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The Montgomery County Sentinel July 22, 2005

In Iraq, Go After Explosives First, People Second

By Margie Burns

Among the biggest hazards facing U.S. troops in Iraq are improvised explosive devices (IEDs), homemade bombs that are also being used – as we find out daily – against Iraqi civilians, Iraqi police and Iraqi politicians. Incarcerating combatants, regardless of their nationality or whether they're called terrorists or insurgents, is not preventing the bombings.

Here's a proposal: back-burner the imprisonments of individuals, and instead, use everything in the sphere of ingenuity to go after the explosives, all the explosives.

Put everything the military has into going after every piece of ordnance, old or new, that is already explosive or that can become an explosive. Go after every landmine left over from previous wars. (This would have additional benefits.) Go after every tank projectile, mortar round, or artillery projectile. Go after every leftover rocket warhead or part of one. Go after every cement-encased bomb projectile. Find, unearth and empty every munitions dump in the country. Immediate defense has to emphasize destroying existing landmines, removing ordnance caches, and preventing more from being shipped in.

I realize that the homemade bombs often use ordinary household products for timing, wiring and detonating. You cannot get rid of every battery and cell phone in Iraq. As the estimable web site at globalsecurity.org points out, "Some of the IEDs have been remotely detonated using relatively simple, readily available low-technology devices, such as garage door openers, car alarms, key fobs, door bells, toy car remotes, FRS and GMRS two-way radios, cellular telephones and pagers – which enable radio frequency command detonation. Therefore, this implies that observation of the target area probably requires line-of-sight observation points in many cases. However, the adaptation of using radios, cell phones and other remote control devices has given the enemy the standoff ability to watch forces from a distance and not be compromised."

But ordinary tactics can be contested with other ordinary tactics. For a start, it's high time to quit shipping fertilizer – which can be used in bombs — to Iraq and neighboring countries. They don't need fertilizer (or pesticides, or herbicides); they need water. And water is part of any solution to the major problems in Iraq.

Water could also be a good defensive tactic, for troops trying to get things cooled down while our policymakers figure out how to get them out of there. Start with the simple; as each landmine is detonated and removed, replace it with clean bottles of water. When the convoys roll – that is, the trucks and other insufficiently armored vehicles bringing soldiers through Iraq, where everybody can see them -- have the convoys walled with bottles of water and boxes of medicine, and make stops on the way to drop off water and supplies to the Iraqis themselves. Do not ever let a convoy move without bringing water and medicine to Iraqis as well as to troops. That way, any device that blows up around a convoy will be seen to destroy supplies of water and medicine. In fact, start with passing out supplies of bottled water and harmless health and medical ingredients to Iraqi civilians: Neosporin, aspirin, bandages, Pedialyte and fruit juice for infants and small children. Take the necessary supplies to the people, without any offensive p.r. campaign, and let them see you doing so.

At the substantial risk of making this sound like a joke or of incurring ridicule, a modest amount of sharing food might actually help, too. Coca-Cola may be an emblem of U.S. consumerism, but it's also a good stomach-settler for small children who can't keep anything else down. Tortillas are some of the world's most durable starch. Import some harmless and useful cargo, and replace the electrolytes in some of those small persons most at risk under the loss of electricity in Iraqi heat.

Simple remedies might also serve as first-tier protection for Iraqi police or Iraqi troops and others employed by or working with the U.S. We don't use human shields. But we could use shields – figurative or actual – made of plastic bottles of water, sacks of rice, and bandages.

It is a given that none of this will work miracles overnight. There is no miracle cure. But little devices have proven themselves highly destructive. It's time to adopt little measures (not requiring multi-million-dollar contracts that benefit presidential relatives and cronies) that help.


Copyright 2005, The Montgomery County Sentinel