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Are U.S. troops learning from cultural blunders in Iraq?

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U.S. soldiers patrol a road in Mosul“Sir, I’m going to have to ask you to leave that bottle of water in the vehicle,” Captain Adam Canon told me as I got out of the Humvee. We were about to meet some Iraqi army officers in the northern city of Mosul, one of Iraq’s insurgent hotspots. “It’s because it’s Ramadan. The men we’re about to meet haven’t had anything to drink in this heat the whole day and there’s still three hours to go.”

I was embarrassed not to have thought of it myself, but I was also encouraged: U.S. troops have often been accused of failing to understand Iraq’s cultural landscape.

Canon then managed a short chat with the Iraqi soldiers we met in their native Kurdish (later, in Arabic, he exchanged pleasantries with an Arab policeman). He engaged in small-talk with every Iraqi we came across on our tour, despite a packed schedule, before getting down to business (it’s rude not too). He embraced them on leaving. It was all common courtesy, but it bucked a common perception of U.S. troops as culturally insensitive.

A crew member of a U.S. Black Hawk helicopter in the Green ZoneIn his book about Baghdad’s fortified Green Zone compound in the year after the 2003 invasion, “Imperial Life in the Emerald City”, former Washington Post Baghdad bureau chief Rajiv Chandrasekaran writes: “At the cafeteria at the Republican Palace … a buffet featured … a bottomless barrel of pork: sausage for breakfast, hot dogs for lunch, pork chops for dinner. Hundreds of Iraqi secretaries … were Muslims and were offended by the presence of pork. But the American contractors kept serving it.”

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