JimSpiri ”THE LAST LAP #9”
The latest journey called, "The Last Lap" - IRAQ, 2015
© Jim Spiri 2015
July 20, 2015 It is Monday morning in Iraq and windy. From my past experiences in this country this could result in a dust storm. I am feeling much better now after discovering ciprofloxacin, an antibiotic that my hosts provided me with and deals rapidly with the dilemma I was facing. I’ve now been on the road on this final journey for over two weeks. I’m on the home stretch with the final week coming into view. It seems I’m just now getting the hang of how to communicate here in this place we call Iraq. Soon I will turn 60-years-old. A lot of things lately are coming into view although my eyesight isn’t what it used to be. I can see things from far away sharply, but the up close part is always blurry. The use of cheap reading glasses purchased at the ever popular dollar stores, seem to assist me in focusing on the fine print of things. Just when one learns how to read between the lines, focusing becomes an issue. All part of the aging process I guess. Sunday in Iraq was the third and final day of the Eid celebrations. The numerous visits to different households in the community should slow down a bit even though the extended invitations for evening meals continue to come my way. Here we are in the middle of the summer heat and days above the 120-degree mark are often. By 0600 hrs the sun peering through my window begins to announce that the scorching hot is on track and things will be burning everything in its’ path. Where I am staying, most daytime activities are limited because of the heat and by noon all things have come to a screeching halt. It is “uber-siesta time” Iraq style between the hours of 11 am to 6pm. It is a matter of practicality. What the result is for such a break in the activity is that it means the cool time in the evening keep things going usually until way past midnight. Visiting, shopping, cooking, etc., all pick up a rapid pace as the sun makes a slow descent in the late afternoon summer sky. A drop in temperature to just below the century mark is a highly welcomed event at the expense of daylight departing. I had mentioned to my host that I had wanted to take a photograph of the entire extended family for a keepsake. Sunday afternoon would be this time around six in the evening when the light was not so intense and the air was cooler for everyone. This is what I was able to obtain and it is now among a treasured select group of photos I will keep as an historical archive concerning this journey. I enjoyed taking this photo a lot. At dinner that evening, we were watching the news like any household in America would. Something caught my eye quite prominently which happened to be outgoing chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin Dempsey’s “surprise” visit to Iraq to discuss things going on at the moment. I had noticed that 24-hours earlier there had been some aircraft movement overhead that had been non existent. Once again I have realized that wherever I end up, others are soon to follow. I was expecting this prior to my departure from home as things here in Iraq are or at least should be headline news for those who care. As I stopped eating for a moment I asked my host to translate briefly what the General was saying on the Iraqi TV evening news. He told me from the news reports that his visit was to assess actions on the ground and that General Dempsey had made a statement saying that those taking the lead (supposedly the Shia Militias backed by Iran) have for the most part acted in an undisciplined manner. Hmmmm….that caught my attention. Here we go. The other day I was watching a video from local reports on one the younger folks smart phones showing the “softening up” of targets in the Fallujah area by Shia Militias and their weaponry. I made a comment that went something like this: “Oh no, Fallujah is about to get another dose of freedom”. What I meant was a kind of scorched earth policy for Fallujah seems to be in effect. I am aware that ISIS is in Fallujah as well as other Sunni areas and the spoken goal is to rid them of their free reign there. Got that. Point taken. But in the mean time, what happens to the Sunni communities at large as they bare the brunt of the battles? This is a question that few are answering. It also opens the door to another world of details that are simmering under the surface and for the most part kept from the world’s public view and attention. So during this journey, I’ve begun to do something that I have rarely done in depth in the past regarding situations around me that I find myself in the middle of. I’m researching a few things. The forest becoming evident through the trees. I am content with just seeing a tree here and seeing a tree there and leaving things at that. Somehow or another I seem to have found myself seeing a forest. Ok. Therefore, as time permits, I will check out what kind of forest I’m in and see what the characteristics of said forest are according to those that have identified said forest from past information gathered. That is a nice, professional, journalistic way of saying, is there anyone else who sees what I see? That is what I call research. In the past, it has not been important to me whether others have seen or not. Nor is it now. But, it is kind of interesting to know whether or not I’ve completely gone bonkers or am I really in a forest. Research does show me I’ve not lost my mind although it is very difficult to find that I am not alone in what I am sensing. Regarding the fall of Ramadi, I found this statement from some writers in Washington DC who say: “The Shia militias don’t really care about Ramadi. The peshmerga certainly don’t. This is a Sunni area that the Shia are not willing to go and fight and die in, and ISIS knows that, Sunni insurgents know that, the Sunni population now knows that, and this is an opportunistic environment for anti-government forces to do something about it,” It gets even more insightful as the research continues: “Much of the current upheaval and sectarian conflict stems from successive Shia-led Iraqi governments failing to reach out and give the Sunnis a place at the country’s political and security table. Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi had pledged to redress that imbalance, but he said Abadi was still heavily reliant on Iran, which is a Shia power some analysts say is bent on keeping Sunnis out of power”. Now I’ve chosen these two quotes from other writers to show the jist of what I’m stumbling upon. I remember back in 2007 when I was on the ground for seven months in Iraq as an embedded freelance journalist. I was in Fallujah during a time when the so called, “Sunni Awakening” was in full swing to counter AQI ( al-Qaida in Iraq). I also went to Diyala province at that time as what came to be known as the surge was in full swing. Now, eight years later, the program that was successful for saving Iraq, i.e., bringing the Sunnis in on the program to save Iraq, has all but been abandoned in favor of what some are now terming, (one of those is none other than General Dempsey) as “undisciplined behavior by the Popular Mobilization Forces” known across Iraq by their common name, Shia Militias. The fact is that those in the know realize that this behavior borders on a clever form of ethnic cleansing that is taking place and it is almost excused as payback for the years Sunnis had control under the old regime. Further academic research shows me that there are multiple others writing such things yet none have been on the ground first hand hearing from those suffering it. Most rely on what is known as “lackies” to do the heavy lifting while the “academics” put the pieces of the literary puzzle together under what is known as a bi-line. One does not have to be a rocket scientist to figure out that the Sunnis in Iraq are in fact in a jam. Currently the whole world that is listening is hearing via controlled media sources that the “civilian forces” or “Popular Mobilization Forces” or whatever term one wants to use for Shia Militias, are leading the way to saving Iraq. Yet what is not being broadcast is that there is credible evidence they (the Iranian backed militias) are wreaking havoc on the local Sunni populations who also are fighting against ISIS, while at the same time the militias claim to be coming under the banner of clearing the land from ISIS. It is a clever move by those in control from Iran who enjoy almost a free reign in Iraq at the moment. Again, I’m not a rocket scientist but I have to ask a few simple questions of my readers. What exactly were the recent so called “negotiations” with Iran all about? I hardly believe it was all only concerning this nuclear debacle we are all told. On the ground, I keep hearing time and time again this question from the local Sunni population who fought valiantly to defeat ISIS in their town: “Why has your country (USA) handed the entire country of Iraq over to Iran on a golden platter”? Senator John McCain, R-AZ, has raised serious concerns about any kind of collaboration with Iranian elements that boast constantly about how many Americans they helped kill during the “war years” in Iraq. And then I have an interesting question to ask that brings the whole thing to my own local level of New Mexico. How is it that the New Mexico National Guard has been deployed in the region near-side Iranian backed Shia Militias while the outgoing chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff comments just 24-hours ago that the so-called militias are acting in an undisciplined fashion? I’m not even allowed to get near them, yet the Iranians can. Have we all gone bonkers trying to figure this one out or is there just something I’m missing? The reply will be we have to fight ISIS. Once again, I got that. Point taken. But I find it perplexing that while out of control undisciplined Iranian backed militia forces are able to assert their own agenda wherever and whenever they choose, American air power is bombing the hell out of ISIS targets while what is bordering on ethnic cleansing of local Sunni populations seems to be taking place. I have been to the IDP (internally displaced persons) camp here where I am. I have on record that they are not allowed to return to their homes. I’ve even addressed this matter to the Governor of where I am who is Sunni and he explains to me that it is a long process and it takes time. While, at the same time, yesterday here, before my own eyes, I saw across the Tigris River more of their (Sunni) homes going up in smoke as the daylight hours weaned in the summer skies. I’ve come to the conclusion that I do not need to do all that much more research to verify that I’m indeed in a damn forest. I’m going back to what has led me all around the world in the first place. One tree at a time is all I need to know. The dots are plenty big enough for me to see and I can connect the general outline well enough to see that after 3, 4 or 5 dots forming the shape of a tree, time and time and time again, sure enough, it’s a tree and if there’s enough of them in the same area, it’s a forest. How it got there, what kind of forest it is, how to manage the new found forest or how to improve the forest is something that is apparently “way above my pay grade” . I came to this land Iraq, once known as Mesopotamia and the Fertile Crescent, one more time to see what there was to see and to fulfill a promise to many I’ve met along the way. To my friend who first took me here in 2004. To the parents of soldiers whose sons and daughters were killed here that I’ve interviewed. To the thousands of wounded whom I carried onto medevac transport planes. To the co-workers I worked with who spent a portion of their lives here in this land with me. To my wife who spent time working here with me and always remaining a part of the journey. To my son who spent time here as a soldier and lost friends along the way to war. To myself for having gone down the road less traveled to share what I have seen along the way. And now to those who call me family and tell me I am still green in my soul as I enter my sixth decade on the planet. I always do what I say I’m going to do. I just never do it in the time allotted. Yet, it always gets done in due time.

The Last Lap #9

The main transportation route from Dholoyia crossing the Tigris River Warehouse destroyed The camp
The main transportation route from Dholoyia crossing the Tigris River
Warehouse destroyed
The camp
Humvee left destroyed Breakfast with Oman and Jim A scene near my hosts home Meat market in town kids on the block Four boys on streets of Dholoyia Bikes in Dholoyia Three males on streets of Dholoyia Old man on the street side of Dholoiya Fruit stand on streets of Dholoyia Fruit delivery The eye of the beholder shop keeper Another shop Two guys I like talking with James Joseph Spiri, Sr. age 59, on the banks of the Tigris River in Dholoyia, Salah ad-Din province, Iraq, July 20, 2015
Building destroyed
Breakfast with Oman and Jim
Humvee left destroyed
A scene near my hosts home
Meat market in town
kids on the block
Four boys on streets of Dholoyia
Bikes in Dholoyia
Three males on streets of Dholoyia
Old man on the street side of Dholoiya
Fruit stand on streets of Dholoyia
Fruit delivery
The eye of the beholder
James Joseph Spiri, Sr. age 59, on the banks of the Tigris River in Dholoyia, Salah ad-Din province, Iraq, July 20, 2015
Two guys I like talking with
Downtown Dholoyia
Another shop
shop keeper