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Observing Iraq

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

BAGHDAD, Iraq, Jan. 29, 2005 – Editor's Note: AFPS reporter Jim Garamone has traveled in Iraq since early January, covering the many news aspects about multinational and Iraqi security forces' efforts in preparation for upcoming Jan. 30 elections. During his travels, he's come upon interesting aspects of life in Iraq.

Click photo for screen-resolution image
Louisiana Guardsmen of the 256th Brigade Combat Team stand next to Mardi Gras decorations on the door of the unit's mail room. The unit is planning some sort of celebration of Mardi Gras in Baghdad, Iraq. Photo by Jim Garamone
  

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

Expatriot Vote has Effect in Iraq

While the big day here is Jan. 30, Iraqi elections overseas have already begun. The coverage of these overseas elections is having an effect on the homeland.

Officials said the extensive Arab media coverage of the expatriate voting process is encouraging Iraqis to vote here. "They see the real happiness that Iraqis in the other countries exhibit at being able to vote," said an Iraqi official. "It is contagious."

No official will forecast what the voter turnout might be. "In some areas of the country it will be very high," the official said. "In others, it depends on what the security situation is as the people decide to go out."

Iraqi Suicide Bombers

Terrorists are turning to car bombs -- "vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices" in military-speak. They pack the car or truck with artillery shells or plastic explosive and attach a triggering device.

Most VBIEDs are driven to a point and the drivers leave. Someone triggers the explosions remotely via a timer.

But in 30 percent of cases, said Army Gen. George Casey, the drivers drive the vehicles into targets. In the past, Iraqi officials said drivers of these vehicles must be foreigners because Iraqis don't commit suicide. "I'm not sure that's the case," the commander of multinational forces in Iraq said during an interview. "I think there are Iraqi Islamic extremists who are capable of getting in a car and blowing themselves up."

Dirt Equals Work

Army Spc. Chris Ott, a tank mechanic with the Louisiana National Guard's 199th Forward Support Battalion, may have the filthiest set of coveralls in Iraq.

Ott, who goes by the nickname "Pig Pen," is one of the mechanics responsible for ensuring the 256th Brigade Combat Team's Abrams tanks work well for the soldiers who take them "outside the wire."

He takes the state of his coveralls in stride. "If you ain't dirty, you ain't working," the specialist said. "You do what you have to to make sure the equipment works."

Conditions in the motor pool are Spartan to say the least. Ott's coveralls are impregnated with the Iraqi dirt and mud that he works in and are saturated with all the fluids that are used in M1A1s.

It's been noticed that no one lights a match around Ott when he's wearing the coveralls. If they caught on fire they would probably burn for three days.

Mardi Gras Parade for Baghdad?

Americans bring their traditions and celebrations with them wherever they go, and Baghdad is no different.

Louisianans with the 256th Brigade Combat Team are preparing for Mardi Gras on Feb. 8. Mardi Gras decorations are starting to appear on doors and desks throughout the brigade, and some units have already received their supplies of beads. "I'd like to pass most of them out to Iraqi kids," said Army Capt. Chris Armstrong, commander of Headquarters Company, 1088th Engineer Battalion. "Wouldn't that be great?"

The main focus for the brigade has been on providing security for the elections, Armstrong said. "But after the elections, we can celebrate our Louisiana heritage here," he said.

And who knows? Perhaps for the day the main road in Camp Victory will be renamed Bourbon Street.

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