Before now poetry has taken notice
Of wars, and what are wars but politics
Transformed from chronic to acute and bloody?
from "Build Soil"
Robert Frost

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

A Village Named Karma

The day started at 0630 with a wakeup call and a shivering gasp into the cold air. The heaters in the tents decided that last night was their night off. Brr. Now, the tent is heated by body warmth and the one remaining working heater. I laid curled in my bed for a few minutes, trying to will my body warm. Giving up on that idea, I slid quickly into silk weight thermals and my Nomex jumpsuit, and started getting ready for the mission.

Just a couple of hours later, all preparations are completed, and we roll out of Camp Falluja on another route clearance patrol. Today's mission: ensure that some 30 kilometers of road, including three villages, are free of IEDs and other hazards to coalition forces. An hour into the route, on the outskirts of the first village, we find our first IED of the day. Tamped into an old hole by the side of the road, and covered with a thin layer of dirt, it is typical insurgent work. While the IED is being neutralized, someone notices a head popping up behind a wall some distance away. We move to intercept, and as we pull up, more heads appear. False alarm- we've roused a larger Iraqi family with our noisy trucks. Or is it? The wire that some fighter meant to use to detonate his bomb leads in the direction of the wall. As we follow it, it travels towards the wall and then veers away into a field. Out in the distance is a single house. The wire ends just meters away. Inside is a woman and her three children- two teenage girls and a little boy.

Who's wire is this? She doesn't know.
Where is the man of the house? She doesn't know.
Has anyone else been here today? She doesn't know.
Are there any "Ali Babas" (insurgents) around? She doesn't know.

The children stand by silently. When someone asks one a question, she starts to answer, only to be shushed by her mother. Obviously, we're not going to learn anything here. We still have a long route to do, so we make preparations to leave, while letting the unit that owns the sector that it might be worth a trip to the house with an interpreter. The IED we move off into a field, where we can safely destroy it. Before we can do that, we have to make sure that our patrol, and, just as important, the civilians in the nearby village, are protected. The vehicle commander calls up to me in the hatch- "Hey! When we back up, make sure those gawkers get back behind something!" The truck speeds backwards and stops in the intersection near the village. I call out from the turret, flinging my arms up in the air:

Kumbuleh! - Bomb!
The gathering crowd looks up as one.
Rooh lil bayt! - Go home!
They scatter. Staff Sergeant J. looks up and says "Well, I guess your pronunciation isn't so bad they can't understand 'BOMB' ", and laughs.


Krr-THUMP! The IED disappears in a cloud of dirty black smoke and flying dirt. A bare hundred meters down the road, we find the next one. It's turning out to be a busy morning.
After we pass the village, we find a third at another intersection. The rest of the day turns up nothing, and we retrace our steps back towards Camp Falluja. On passing the first IED site, we discover that the destruction of that IED cut one of the nearby power lines, which now lies sparking on the ground. I'm not happy to see it, but I'm not that upset, either. On one hand, work will have to be done to restore the power, but on the other, the IED would have toppled the pole if it had detonated where it lay. The fact is that the damage wasn't as bad as it could have been- the irony is that the village is named Karma.

Life sucks, and then you die.


  1. Anonymous3/1/07 17:23

    As your story of the woman and children in the house illustrates, the enemy you confront are cowards. The terroists responsible for that IED are hiding behind that woman and those children and care not if all of them are killed in the process. They follow the example of their role model who hides in caves and insists that others blow themselves up for the cause. Theirs is a culture that values and celebrates cowardice. How wonderful!

  2. Anonymous3/1/07 17:30

    lmao...the way it went in the 70s...was Life's a bitch, then you die, have a nice day!
    Good work, TD.

  3. Anonymous3/1/07 22:08

    Appreciate your blog, it's now one of my main links. Good stuff - good writing. Thanks!

  4. IED trigger men are often 14-year-old kids paid to do the deed, and think nothing more of it than would a 14-year-old American with a paper route. It's a sad fact of life in the Arab world, but the quicker people come to terms that their culture is not like ours and can't be compared to it in similar terms, the better off everyone will be. The issues of life and death and freedom are not universal. The Iraqi conception of such things is miles apart from our own.

    That wasn't meant as a rebuke to you, TD. Just something your post made me think of. Anyway, just found your blog after someone mentioned it on my buddy T.F. Boggs's site ( We both just got back last month from our own respective OIF tours, so we know what you're going through.

    I'll check back in from time to time.

    "Buck Sargent"
    4-23 INF
    172nd Stryker Brigade
    Mosul/Tal Afar/Baghdad Aug05-Nov06

  5. The trouble is that many Iraqis blame the IEDs on the US soldiers because they believe the bombs wouldn't be there if the US soldiers weren't there. Someone needs to convince them that if it wasn't the US soldiers, it would be the Iraqi police, military or anyone else the insurgents don't like that would be the targets and the bombs would still go off killing the civilians and their infrastructure anyway and it would most likely be worse without the greater deterrent force of the US military.

  6. Sang-

    For the most part I agree that the bombing and killing would go on without us. In some ways, it could be even worse. The Iraqi army and police have been improving lately, but still have no EOD or route clearance capability. They would have no safe options for dealing with bombs.

    Buck Sargent-

    Thanks for the visit and the comments. You are right about the culture difference; as anyone who's been here knows. Also, as you said, a lot of links in the chain of the insurgency are simply people looking to get a little money. That's one of the greatest tragedies I see here. Opportunity, desperation, or both puts people into situations from which the only final escape is death or imprisonment.

  7. I suspect most of the IEDs are being created by naive and ignorant Iraqi youth. Take a look at the following "documentary" on Iraqi youth. It isn't objective, so put on your BS filter when watching it. But it interviews some of the enemy and some of their motivations and some of their methods in planning and placing IEDs:

  8. "The trouble is that many Iraqis blame the IEDs on the US soldiers because they believe the bombs wouldn't be there if the US soldiers weren't there."

    An even bigger problem is when people make general statements like these without any factual basis to support them. And don't tell me you read a lot of news reports. I do as well, and it often bears zero resemblance to what daily life in Iraq is like. If you haven't been here, you don't know. Period. I don't like to make blanket statements like that myself, but in this case I've found it to be demonstrably true. Hell, even the embeds get a lot of their facts and interpretations wrong. I can vouch for that personally.

    "Someone needs to convince them that if it wasn't the US soldiers, it would be the Iraqi police, military or anyone else the insurgents don't like that would be the targets and the bombs would still go off..."

    This is already the case. The IPs are under much graver threat than we are, in so far as they have no FOB safehavens to retreat to after every patrol; they have to work AND live out there on the battlefield. Plus, their vehicles are essentially rolling coffins. They have little chance of survival when they get hit.

    If there's one thing that's pissed me off most about being back in the States, it's ignorant civilians (whether it be cable news talking heads or pajamabloggers) perpetuating unsubstantiated nonsense that "sounds right" to their ears but has no basis in reality.

    Stop talking about things which you actually know little.

  9. Buck Sargent,
    Strange. I'm usually the one accusing others of using headline news as their bible. In this case, I am actually talking from actual statements from Iraqis. It's not from news reports. Instead of listing every Iraqi I have talked to, let me point you to one on the far extreme who has vocalized almost every far fetched reason I have heard for Iraqis wanting US soldiers out:

    The latest September poll of Iraqis at the following location show that most Iraqis want the US soldiers out, and I have actually talked to Iraqis about this:

    Most of the Iraqis I talk to who want the US out don't think ahead that it would be worse with the US soldiers out. They just want them out. They need to be convinced that it would be worse without the US soldiers.

    Since you fought for us, I am going to hold my tongue and avoid the response I give to people who know nothing about me and say that I know little.

  10. Good post. I guess the jury's still out on whether that village is good Karma or bad Karma. I'm pulling for good.

  11. Anonymous5/1/07 18:34

    Buck Sargent:

    Thanks for your service. It is greatly valued by the vast majority of your countrymen. With all due respect regarding your most recent comments, you have a micro view of the realities in Iraq which is important and of great value to the larger picture but it is not all there is to consider or know. The same goes for all the other views and opinions we see and hear expressed all around us. It takes time and distance to get a full picture that begins to represent the complete reality of a situation as complex as Iraq. Keep providing your view, it is helpful. Thanks again.

  12. Just wanted to say that your blog has taught me a few things. and I hope to continue reading it.

    Thank you for being a soldier. All of you.


  13. I just wanted to say that I'm the -ahem - 'someone' who mentioned your blog on T F Bogg's site hoping that Boggsy and Buck would drop by. Glad to see Buck commenting here. (Check out his excellent video: 'Give War a Chance'.)

    I followed both of their excellent blogs for the majority of their time in Iraq and IMHO they're two of the most intelligent and informative of the many I follow.

    I consider Acute Politics to be in the same league.


  14. Anonymous4/3/07 01:14

    "The trouble is that many Iraqis blame the IEDs on the US soldiers because they believe the bombs wouldn't be there if the US soldiers weren't there."

    What a load of crap. How many IED's were found in Iraq prior to March 2003 ?

  15. Anonymous18/8/07 20:59

    Buck "Sargent"

    I suspect a real sergeant would at least know how to spell it.

  16. Animalass;
    It's a name, and a play on words. There have been a number of famous "Sargents".
    Back in your hole, now, that's a good rat-mole!