Sunday, December 24, 2006

Najaf, Part II

Your intrepid correspondent enjoying a parade on a sunny day in Najaf.

Part two of my notes from the Najaf "PIC" ceremony last Wednesday:

- After the signing, a police pickup truck drives in front of the reviewing stand. A police commander jumps out of the back, draws a sword, and salutes the Governor to begin the parade.

- The tribal sheikhs pour out of the stands and gather in front of the reviewing stand. The raise Iraqi flags and the blue flags of the Shi’a tribes. One sheikh shouts a pledge of loyalty into the microphone, and the others chant in response, waving their hands and the flags.

The Najaf Sheikhs pledging their loyalty.

- The first vehicle in the parade is the same Police Commander, followed by a poster depicting the Koran. This is followed by the poster of the Prophet and the Shi’a martyrs, the posters of Talibani and Maliki, and civilians holding pictures of bombing victims.

The Najaf Police Commander and the Koran lead the parade.

The posters of the Shi'a icons, followed by President Talabani and Prime Minister Maliki.

Portraits of martyrs.

- An array of Iraqi Security Force units marched by, having emptied the stands throughout the stadium: Iraqi Army, National Police, Najaf Police, Facilities Protection Service, Commando units wearing black masks, even firemen in bright yellow helmets and boots. A single horsemen passes the reviewing stand, followed by a succession of units . . . well, prancing is the only way to describe it . . . and chanting cadences.

From top to bottom: The Iraqi Army, the Najaf Police, the Iraqi National Police, an Iraqi Commando unit, and the Najaf Fire Brigade.

Iraqi Army and Commando units chanting and prancing.

- One of the units stops in front of the reviewing stand and executes a right face so they face the dignitaries. They are wearing dark green camouflage tee shirts that look as if they had just visited a surplus store somewhere, and black pants. Their faces are also painted black. The commander issues an order in Arabic, the men chant something in response, and then each soldier produces a live frog from his right pocket. They then proceeded to BITE THE HEAD OFF THE FROG and throw its STILL KICKING torso onto the track. The Commander of the unit then produces a live rabbit and holds it by its hind legs in front of him. He pulls out an eight-inch hunting knife, and guts it from its belly to its neck. He grabs the incision on each side, and rips its chest and stomach open. He proceeded to STICK HIS MOUTH INTO THE CARCASS, AND COMES OUT WITH THE STILL BEATING HEART IN HIS TEETH!!! He passes the rabbit to each soldier, who takes a turn BITING INTO THE BLOODY INTESTINES!!!

Hide the pets! It's the Ozzy Osbourne Brigade!
Honestly, I could not have made this up if I tried.

- After the “Ozzy Ozzbourne Brigade” passes, a group of seven horsemen holding Iraqi flags turns the corner to the homestretch of the track. My first thought is “Lord, they are not going to eat the horses, are they?” But instead, they do two laps of the stadium at full speed.

Dessert? No, it's the Najaf Derby!

- The vehicles of the Iraqi Army and Police do drive by of the reviewing stand (I guess nobody wanted to be the ones to walk through the rabbit guts), including Humvees, ambulances, Border Patrol SUVs (even though Najaf doesn’t border another country), police pickups with 40mm guns mounted in the rear, fire trucks, and HazMat vehicles.

- A squad of paratroopers comes to a halt in front of the reviewing stand and provides a martial arts demonstration. In formation, they perform a series of punches, kicks, (think an Arab Kobra Kai) and then a self-defense demonstration with some serious throws that elicits oohs and aahs from the audience. One student punches through a "board" that looks suspiciously like painted styrofoam. Finally, the instructor/commander is surrounded by six of the soldiers and takes each of them out as they assault him one by one.

- This unit is followed by a group of ten teenage boys in martial arts Gis. (At least I though they were teenagers . . . young men in Iraq almost always have thin mustaches as a sign of manhood, so it is sometimes difficult to gauge their age). The instructor yells commands in either Japanese or Korean, and later defends himself against a series of attacks by his students, at least one of whom is wielding a sword. Like the paratrooper unit before them, they end their demonstration by putting one student on another’s shoulders and producing an Iraqi flag in dramatic fashion.

There have been a lot of bad days in Iraq since I arrived last Spring. I start every day with the daily intelligence report, which leads off with how many people were killed over the previous 24 hours. Even on days where the violence is relatively light, it is still too many innocent families being torn apart by the nihilism of evil men. And while I am still fully convinced that our cause here is just, it is frustrating at times to realize that best intentions are not enough, and that the sacrifices our soldiers are making in the field every day (sometimes making the ultimate sacrifice) for a peaceful Iraq and a secure U.S does not seem to be improving the situation here.

But today, the spirit of the Iraqi Security Forces was palpable, and you could see the pride on the soldiers' and policemen's faces as they marched, honored to be assuming responsiblity for maintaining Iraq’s security. Their clear devotion to Iraq as a nation renewed my hope that there is still a chance we can overcome the terrorists and extremists trying to destroy everything the Iraqi people want to build.