Army Maj. Steven Warren, 39, is not happy, because he believes the media are painting an inaccurate picture of what's happening in Iraq. In a call arranged by the Florida-based Central Command of U.S. forces in Iraq, Warren spoke from Diyala province in the Sunni Triangle, where he has been stationed since January.
"I walk into the mess hall every day," he told me. He watches American TV news reports from Iraq, "and I ask myself, 'Where are they?'"
Recently, Warren saw a cable TV story on what the reporter called a fierce firefight in Diyala province. Warren believes the reporter got it all wrong. An IED (improvised explosive device) had gone off near Iraqi troops. Whenever that happens, "the first thing the Iraqis do, they start pulling their triggers" and shooting toward the wood line, he said.
That's not a fierce firefight; it's not even a firefight, Warren tells me, because a firefight requires that two sides shoot at each other.
You hear the bad news stories. Warren wants Americans to read some good news, too. A translator with his outfit began monitoring a local talk-radio show, "Good morning, Orange City." Callers complained bitterly about U.S. troops and Iraqi police. Locals also complained about the trash in Baquba, and that resonated with U.S. troops, who were drilled from boot camp to appreciate "clean and tidy."
Warren said, "We came up with the idea" of cleaning up the town. They got garbage trucks, hired trash collectors. The city is cleaner. Iraqis are seeing a future, and now their biggest complaint on "Good Morning, Orange City" is unemployment.
On Oct. 15, as Iraqis voted on their constitution, "I saw a lot of people walking around with purple fingers," Warren said. This is big, because the voter turnout in the Sunni-rich Diyala province doubled, from 34 percent in January to 65 percent this month. Voters came out, Warren believes, because it was safer to vote, but also because many Sunnis who boycotted the Jan. 30 elections later realized "they missed the boat, they got left behind."
On Oct. 14, Warren said: "I wasn't too concerned one way or the other if (the proposed constitution) passed. I'm not sure it's the best constitution that's ever been written." Now, Warren hopes, the new constitution and Sunni participation "will take a little wind out of the sails of the insurgency."
The streets are cleaner. Talk-radio callers are grousing about schools and unemployment. There's shopping and greenery by the two rivers. Despite all the bad news, a visitor to Warren's territory would look around, he said, and say, "Wow, this place really has a future."