Camp Bucca, Iraq is a category on my Blog I have created for purposes of explaining my experiences at Camp Bucca, Iraq during Ramadan of 2007. It was during this time I experienced one of several events that have taken place in my life where I came close enough to death to look up and see the cold steel of the sickle he was holding as he smiled and awaited my end. In this section and over several entries I will discuss a series of events that took place during my team’s 2007 assignment to one of the world’s largest theater internment facilities (prisoner camp).
Camp Bucca, Iraq is where I experienced what I call “the beginning of my end.” It was an event that affected me for years and I could barely understand it until I realized just how deeply the daily attacks and bombardment over such a short period of time in my life would make me jumpy and short-fused for years to come.
Sometimes when I walk into the middle of my field across from my house I close my eyes to soak in the peace and quiet. I’ll be honest with you fellow Trainwrecks and tell you it makes me tear up a little because I go from realizing I’m here and I’m not there anymore to being there for a moment and back to being here. I felt so much pressure and fear and excitement and anger it is difficult to try to put a single thought into words. War fucking sucks and only the dead truly know the end of it.
My intention of this series is to explain (as I can) not only what happened but why. To explain what happened as the region destabilized and the Red Cross hurriedly evacuated with looks of worry and fear on their faces. I will attempt to explain my experiences as the situation collapsed and the Takfiri began an 8 day assault that left us with dead and wounded. I will likely get a few details incorrect and that is expected as my perspective is based on the journal I kept, information provided by fellow servicemen who were there as well as the understanding I should not compromise operations security (Opsec). With that said, I want to focus not only on what happened but the process that took place as the world around me literally decided to go completely to shit and there wasn’t a thing I could do about it but hear the laughter of children in the trash heap disappear and watch the familiar eyes of local nationals avert mine at the entry control point. It was after the second or third aerial bomb rocked our compound I realized not only were the Takfiri pissed off at us but the situation had de-evolved beyond the regular volatile state it loosely hinged just above.
The more I pause to review information from my journal and deeply think about my time at Bucca, the more things come crashing back into my mind. Ramadan of 2007. Being attacked daily. The lingering legacy of Al-Baghdadi and the rise of ISIS. The Theater Internment Facility. The rocket that almost took my life. Walking through the compound and seeing grown adults wrapping their arms around their knees and rocking back and forth while sobbing hysterically. Even more important, understanding why these people were doing that and being at peace with the realization there was nothing wrong with it. That is just what people do when they fear death. I did not fear death. Nope. Ever since I was a little kid I grew used to being attacked. I could breathe deeply and find my focus because this was familiar territory and I figured if I was going to go, this was an appropriate way for it to happen. I was cool and confident. I was in a flow state. I was a man in purpose and despite the horror I was doing my thing.
Camp Bucca was one of the largest Theater Internment Facilities (TIF) next to Parwan Detention Facility located in the vicinity of Bagram Airfield (another shit hole) in the Parwan province of Afghanistan. Camp Bucca was named after Ronald Bucca, a NYC Fire Marshal who died in the 11 September 2001 attacks. The site Camp Bucca sat upon was originally home to the tallest structure in Iraq, a television tower measuring over 1600 feet was erected to broadcast Al Jazeera, a propaganda-based television studio enriched with traditional and sometimes radical information on Muslim culture. In mid 2003 after the Iraq invasion, the tiny British POW site was turned over to American Forces who would later build what would be considered a “model” detention facility (POW camp) following the 2004 Abu Gharaib prison scandal. The facility proved to be anything but what was expected with the formation and rise of ISIS spreading from the installation like wildfire. In short, we failed to execute on our overall goal of de-radicalizing Muslim zealots. Principles and a cause are both a noble and dangerous motivator. We are fools if we think we can defeat principles and a cause that have existed for hundreds of years. The Iraqi people may often live in a de-militarized zone, but they are not a people easily defeated by the influence of an outside force. The biggest problem I witnessed in country was the American assumption that the Iraqi people wanted to adopt American principles “just-because.”
I am a proud American and an even prouder servant of my nation but I would be quite remiss if I did not acknowledge the general opinions and thought processes of the average American are riddled with ethnocentricity and downright cultural ignorance. We popularly assume because someone does not conduct themselves the same way we do or even speak the same language we do, they are unintelligent or should be subject to insult or ridicule. We often assume the worst of people based off a small sample (look at the three-ring circus that is politics) and in our minds, hold them to a standard not even we are willing to meet.
Abu-Gharaib was a shit-show but the answer to that shit show was not to build a super large centralized facility where the population made it near impossible to prevent the problems we had (which is what we did). Even worse was how disgustingly easy it was to end up in a large facility like that. Wrong place at the wrong time type of stuff. With waits for a hearing often exceeding one year, many Iraqi young men who were not angry and radicalized when they entered Camp Bucca would leave entirely different. And you know what? As scary as it is to write this, I cannot say I completely blame them. The American Military is an aggression-force not an occupying force. We cannot force these people to throw down the principles they have believed as a people for thousands of years in favor of a truly foreign way of life. Of course, we were gonna piss off a few people with that attitude. And from what I have come to understand about human psychology, we are assholes for thinking these people would simply adopt the American way of conducting business.
I have no doubt the Iraqi people appreciated being thought of during their voting process but we stuck our noses where it did not belong when we did not recognize it was a bad idea to force Sunni & Shia Muslims into confined spaces and work together. They dislike eachother more than Democrats & Republicans (another shitshow all in itself) and will kill eachother more brutally than the Bloods & the Crips. The biggest mistake we made in the Iraq invasion is not only did we not understand our enemy’s capabilities but we didn’t understand their culture.
I think my biggest issue with the whole situation was the realization we were playing a part in radicalizing not only the willing participants who took advantage of the fast-pass system that developed through security flaws, but ones who genuinely wanted to be left alone but were often caught up in the madness. We could only try to control what happened within the compound but not who purposely made their way into the detention facility. Over time word spread about the ease of entrance into the prison system. Sometimes as simple as being at the wrong place at the wrong time would land you in this place so it was no wonder the place quickly became a terrorism education center despite our best efforts. Suddenly young men could make their way from across Iraq to meet with resistance leaders while receiving food, medical care and a bed to sleep in. No, they did not hold active classes on beheading Americans out in the open. More they learned to read and write. They learned to run, work together and perform skilled tasks. They received more education than most other Iraqis by the time their average of one year hearing was up. At that point the young men had communicated well with resistance leaders who established a strong network of communication to the outside through cell phones. Often detainees would write eachother’s phone numbers in their clothing right before they get out so they can contact eachother on the outside.
The networks of resistance that were formed were ones we could neither anticipate nor defeat. These were in many cases average young men with little education and often performed odd jobs to stay alive in the chaotic economy that resulted from their country being invaded. Some of the men once served in the Iraqi Army under Saddam while he was still in power. Because we (Coalition Forces) formally abolished the Iraqi Army in 2003 when we invaded, we put hundreds of thousands of people out of work. With little agriculture and manufacturing opportunities, what else did we expect many of these young men to participate in? They had a basic military education, knew how to coordinate together and were more than eager to participate in actions against the people who further destabilized their already unstable government for money they needed to feed their families and couldn’t find elsewhere.
After the Ba’athists took power in 1968, Saddam focused on attaining stability in a nation riddled with profound tensions. Long before Saddam, Iraq had been split along social, ethnic, religious, and economic fault lines: Sunni versus Shi’ite, Arab versus Kurd, tribal chief versus urban merchant, nomad versus peasant. The desire for stable rule in a country rife with factionalism led Saddam to pursue both massive repression and improvement of living standards. He improvised a vastly creative social services program that would rival many previous dictators.
The problem with many revolutionaries seemed to be the same with Saddam. He went from imprisoned dreamer to effecting a change within religious and social minority groups into the majority without the infrastructure to supplant his desired effect, displacing hundreds of thousands of Muslims and Christians alike during his Ba’ath uprising. For this he earned the name “Butcher of Baghdad.”
I won’t pretend to know everything about the situation that took place but I will say no matter who a leader is, there are always those who value him for his ability to bring them happiness and there are those who despise him for bringing them misfortune. Saddam used food, water electricity and other necessary needs as ways to control his population. Like most if not all Socialist leaders before him and present, he would cut off services to whole sections of the nation or even worse, send his thugs to punish detractors and enforce his desires. He would identify and then target groups of people who did not agree to his Marxist desires and use death squads on any potential sources of discontent.
I cannot stress enough I am NOT interested in discussing anyone else’s thoughts or beliefs about the war in the middle east as I recount my own experiences. Believe me when I say I got enough superiority complex and obsessive political opinion bullshit from my poorly educated and inexperienced father in law. I am simply not interested in the unsolicited opinion of a non-combatant. Nor am I here to say we were right or wrong or the Iraqis we affected were anything but scared and for the most part innocent people. The bottom line is I am simply here to discuss what I saw.
In early 2003, Coalition Forces invaded Iraq. Due to the overwhelming violence of action during our invasion, large numbers of Iraqi troops simply chose not to resist the advance of coalition forces. In southern Iraq the biggest threat to us (U.S. forces) as we advanced northward was from irregular groups of Baʿth Party supporters, known as Ṣaddām’s Fedayeen. British forces—which had deployed around the southern city of Al-Baṣrah—faced similar resistance from paramilitary and irregular fighters. My unit staged at King Faisal AB, Jordan where we trained and pulled security for several months leading up to the invasion. We assisted in building up a small bare-bones staging installation from the ground up to serve follow-on forces and then we beat feet outta there once the invasion was green-lit.
After deployment number 5 I swore I would never return to Iraq if I could help it. My records clearly showed I did my time and put in my work when I was asked.
And here I was yet again in late 2007, enjoying my generous view of sand dunes under the Iraq sun. This time I was near the gentle rolling hills and sandy beaches of Umm Qasr (sarcasm intended). It was August and nearing the beginning of Ramadan. The evenings would be getting cool and hopefully so would tempers. The FOB (Forward Operating Base) as well as our convoys and outposts had only been sporadically attacked lately and intelligence was optimistic we would enter a period of little activity going into the holidays. In just a few short weeks the first wave of rocket attacks would begin and I would know just how wrong we were about that.
For now, I stared out at the amazing orange sky as the sun set over the port city of Umm Qasr. It would be night soon and I was excited about fish filets and cake with sprinkles at the chow hall. According to my journal there was a short period of a couple weeks when nights before Ramadan were quiet and almost peaceful.
You’re Welcome. Internet.
Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi (the mastermind of the Islamic State)
The Butcher of Baghdad: Youtube Simon Wistler of BioGraphics
Camp Bucca, Iraq
Difference between Sunni & Shia Muslims
The Iraq War