During my first trip, I spent a couple of weeks with the 3rd Infantry Division in Baghdad, specifically Task Force 2-7, commanded by Lt. Col. Scott Rutter. Rutter was very helpful; I showed up one morning at his headquarters and explained that I wanted to accompany his soldiers and make drawings. He was perched atop his command Bradley, engines roaring. Make art? Terrific! That’s great, just great! Jump on! Hoo-ah!
So much for the purported philistinism of soldiers. His descriptions of his day-to-day dealings with Iraqis in Baghdad demonstrate that not everyone in Iraq is seething with rage at the Americans:
Drawing here takes a little getting used to. The Iraqis are intensely interested in most things western, so the presence of an American sitting on a stoop or at a cafe making a drawing always elicits an avid audience. Every brushstroke is watched, and people have many questions. The Iraqi sense of personal space is very different from a westerner’s; here people crowd in so close they’re touching me, and men feel free to stab at the paper to point out someone I’ve drawn whom they know. If an onlooker blocks the view, however, he’ll be shouted at to get out of the way. Sometimes a passage is greeted with a round of “tsk, tsk, tsk,” which in Iraq doesn’t necessarily connote disapproval as much as interest (I think).
In this most recent journal entry Mumford visits some National Guard troops based at a former Iraqi officers’ club. Mumford notes that:
… the guard defines itself less in terms of fighting wars than in taking control in disasters and helping to improve the situation. Since they normally train on weekends, the men all have regular jobs, which generally makes them more understanding when dealing with civilians and brings a large pool of experience from the civilian sector to the force. One of their first acts was to rehabilitate the soccer stadium, which had been used for dug-in fortifications by the Republican Guard (the inaugural game was played between the guard and a local team; the guard was trounced).
Mumford describes the daily activities of the guard soldiers in Baghdad, who are clearly make a very big contribution to getting the place back on its feet:
In general, Baghdad seems to me to be better than it was two months ago, despite the rise in bombings. Many of the huge mounds of trash are cleaned up, the curbs repainted, less gunfire at night. The endless gas station lines are much shorter, the traffic snarls less intense and there’s more electricity at night, although still far from enough. Most importantly, the Iraqis of Al Wasiria seem to like these Americans, often calling out to them by name as they’re on patrol.
Mumford does not downplay the dangers, but it is obvious that the situation in Iraq is much better than the mainstream media would have you believe.
Also, his pictures are good.
(Via Arts & Letters Daily)