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.
The Christian Science Monitor
We had no concerns whatsoever. I remember one day I said to our guide, “Look, take off, go home, you’ve had a long day.” Afterwards, I walked up the street for half a mile to go to my favorite sweets shop, and I hopped in a cab and got home. I spoke a hell of a lot less Arabic then than I do now, but that was the way it was then. You know, Iraq has a wonderful road network and we could get up in the morning and think, “Shit, you know what? We haven’t been to Mosul in a while, let’s go there.” And you drive to Mosul. I mean, I drove to Tal Afar and knocked around for a couple of days there and then knocked on the gate of the U.S. base and saw it from their side. Right up until April 2004 we were rolling like that.
I broke the rules and went in with a contractor and did a tour of the Green Zone, went to some bars and hung out — openly. I did not hide my microphone in this case, and people were not nearly as forthcoming as I might have wished, but nonetheless, I got at least a slightly clearer picture, and was able to at least portray what the Green Zone really is like — this bizarre environment where you’ve got the CIA compound and the Bechtel compound and this security company compound and then the plush AID [Agency for International Development] compound, and the new sports facility for the military, and the embassy guys live over here, and then the security companies have their own bars. And the drug of choice happens to be steroids in this war — Who’d have thunk it?