Every time I get into a conversation about Iraq with someone back home, they ask me what the kids are like, or what the people are like, or what the women do. Normally, the only time I see given to the Iraqi people in the news is for the numbers of the dead, and the rantings of radical Muslims. I can look around me as I go on patrol and see faces everywhere that belong to neither group.
There are the middle-aged men in black robes and red headdresses who glare at us as we pass. They squat in circles and whisper to each other, and strike their children when they wave and call to us. I rarely see women among them.
There was the young Iraqi girl in an orange headdress that blew a kiss at me as we passed her at a checkpoint. She got embarrassed and hid her face when I smiled back.
Once, as we returned to Ramadi from Falluja, I saw an Iraqi man driving his truck through the rain. There were four women in traditional garb in the back of the truck, huddled together for warmth. On the front seat next to the man was his dog.
In one small village near the canals in Falluja was one of the cutest kids I've ever seen. She was only four or five, and looked like my sister did at that age- curly dark hair around her round, dimpled face. She smiled big and waved, asking for candy- I spread my hands and told her I didn't have any. She covered her eyes and started pouting, and then turned again to smiles within seconds. As we drove out of sight I could see she was still waving.
There was the old man out working his field- I saw him leaning up against his shovel watching us leave underneath the setting sun. He was old enough to have known life before Saddam as well as after. I can't help but wonder what he thinks of us.
Everywhere, there are children. If the streets are free of children, we start to look for the imminent attack. They love to have their picture taken, and all of them know that American troops are endless wells of candy. These kids are the future of Iraq. If they grow up to hate, I have little hope that there will ever be peace on this place.