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January 29, 2007

Peace Day: Baquba on the Eve of Historic Elections

Baquba, Iraq

With 24 hours before the elections, US soldiers are expecting intense combat in Baquba. Yet so far, despite the good weather that the insurgents like to fight in, there have been no notable attacks. I spent most of yesterday on Forward Operating Base Gabe in Baquba, resting, repairing and preparing my gear for the big Sunday. Throughout Friday, I heard explosions and gunfire, sometimes tracers arced into the sky, but no serious attacks emerged.

As evening approached, while I was on base, one American platoon that I run with frequently was hit with an IED. The men were in up-armored Humvees and sustained only ringing ears and some Humvee damage. One of the young soldiers, Specialist Sandoval of the Renegade platoon–a platoon which has seen much combat–reenlisted literally 45 minutes after being attacked with the roadside bomb. In fact, of the 16 members of this platoon who are eligible to reenlist, 14 already have or will soon. Only two are leaving the Army. Morale among these men is staggeringly high despite the carnage they so frequently witness.

At midnight last evening, I accompanied the Ghost Platoon on two patrols to restock and check security of several polling stations in Baquba. There were calls on the radio that some units were in slight contact with the enemy, yet we saw nothing but deserted streets and, tellingly, there were practically no cars parked on the lanes. Normally cars are parked up and down the roads. The local population clearly is preparing for trouble, and several local Iraqis have told me that goods have become scarce before the elections as people have hoarded essentials from the shops.

We encountered no enemy opposition last night, though one polling station was attacked briefly shortly after we departed.

I will spend tonight in downtown Baquba at the local police station. This police station is easily the most dangerous place in Baquba and, by extension, one of the most dangerous places in Iraq. There is no doubt that Iraqis and Americans will be attacked in Baquba over the next 24 hours, and the insurgents have long seen this police station as a sore spot plopped down in the middle of their neighborhood. The insurgents attack the station almost daily, but if they attack it tonight, they should expect a vigorous and enthusiastic defense.

US commanders have helped the Iraqis set up election headquarters at the Baquba police station. What tonight will bring on the roof of that station, I do not know.

An American sergeant told me yesterday, “If we can make these elections go without losing too many people, if we can deliver those ballots safely, we will not have won this game. But we will have put seven points on the scoreboard. That’s all I want. I want those seven points on Sunday. That’s the day this whole thing really starts. All this we been doin’ up to now is important. But the real game starts Sunday. That’s all I want. Seven points on Sunday. Seven to nothin’.”


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