That started to change as the insurgency got going, that was kind of fall 2003. And I remember the day very clearly because I almost didn’t survive [laughing]. Ramadan — first day of Ramadan, October 2003 — it was about eight o’clock in the morning and we were all having coffee and there was a gigantic bomb blast and it shook our house, it was so close. And it was the ICRC, the International Committee of the Red Cross. Two suicide bombers had hit the place. I actually got there before the cops did, and I remember seeing a suicide bomber — charred remains still clutching the steering wheel — but, you know, bodies everywhere, crowd going insane, as they do.
There were five suicide bombings that day, and I remember hearing the other bombs going off as I was literally walking through the bodies at this place. But we worked there and then drove to another — the second place that had been hit, which was a police station in a neighborhood called Shaab, which is basically a Shiite neighborhood. I stepped out of the car. I was with two photographers. About five hundred people turned on us instantly and surged. I remember there was an old man saying, “Kill them, kill them, kill them!” And so we were grabbed by the crowd and taken by the crowd and they started to beat the hell out of us, and I am reasonably sure they would have killed us, but the driver, my driver — Walid, who’s wonderful and happens to be like six-foot-eight and enormous — he reached into the crowd and pulled me out. And we somehow managed to get free and get into the car, and the crowd jumped on the car to try to stop it, which they were pretty close to doing. You know, three hundred people holding a car back could actually do it. They started to throw bricks into the car, and they were smashing the windows, and one of the photographers I was with, Mike Kamber, [they] busted his head open — it was really awful — and we almost didn’t get away. I remember we got back, took Mike to the hospital, and later that day we got back to the house, and I remember — I counted them, and I think it was seventeen bricks in the car; every window was smashed out. But that’s just an example of how it started to change, and the crowd — I remember the crowd — they blamed us for the bombing, you know? Which didn’t make a lot of sense to me — I mean, it doesn’t make immediate sense — kind of counterintuitive. But it’s like before the Americans got here we didn’t have these things and you’re American, so we’re angry at you.
We would drive to Basra. I remember having a picnic on the side of the road for Christmas 2003. We stopped at the side of the road and had tea and eggs after covering Christmas with the British troops.
Colonel William Darley
former public affairs officer
Arabic was — language was the Achilles heel, not just of public affairs but of the whole operation. If there’s any single lesson for the military in general, all aspects of the military, it’s first and foremost the ability to speak to people in their own language. It hampered public affairs to no end, but it was a constant, unremitting problem at every level, every operational level.
There was a survey done at the First Cavalry Division, soon after the arrival of a guy named General Chiarelli, who commanded the First Cavalry Division [as of March 2004], and he brought in every company commander, something like a hundred company commanders. One hundred percent, every company commander in the First Cavalry Division, according to General Chiarelli, every one of them said their number one concern, their number one priority, number one problem they had was language. I mean every one of them, it was unanimous, and that’s about as rare as you can get, saying if there was one thing they needed to take with them, that they needed to focus on was either getting the language ability themselves or taking with them extremely competent linguists. Constant, unremitting problem.
And that problem has shown up constantly across the board in everything. Operational, logistics, you know, intelligence. But in my area, [public affairs] it was just an unremitting problem.