Blog - Jan. 19th to 28th

In January, 2005, Peter embarked on a one-year trip to Iraq as a contractor, beginning with a training session in Washington, D. C. This is an informal blog of his training and experience in Iraq.
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Highlights of training by the Department of State (DS)

Those of us slated to go to Iraq to indulge in the joys of urban living in Baghdad described earlier were required to attend 5-7 days of training by DS security forces at their training center at Dunn Loring, Virginia, just outside of Washington, D.C., so that we?d be better able to take advantage of all that the city had to offer to American visitors. The Baghdad Chamber of Commerce couldn?t have served us better. There were no schoolboy textbooks nor any empty words, just hardcore training. We saw demonstrated the wickedness of the ?IEDs? (improvised explosive devices) used by terrorists. We learned how to minimize the chances of getting kidnapped, how to play the terrifying game of hostage survival if kidnapped (not a video game), advanced first aid and terrible triage to help oneself and others deal with horrifying wounds from a car bomb or gun, weapons handling, and more. As you read on, remember that everyone in the class is just like you, the reader -- a civilian who would like to live out his or her natural life, not have it end prematurely and, surely, not violently. The lessons learned underline the evil of Islamic terrorism and why we need to finish the job we started in Iraq.

We first learned that paranoia is good; without it, we might not survive. For we (1) need to be acutely aware of everything and everybody in our immediate environment, and (2) do everything by the (random) numbers. Assume that someone is watching you! Monitor other people. Besides the terrorists, there are Iraqis ?out there? who may kill an American at random for ?blood debt? revenge because American forces killed one of his relatives during some military action. So, retreat when you see there are no kids and cabs on the street you are on. Don?t get separated from your companions. Don?t travel or move about alone. Some of those who have done so are dead. Carry several means of communication.

Draw curtains while riding in a taxi. Learn how to deal with nearly constant stress. Be guarded with anyone with whom you have no reason to share personal or professional information. Don?t talk about your work while eating, around the pool or in social situations. Be wary that some Iraqi who has access to your premises may be a so-called ?insurgent? on the inside. ?Consider the whole country to be hostile.? Be wary of being asked to do something that doesn?t fit into your job description. Again, be constantly aware of your environment. Avoid the Green Zone Caf?, the Lone Star Caf?, vendors, ?Vendor Alley? and certain other locations.

Take as much charge of your own security as you can. Wear your helmet and body armor. Don?t get nonchalant about this just because nothing happens for several days in a row. The security maintenance concern is 3-way: person, premises and information. The Department of Defense (DoD) provides security support for the U.S. Mission. Hearing this, unfortunately, didn?t warm the cockles of my risk-averse heart, even though my new postal address is to be ?U.S. Embassy/Louis Berger Group,? because I would be working for a private contractor at a location outside of the heavily guarded ?Green Zone? which contains the embassy. However, while moving about, we would be quite cozy in ?fully armored vehicles? (FAVs) ? doesn?t the U.S. government has a ?fav? mnemonic for everything?]. DON?T STOP ANYWHERE! ? stopped vehicles are an easy target!

Make sure you have ?your affairs in order? before proceeding to Iraq. Make sure you legally execute a will, power of attorney (PoA) and designation of beneficiary. [Note how the phrase ?execute a will? is so very apropos here, perhaps because we will be in an ?environment? where there is a will to execute]. As for life insurance, check the terms of your outstanding policy. In the event of your death, there may be no payout to your beneficiaries if the company finds that you passed on in Iraq. Make sure you fully empower anyone to whom you would assign PoA. Otherwise, the PoA is effective only as long as its writer is capable of terminating it. Consider preparing a ?living will.? You might also need a medical PoA that would be in your possession in Iraq.

Remember ?random? in ?by the numbers?? Don?t be predictable. Terrorists look for fixed patterns of behavior exhibited by people they want to attack and/or kidnap. There have been 174 kidnappings. About 40 of those taken have been killed (of those we know about). Practicing risk aversion is key, and it is a team effort. Travel with others and with guards. Before leaving your premises to go somewhere, let others know at what time they can expect you to return. Practice avoidance of locations where attacks could most easily be mounted. Travel in convoys, tight and fast.

Abu Ghraib significantly increased the danger to Americans in Iraq. Terrorists sought revenge due to the prisoner abuse photos. One direct result, for example, was the execution of Nick Berg, who was a civilian employed by a civilian contractor (like me). The nearly endless coverage of Abu Ghraib on the American media was multiplied to constant coverage by Al Jezeera and other Arab media. The coverage increased sympathy for those terrorists labeled ?insurgents? by the media and led to increased ?insurgency.? This, in turn, led to pullouts of their forces by Spain, the Philippines, Bulgaria and other coalition contingents. The French bargained with terrorists to get two of their journalists released. Unfortunately, news from Abu Ghraib is still coming forth.

So, ?hostage survival? was a crucial segment of the DS course. If you become a hostage, your ?window of survivability? is about 96 hours (4 days). Three American hostages have been killed, in spite of rescue attempts, in September of last year. A British hostage, Ken Bigley, tried to escape but failed to commandeer a car, so he was killed along with those who tried to help him. He had tried to be perceived by his kidnappers as an ?OK person.? At first, he got some sympathy, apparently by ?kissing their asses.? In his book, Robert Baer, writes: ?The plan is to force all contractors out via kidnappings, executions and mutilations.? Don?t try to do something you might have seen in a movie. ?Hollywood is not reality.?

At this point, I couldn?t help but ask about ?the right of self defense? but my question got a negative reply. Unless they are members of ?PSDs?(?private security details,? like those who would be guarding the compound where I would be living and working) or in other exceptional circumstances, civilians would not be armed. Only the DS Regional Security Officer and/or the Ambassador can give permission for a civilian to be armed. Such permission is rarely given. But remember Beirut? ? there, everybody was armed. The reason for not providing a weapon to everybody? ? it would ?complicate? the security planning. Leave security to the professionals (as we increasingly do in virtually all spheres of life nowadays). I beg to differ. Lack of a side-arm spells a significant lack of capability to avoid capture and death.

The trainers continued to stress ?situational awareness.? It may be a shock to see men in black ski masks near you, but Iraqi policemen can wear them, too, to hide their own identity. One westerner was kidnapped from a hotel by some terrorists disguised as Iraqi troops. Boy, did this up the ante of my anxiety! Apparently, you can?t tell the players without a scorecard!

Security planning is a continuous task. Practice running. SPEED IS LIFE. Learn how to plot grid coordinates on a map and how to use the GPS system. We are most vulnerable while trying to move about. Are you ready for a worst-case scenario? Terrorists will attack locations and situations where THEY have the advantage. Before heading out for any reason, do a ?travel pattern analysis? (TPA). See the ring-bound reference prepared by The Armor Group. Focus on ?security rings? for more.

The beginning of TPA is the realization that attackers need access to you. Attackers? ?degree of control? is what makes a good attack site. To what extent can attackers? direct, constrain or otherwise ?control? your movement ? your ability to escape from their maneuvers? An attacker is someone you can see, if you?re looking. The driver of your vehicle is a VIP. Armored vehicles are scarce. Usually, there is one armed person per vehicle, not two (one front, one rear), even though one attacking vehicle may cut you off in the front while another does so from the rear. Ask yourself: What are your ?safe havens? along the way to and from anywhere you?re going? If you?re attacked, your reaction will be one of shock. Shock is the difference between surprise and excitement. Mastery of your mentality is key; otherwise, you?ll be disabled by shock in a situation where your reaction time must be measured in seconds. Don?t tolerate whining.

At this point, the training became a bit like reality TV but as real as it can get without actually living it. We went out in SUV?s and simulated a trip, TPA and an attack with the help of DS agents. The agents were watching us, stalking us. We didn?t know who they were or what they looked like. We had to try to guess who they might be by being very observant, practicing ?situational awareness.? The ?trip? was a simulated commute; actually, a series of 5-6 round trips back and forth between two fixed locations; one, an assumed place of work; another, an assumed place of residence. In order to confuse or ?throw off? potential terrorists, the routes were varied. What now follows are some notes that I took as we went to and fro.

  • Possible danger points: pines and alcoves; little side streets; stop signs; fenced parking lots; along fence lines and tree lines.
  • Possible escape routes: over curbing into yards and empty lots with trees; intersections at which one can drive through or readily turn; Montessori School; playground; corporate office driveways and courtyards; shopping centers; Burger King; crossovers on streets with no median barriers; large construction site.
  • People who might be watching us: Lady with headscarf eating salad; man with sunglasses on sitting in black Ford; red car off to side; blond woman in small grey Audi with license plate YJV4322; man in blue Ford Explorer with license plate XYS8960; man in grey sedan who hit brakes; man and woman in van together; lady in Acura; man with military-style haircut talking on cell phone and wearing a military-style jacket; man smoking on street; grey van following us; car at corner with license plate YPC5814; woman who pulled out in front of us in car with license plat YGB4873; woman in grey sedan with license plate JHC9070; bald man with grey side hair walking dog.

Suffice to say that one or the other of us spotted each of the agents acting as terrorists. Nevertheless, the latter won the game. They cut us off and ?killed us.? Our driver ignored my advice that we leave our place of ?residence? via a ?back door? at the end of what turned out to be the 5th and final round. The terrorists were ready to get us if we turned right or left out of the parking lot but not if we left the back way.

There were two more major segments of our training to go: (1) ?Safe haven? emergency medical care (assuming that, in the event of serious injury, one is in a safe haven enabling treatment); and (2) weapons instruction. Both were very important and very useful. I won?t go into details on (1), We learned how to deal with shock, chest injuries, bleeding, serious fractures, penetration wounds and other injuries.

During the first part of (2), we came face-to-face with the wickedness of the IEDs that are the weapons of choice for terrorists specializing in the indiscriminate destruction of innocent lives. We were brought to a range where various of these devices were set off as we watched at some distance behind a partition. The IEDs were charged with only ? pound of explosives; yet, if we had been within five feet of them, we would have been seriously maimed or, very likely, killed. Note that the typical car bomber and/or suicide bomb packer sets off explosives far in excess of ? pound ? in the range of dozens to hundreds of pounds. The-half pound explosive set off before us in the front of a junk car blew out the windshield and set it flying several dozen feet, destroyed the car?s dashboard and caused the roof of the car to bulge outward. If I had been the driver, I would have been killed. Yet, the random possibility of being seriously maimed or killed by an RPG (rocket-propelled grenade) or mortar round is perhaps greater. We heard testimony from a woman who was in Iraq only six days before nearly losing her life and an arm from an RPG round that hit her hotel room in the Green Zone. She?s still in rehab after many operations and several months of treatments.

The saving grace of (2) was weapons training ? how to use a pistol, Colt automatic rifle, AK 47 and shotgun. Too bad we?re not allowed to carry any of these. All the trainers could say that the training would help if we could grab a weapon from a downed security guard or terrorist. Small consolation.

Perhaps most troubling for me, however, was the response that I received from Bill Miller, a former Marine officer who is now director of the DS security training center in Dunn Loring. After I described the situation I would find in Iraq as an employee of a private contractor relying upon a PSD for security, and I asked him whether, if he were in my shoes, would he go, he said NO, without qualification. Nevertheless, by the time you read this, I will be in Baghdad. Wish me luck.

Peter Bearse, Director of Monitoring and Evaluation, Iraq Private Sector Development Project, 2/2/05.

More Blog Entries
December 4, 2005 - May 19, 2006 - A Run for Congress in 2006?
December 3, 2005 - ALTERNATIVES to the BUSH43 STRATEGY ON IRAQ
June 12, 2005 - On Bill Clinton
June 7-12, 2005 - On ?Social Class?
June 7, 2005 - Washington State Governor
June 1, 2005 - The European Constitution and Democracy
February 2005 - Blogging in Baghdad to a high security beat
January 21, 2005 - Security Training Prior to Departure for Iraq
Jan. 19th to 28th - Highlights of training by the Department of State (DS)