in. Wahabis? Wahabists? Isn't that a Japanese horseradish sauce, and why do they get such a big say in Islam?

Be that as it may, as I was Anointed Media®, I got a trailer with air & heat (8'x15') and settled down for my 7 days. Mosul at night is not like Western cities, sporadic lighting mostly. But on some days, it is well and truly lit up.

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Patrols

The floorboards and I get acquainted

Anyhow, I went on patrols most every day, with 1-9 Cav, and 2-7 Cav, respectively. The MSM had geared me up to expect RPGs flitting about like ginormous mosquitos, but I gotta tell ya, I couldn't draw a single shot while I was there. The troops wanted me to hang around, as I had 'Jesus Fire' about me, etc.

However-I was only out on 5 patrols for 5 days, versus being there 500 days, or a bazillion days like Michael Yon, so I had a very different experience from what our troops get there.

Contrary to what one hears, these guys are so oversupplied with armor, they leave some of it on base so they can maneuver effectively on patrol, whether body armor or Humvee armor. I can personally attest that hauling 40 lbs of weight on your torso can slow you down, and that's not even counting body armor. These kids are in shape, however, and when you go 'outside the wire', they all become this Big Green Machine that is totally professional and, may I say, efficient. I heard it all on the Comlink, which did not fit my strange head:

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And went to some interesting locales where mud was the theme:

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Yes. I look like a total dork. That Humvee was transporting serious dorkage.

In the brief time I was there, I attended meetings where everyone was working with each other, I mean sheiks, the Police Chief of the city, US Army, Kurds, Sunnis, Shia, cats and dogs, everyone- together. There are real divisions here, but also a real determination to weld the place into a more stable society.

It was good to see the US State Department building infrastructure like schools, roads, water & sewage, to witness them helping integrate the various tribes here, setting up workable trade and political organizations, even living within the populace to get a feel for what is needed culturally. It was very impressive and more importantly, working.

Well, actually, it's the US Army that does all of the above with their MITT teams (Military Transition Teams). The State Department? A complete no-show, for all I could tell. Maybe they're double-parked in Washington or something.

People here will tell you they are mostly afraid of one thing-that we will leave soon, like we have since Vietnam, Somalia, etc., and that they will then be at the mercy of the terrorists who seep in from Iran, Syria, Egypt, and Saudia Arabia. A self-fulfilling circle, helped out vastly by our 'anti-war' citizens back home, who ironically enable wars as this by forcing constant US retreats through our political process. People here - real people, not 'Jamil Husseins' - want us here to give them time to reform their society.

I speculate this is one of the reasons I observed such high morale in our soldiers here. They are wanted here, unlike, say, in San Francisco. But, I digress.

Well, that's the debrief-that sounds so wrong-and, I've related much more to Zed & Jan, who are scheduled to arrive in Iraq very soon now. So, catch up with them at www.daybydaycartoon.com.

Later,

Chris Muir



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READER COMMENTS: "Featured Embedded Report: Chris Muir from Iraq"

Posted by Lorin Friesen at March 8, 2007 8:30 AM ET:

Thanks for the feed Chris. What is a kid that spent his years in the back of class to cut-up doing in the front war of the century? Thanks for explaining the nuance of your gritty imbed.

Stay safe and keep on cluckin!

Posted by Mrs. Badger6 at March 8, 2007 9:13 AM ET:

Excellent. I look forward to seeing how Zed & Jan do in Iraq. Keep up the great work.

Posted by Drazen Gemic at March 8, 2007 9:27 AM ET:

So, we are going to witness another "prophet Mohamed" circus :-)

DG

Posted by RCC at March 8, 2007 9:44 AM ET:

Thanks for the report. Stay safe.

Posted by Mike Rentner at March 8, 2007 9:48 AM ET:

Chris, thanks. Your 'debrief' is a much more entertaining read than most you get from there. I'm looking forward to learning what Zed will be up to.

Posted by Eric Bowen at March 8, 2007 10:34 AM ET:

I spent about 4 days with Chris Iraq, Kuwait and Amsterdam, and I'm embarrassed to admit that I only have one picture with a corner of his head:

http://photos.scrappydog.com/gallery/2443213/1/128311898/Medium

This is the correspondents "lounge" at CPIC in Baghdad. You can (barely) see the top of Chris' head sitting on the couch to the right.

Keep the good work Chris!

Posted by Neo-andertal at March 8, 2007 10:36 AM ET:

Those real reporters that are hunkered down in their bunkers have carriers to think about. They had a carrier long before they got to Baghdad and hope to have a carrier long after. Taking any risk of being blown up is not part of their plan nor in the plans of the companies that hire them. Going out and finding a news story is also not part of the plan. They already pretty much have the their angle on the story figured out, all they need is to fill in the details from the daily news releases. Being in Baghdad lends them authenticity. The fact that they could be doing the same stories from their desks at work is irrelevant.

I don't want to be totally down on reporters. Some of them find ways to get out original stories despite the obstacles. Some also do a much better job of encapsulating the days events than others. If it was all bad formula writing, than digging through it wouldn't be worth it.

Posted by Eric Bowen at March 8, 2007 10:40 AM ET:

Wait I found another one (where you can actually see his face):

http://ericbowen.smugmug.com/gallery/2443213#134553265

Interesting note: All the journalists are using Macs and the CPT Lappegaard, is using a PC. Go figure...

Posted by harrison at March 8, 2007 10:40 AM ET:

Chris, great report! Cartoonists are funny, after all.

Posted by Solomon2 at March 8, 2007 11:41 AM ET:

Illustrations, please.

Posted by David M at March 8, 2007 1:49 PM ET:

Trackbacked by The Thunder Run - Web Reconnaissance for 03/08/2007
A short recon of what's out there that might draw your attention.

Posted by madconductor at March 8, 2007 1:50 PM ET:

Great stuff, Chris. Adding your own sense of humor to the gravity of that situation is wonderful. And I'm also waiting on Zed and Jan's great adventure.
Good luck to you.

Posted by RonF at March 8, 2007 4:19 PM ET:

Zed and Jan, in Iraq? Jan's going to Iraq?

Posted by Mark Hugonaught at March 8, 2007 5:28 PM ET:

As I say of a certain relative who spent 26
months in the Bag-Dad...as a civilian contractor: Chris - - - You've got more guts
in your little pinkie than I have in my whole
body!

Bravo, thanks for the work!

Mark H.

Posted by JGsez at March 8, 2007 6:07 PM ET:

How many soldiers vs. journalists knew who you were or were familiar with your Day by Day strip?

Posted by Teresa at March 8, 2007 7:43 PM ET:

Terrific report Chris! Can't wait to see what happens to Jan and Zed over there.

Posted by NSSaint at March 8, 2007 8:22 PM ET:

Now I understand the template for "Zed".

Keep it up, Mr. Muir! Your characters' lines are some of the wittiest I've read in some time.

Posted by Chris Muir at March 8, 2007 10:29 PM ET:

Sorry, Eric! It's Eric Bowen, not Bowers.

Mark, those contractors are the brave guys, they are over there for, say, 26 months! I was in & out.

No journalists heard of DBD, but the soldiers did, mostly through milblogs.

Thanks all for reading DBD, and thanks Bill for making the embed smooth running!

Posted by Maj Rod Cunningham at March 9, 2007 12:52 AM ET:

Chris,

Good story buddy, you messed my name up even though I gave you a card. You forgot to mention the brigade as a whole (4th Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division). 1-9 and 2-7 Cav are part of this brigade. You are welcome back any time and believe me, I will find you for that speed boat ride and fun in sunny FLA. Take care.

Check out our blog site:

www.elpasotimes.com/typepad/longknife

if that doesn't work go to elpasotimes.com and find their blogs.

ROD

Posted by devildog6771 at March 9, 2007 3:54 AM ET:

Great post. Thank you for giving us s true, on site accounting from the front;

Posted by al at March 9, 2007 7:52 AM ET:

Chris,

For a cartoonist that was pretty good writing! :-)

It's interesting how the embed view compares to the bunker based reporter. I, for one, appreciate the risk that people like you, Bill, Mike Yon, and others take to give a realistic view of whats really going on.

Can't wait to see how this comes out in DBD.

Posted by M.A. at March 9, 2007 8:19 AM ET:

People here will tell you they are mostly afraid of one thing-that we will leave soon, like we have since Vietnam, Somalia, etc., and that they will then be at the mercy of the terrorists who seep in from Iran, Syria, Egypt, and Saudia Arabia.

Yes, of course. Despite the fact that most of the Iraqi violence is home-grown and foreign terrorists are a minor factor (the idea that foreign terrorists were causing the violence is a ridiculous myth from circa 2004, made up to pretend that we are fighting an "enemy" that we can "win" against in Iraq), "people" are telling you that those nasty Iranians are causing everything.

Which "people" are those, anyway?

Posted by Chris Muir at March 9, 2007 9:38 AM ET:

Sorry, Rod-told you I suck on remembering names & designations!

I have to say, M.A., I don't recall seeing you there when I was listening to these people's stories-US soldiers, sheiks, Iraqi reporters, locals, etc.
You should have introduced yourself, at least.

Now go crack yourself another beer, expert.

Posted by Mike James at March 9, 2007 9:49 AM ET:

"Which "people" are those, anyway?"

Gee, M.A., do ya think maybe the ones he met in Iraq? The ones that might be little squeamish about having their names published on the web?

"Myth", huh? I seem to recall some guy named Zarqawi, from Jordan I think it was, amongst many others reported in the news. Got any proof that it's a myth, or are you just speaking colonically?

Posted by M.A. at March 9, 2007 10:14 AM ET:

Ah, yes, Chris, those of us who have not spent their time in Hell cannot begin to know what you have gone through on your five-day guided tour. (For conservatives, going to Iraq is basically an excuse to masquerade as an "expert," even though they come back spouting the same propaganda they spouted going in.)

Mike, most of the violence in Iraq is caused by home-grown Iraqis: militias, death squads, and so on. Foreign terrorists and Al-Qaeda and such have always been a minor factor, as you can tell from any analysis of how many foreign terrorists are in the country (hint: not many). Iraqis know this, which is why they depend on militias etc to protect them from the other side in the civil war. The implausible idea that most of the violence comes from foreigners is something that was made up to pretend that we're fighting "terrorists" (in which case we can win) rather than the reality that it's an inter-Iraqi civil war (which we therefore cannot "win").

Posted by Bill Roggio at March 9, 2007 10:23 AM ET:

Read the comments policy. Do not conduct personal attacks here. The next one will be deleted, regardless of who publishes it.

Posted by Agnieszka at March 9, 2007 7:57 PM ET:

Thank you Chris for your report. It was fun to read it. Who knew cartoonists were funny! :-)
I've been checking DBD every day for a long time now. Thanks.

Posted by jordan at March 9, 2007 7:59 PM ET:

MA, I've seen credible reports that the number of foreign terrorists is low because the strategy was to build cells where Iraqis actually do the dirty work, get caught, etc... So the foreigners have the money and expertise, build up cells comprised of locals and ensure open paths to whomever in Saudi, Jordan, Syria or Egypt is supporting them. They don't need high numbers, necessarily. True?

The Al Queda organization has renamed itself Al Queda in Iraq to try to dispell that foreign flavor. Also, the guy that was just captured, al-Baghdadi re-named himself with a local flair for the same reason. Their PR strains to avoid the appearance that the insurgents are supplied by outside powers, for obvious reasons. The idea that these are homegrown "freedom fighters" obviously is a good way to club Bush's policy in Iraq.