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By Greg Bear
June 16, 2014
In QUANTICO (first edition 2005 - ebook available from Open Road Media) I postulated that Iraq would fall apart into sectarian violence soon after the U.S. withdrawal.
I also speculated that the Middle East would fall into general turmoil. I picked Saudi Arabia as the center of turmoil, but it turns out to have been Egypt, Syria, and Libya. I thought we might spend five years in Iraq. I could not envision us spending more than a decade there. In 2003, at a conference of scientists, experts, and political hopefuls in Maryland, I said that our anticipated incursion in Iraq would likely cost us 10,000 dead and about a trillion dollars, and that at least 100,000 Iraqis would die.
As well, it was very clear to me that once we departed from Iraq, the Sunnis and Baathists would reassert control; they have held power in the region for many decades and know how to kick ass and be cruel. I am not a Middle East expert, but I read a lot of history.
These were not popular points of view in 2005, certainly among supporters of Bush-Cheney and the war. But the future I laid out was not particularly creative or hard to encompass or visualize. The people in charge of our government at that time had apparently forgotten how things played out after out last attempt at nation building in Vietnam.
Here’s how I described our situation in Iraq. As for the involvement of Iran, that has only now begun to play out--but could completely reverse the course described in QUANTICO. History is nothing if not perverse!
(Written in 2004-2005).
The Superhawk hit a wall of air over the endless wrinkled blanket of the Zagros mountains. It shuddered like a stunned ox and fell for a few hundred feet until the blades growled, bit air again, and whanga-whanged like a Jamaican steel band. Fouad had never heard a sound like that and it made him go pale. He clutched at the belt over his slung seat.
Across from him, Special Agent Orrin Fergus signed a thumbs up and then tapped his nose. Fergus shouted, “The shit is mostly over. We’re coming into Diyala. That’s an Iraqi muhafazah. Province or whatever.”
“Governorate,” said the master sergeant on Fouad’s left. He was a compact, well-muscled man about Fouad’s age, fully tricked out in flak plate and desert camouflage, helmet overlaid with headphone and gogs and a rucksack full of folded plastic maps. His dedicated satlink kept him fully informed about activity in the area--what little activity there was. He was a connected kind of guy and looked like a robot samurai.
The crew chief moved to the rear. “Down in thirty. Use the green bucket if you are so moved. Captain Jeffries does not like a slippery deck.” He looked hard at Fouad. “First time?”
The crew chief used his boot to shift the bucket next to Fouad.
“I will be fine,” Fouad said, looking up with wide black eyes.
The crew chief grinned and walked back to his position on fire control.
“They call Kifri UXO Central,” Master Sergeant said. “Decades of back and forth between the Kurds and the Sunnis. The national animal is the Gambian rat. They use ’em to sniff out mines and ordnance. Happy little beasts, work like sonsabitches. Last time we were through here an Iraqi film company was making an epic about Arabs stomping Persians fourteen hundred years ago. Pretty big deal. Then the director stepped on a Coalition bomblet and blew off his leg. Took out a cameraman, too. Shit. They were feeling pretty low that day.”
“Do they mind that we are here?” Fouad asked.
“The folks in Baghdad mostly don’t give a fuck,” Master Sergeant said with a grin. “They’re supposed to be our allies, so we turn a blind eye when they kick Kurdish butt.”
Orrin Fergus moved over to Fouad’s side and shouted into his ear. “We’re going to meet up with Tim Harris’s team in Kifri. You’ll conduct the interrogation for us. Harris’s accent just makes ’em blink. How’s your skill at the local dialect?”
“I don’t know,” Fouad said, feeling unsure of himself, and for reasons other than his stomach. “Here they may speak Arabic, but also Kurdish, Turkish, or even Aramaic or Assyrian. If they are Yazidis--”
“This year, they mostly speak Arabic,” said Master Sergeant. “At least that’s what we’ve been told. I love surprises, don’t you? We’ll find out when we get there.”
“If we find bodies, I’ll be busy,” Fergus said. “So keep your eyes and ears open. Talk to the locals, if any, but keep your cards close. I hear there’s a fellow named Tabrizi or something like that waiting in town. They don’t need to know anything from us. Since we haven’t been issued MOPP gear, just filter masks and BAMs, anything requiring major decon will delay our start by ten minutes while the crew seals the cabin. We’ll have to wait for decon until we get back to Incirlik. And if we’re dirty or acting weird--well, I hear Kifri is outstanding this time of year.”
Fergus specialized in bioweapons and had been qualified as a medical examiner before joining the FBI. Fouad muttered the acronyms under his breath: MOPP was Mission Oriented Protective Posture, BAM was Biological Agent Monitor.
The Superhawk circled the town.
“Drop in five,” the captain announced. “Master Sergeant is your god. We drop and then we go park and we will pickup, and you will be there on his command.”
Fouad nodded compliance, though the pilot could not see him.
Most of Kifri looked like a collection of shoeboxes kicked open by unruly children. Shattered brown domes and hollowed-out two-story houses clustered around the skeleton of a bazaar. Only a few of the houses and buildings were still standing. Six years of civil war and Kurdish cleansing and decades of tyranny before that--including phosphorus bombs from Saddam--had sucked most of the life out of the town. The Superhawk flew south over a ruined military installation, an antique, war-stamped moonscape.
These were the leftovers from when Americans had briefly dreamed they could save the world from terrorism, one miserable tyranny at a time. Now, a few Yanks still flew in, around, and about, and the Iraqis did very little if anything to stop them--everybody knew they were just buzzing, like flies.
Kifri was a poster child for the cancer of history and hatred and nation-building. Nations don’t get built--they grow like mold. Iraq was a whimpering mess, abandoned on the sidelines of a new war. Iran was the center of action now. Defiantly nuclear, it was being taken on--diplomatically, so far, but with many threats covert and otherwise--by the UN, Europe, Russia, and even China. The Americans had opted in as junior partners, allowing that its allies had a bigger stake because they were within range of Iran’s missiles.
Americans no longer had much heart for direct fighting in Iraq, so they flew support and reconnaissance and pounded the ground in a few areas, hunting up intelligence.
Fouad tried to keep from shivering. Fergus and Master Sergeant shared a smoke. The sun through the windows swept brilliant squares over their chests as the Superhawk circled, and then they slowed and dropped. Master Sergeant unstrapped, found his balance, and motioned for the crew chief to throw open the door. The mid-morning glare blinded Fouad. Then he saw pale brown houses, broad unpaved streets, dry potholes, craters, broken windows under shattered wooden awnings, a two-story government building, Iraqi guards sitting and standing around the brick steps, smoking cigarettes and watching--and a Humvee flying a blue and yellow flag from its high antenna.
Fergus grabbed Fouad’s arm. “Let’s go.”
....Beatty returned to his vehicle, walking beside Fouad, Harris, and Fergus for a few yards. “Doesn’t matter what we do now, what we give or what we try,” Beatty said. “They needed twenty years to learn democracy. We gave them five. When the Baathists rose up again and the Shiites allied with Iran, we supported the Sunnis with money and weapons, bless our pointy little heads. That cranked up the old death machine all over again. When we pulled out, we left the whole country twisting on a short rope. God have mercy on us all.”