War journalist and blogger Michael Yon checks in from Kuwait
HH: “Empty houses that are well-kept are a bad sign, and these homes were well-kept. People definitely were living in them, and al Qaeda was almost certainly out there trying to predict which way we would walk. I knew it, could feel it.” Those words by Michael Yon, one of the extraordinary freelance journalists working in Iraq a lot. Michael Yon joins me from Kuwait now. Michael Yon, welcome back, always a pleasure to speak with you.
MY: Thanks for having me on.
HH: That’s from your September 19th dispatch. Are you headed back into Iraq tonight?
MY: Yes. I’m in Kuwait right now, should be in Iraq probably in the next ten hours or so, and I’ll stay for another long haul. First, I’ll go with the British down in Basra, stay with them for a month. Then I’ll go with the United States Air Force, and then I’m going to head back with an Infantry unit. You know, yesterday, or actually today when I got here almost 24 hours ago, one of the people I know who got shot in Mosul just four months ago was actually returning to duty, Command Sergeant Major James Pippen, he got shot in the tibia, shattered his tibia only four months ago, he’s already returning to Mosul. It’s amazing.
HH: That is amazing. Which branch of the service is he with, Michael?
MY: He’s in the Army. He’s a command sergeant major of an Infantry battalion up in Mosul, and I just saw him, we were standing in line both to get on an airplane, or to register for it, and I couldn’t believe my eyes. You know, he’d just been shot and he’s already back.
HH: That’s pretty amazing. Now tell me, I’m glad you’re going to Basra, because we’ve heard so many stories out of Basra about whether or not it’s all gone to hell in a hand basket after the withdrawal of the British back from a forward deployment. What are you hearing prior to your deployment there?
MY: I don’t think those reports are accurate. You know, I was just over in London, and also, I’ve been with the British before in Basra earlier this year, and the reality, it’s probably time for them to draw down their forces. I think they’re doing the prudent thing. They’ve got a huge commitment in Afghanistan, and their army is a lot smaller than ours is. And the problems in Basra are not like the problems in other places. I don’t see it as a…it’s not like a crack in the egg. In fact, I hate to make predictions too far in advance, but I would not doubt that we would see a very precipitous drop in violence over the next few months throughout Iraq as more and more people come to the table. You know, out in Diyala Province, 20 of the 25 major tribes just signed an agreement to work with the Coalition and the Iraqi Army, so that’s tremendous. I mean, we see people in Nineveh Province starting to rise up against al Qaeda. Everybody is coming to the realization, many people are coming to the realization that it’s time for a change. You know, we made some mistakes early on, and we learned from them. Our own military has just morphed in the last couple of years, and they work very well with most of the Iraqis now, and the Iraqis have learned how to work with us. Hugh, I just wouldn’t doubt it to see that in the future, Iraq is actually going to be a good ally of the United States.
HH: Michael Yon, that’s extraordinarily good news. I had heard about the Diayala concord between the tribes, and I’ll be talking with John Burns tomorrow who will also give us some idea of what’s going on there. But generally speaking, is the American media staying apace of this story about how rapidly conditions are improving in certain parts of Iraq?
MY: I don’t think most of them stay around long enough. You know, a lot of the media is of course regurgitated from other media sources. So there’s not a lot that’s sticking out. John Burns obviously is an excellent source. I mean, he’s probably your best source on Iraq. And I think that you mentioned to me before he’s seen some of the same things, I think you told me a couple of months ago.
MY: And I’ve read some of his work, and Michael Gordon is another good one, and I think he’s seeing the same thing. He’s sticking it out. He’s also from the New York Times. No, the ones who stick it out and really get around there, they tend to be a lot less negative.
HH: Let me ask you about Iran, because today, Ahmadinejad was pontificating at Columbia, and getting softball questions, and hitting them out of the part, or avoiding the hard ones. What does the average American GI or Marine think about Iran and what they’re doing there, Michael Yon?
MY: I think most of them don’t actually think too much about it unless that’s their job. If they’re actually fighting, they’re probably thinking about it, especially out near the border. But you know, Ahmadinejad, I was just reading about the reception he got at Columbia, and it was what he deserved. You know, Iran is sponsoring al Qaeda. It’s known. The fact that he wanted to visit the 9/11 site, I just can’t believe it was…I’m just disgusted that he’s even on American soil.
HH: Do you realize he was applauded, Michael? I don’t know what report you read. The president of Columbia gave him a couple of whacks, but then, and there were some protestors outside, but he received much applause inside the auditorium at times when he was denouncing Israel and extolling the Palestinians.
MY: Oh, I didn’t see that, so I’m going to have to…I’m actually in transit, so I’m losing a little situational awareness for the next few days, but the report that I saw said that he got kind of a rough landing, which he deserves. I mean, that’s a very dangerous country. Well, not all Iranians from the reports that I read, but there’s certainly that small theocracy that is very potent and dangerous for us and Israel.
HH: Any doubt in your mind that Iran is supplying the weapons that the American military said yesterday they are including now surface to air missiles, which that’s an escalation of extraordinary importance.
MY: Yeah, especially considering I’ll be flying soon. You know, in 2005, I kind of doubted it, because I was all up and down that border asking Iraqi commanders and American commanders if they were catching any, and they were saying no. But at this point, I do not doubt it at all, and I actually believe that they are supplying.
HH: How is the morale of the American troops that you’ve been with? Do they think they’re winning?
MY: Oh, yeah, absolutely. You know, when I was in Mosul in 2005, I spent about five months there in 2005, we had nearly 9,000 soldiers. Now, we have about 700, of which roughly 400 are actually fighters. So you see, they know that they’re winning. When they’re down…it’s still dangerous out there, but the ISF, the Iraqi Security Forces, have taken over a huge role, the leading role out there, and we’re seeing the same thing happen in like Anbar. I was just communicating with someone in Anbar just about thirty minutes ago, and it’s just peaceful in most places. There’s nothing going on except people getting on with their lives. And so in Diayala, Baquba, I saw the liberation. I was there for the big attack on June 19th. You know, the people were just ecstatic. I mean, they were pointing out al Qaeda, they were pointing out the IEDs and everything else, and we were just cleaning the map on al Qaeda. So yeah, I mean, the morale is high.
HH: What about the effectiveness of the Iraqi Security Forces, and whether or not they’re integrating successfully Shia and Sunni? We’ve got about a minute left, Michael.
MY: Let me say one more thing about morale. It is still good, but we should not extend their terms, I can tell you that. But the Sunni and Shia? I’ve seen many military units, Iraqi units. I’ve brought it up to them many times. And they’re working side by side in most places. Now there are some areas that are problematic, but for the most part, they actually work and play well together. So you know, it’s not a problem. I’ve been out on many missions where it’s mixed units with Kurdish, Sunni, Shia. They’re all out there.
HH: Well, Michael Yon, we know that you’re supported by readers. I hope they go to www.michaelyon-online.com and support your next deployment. We look forward to reading about the deployment in Basra, and God speed, and look forward to talking to you at your earliest convenience. Michael Yon, always a pleasure.
MY: I appreciate it, and thanks for having me on. I’m always available to you.
HH: Thank you, Michael. Once again, America, go to www.michaelyon-online.com to read his latest dispatch from the front lines. He and a bunch of great American freelance journalists are bringing you the story, but yeah, I’ve got John Burns on tomorrow from the New York Times. I just want anyone who knows what they’re talking about to be here on the Hugh Hewitt Show.
End of interview.