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Guidebook offers valuable lessons about life in Iraq

By Staff | Dec 12, 2008

Tom Maiden

“You have been ordered to Iraq (i-RAHK) as part of the worldwide offensive to beat Hitler.”

This is the opening sentence from A Short Guide to Iraq, prepared by the Special Service Division of the Army Service Forces, United States Army in 1943.

This wonderful little handbook was created to inform American troops assigned to Iraq in 1943 to assist the British guarding it against Nazi infiltration. It was mailed to my current mailing address in Iraq by two loyal readers of this column from Shenandoah Junction, David and Susan Jamieson.

This is my fourth of six articles focusing on what I have learned and experienced in regard to Iraqi family life, food, cultural heritage, religion and ethnic groups.

One paragraph in the handbook sums up many of my thoughts during my first days in Iraq: “Don’t be discouraged. Most Americans and Europeans who have gone to Iraq didn’t like it at first.  One might as well be frank about it. They though it a harsh, hot, parched, dusty, and inhospitable land.  But nearly all of these same people changed their minds after a few days or weeks, and largely on account of the Iraqi people they began to meet. So will you.”

On the other hand, some of the guidance is eerie to this citizen sailor fighting in Iraq. For example, one paragraph states, “That tall man in the flowing robe you are going to see soon, with the whiskers and the long hair, is a first-class fighting man, highly skilled in guerilla warfare.  Few fighters in any country, in fact, excel him in that kind of situation. If he is your friend, he can be a staunch and valuable ally. If he should happen to be your enemy — look out! Remember Lawrence of Arabia? Well, it was with men like these that he made history in the First World War.”

In regard to the Iraqi people, I think this handbook hit the nail on the head with this paragraph: “But you will also find out quickly that the Iraqi is one fo the most cheerful and friendly people in the world. Few people you have seen get so much fun out of work and everyday living.  If you are willing to go just a little out of your way to understand him (or her), everything will be OK.”

After reading this 44-page handbook, I found it hard not to wonder how we knew so much about Iraq in 1943 that we arguably forgot in 2003. 

— You may write to Tom at his military mailing address in Iraq: Tom Maiden, Unit 931003 TFT-PT, APO AE 09391