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Merrill, Dakak speak on Iraq at Town Hall meeting

The war in Iraq has been won, but the war on global terrorism is still ongoing.

These were two of the key points U.S. Army Col. Will Merrill made to a few Farragut residents at a public meeting at Town Hall Monday, May 7.

“What you are getting are my observations on Iraq,” he said. “This isn’t the army’s position. These are my observations and perceptions.”

Merrill said he was stationed in Iraq for an extended period of time and became aware of certain trends that aren’t being reported by television and print media.

“The war is Iraq is over,” he said. “We defeated Saddam Hussein, he’s dead.”

The war on global terrorism, however, is still ongoing.

“The terrorist activities aren’t being caused by Iraquis,” he said. “They’re being caused by foreigners coming into Iraq.”

Merrill said there are 60 terrorist groups the United States is fighting, some of those groups causing trouble in Iraq. The evening and local news, he said, never bother to differentiate the groups. They just refer to them all as al-Qaida.

Susan Dakak, native of Iraq and senior engineer and vice president of Intuitive Technologies, Inc., a Knoxville consulting firm, worked as the Pan Arab media engagement officer for the U.S. Central Command in Iraq and said she got to know Merrill in Iraq and agreed with his assessment.

“The children that become terrorists tend to live in poverty conditions in neighboring countries,” she said. “They are brainwashed into thinking of Israel and America as the enemy.”

During Hussein’s reign, she said he would go out to the parents in these poor regions and offer to give then $10,000 to $25,000 for their children to become suicide bombers.

“This is more money than these people think they would ever see in their lifetime,” Dakak said. “They have a lot of children, so parents are donating their kids to become suicide bombers.”

Merrill said the terrorists adjust their tactics as American troops change their routine.

“It’s a game of one-up-manship,” he said.

For example, terrorists used car bombs and waited to detonate them until American troops drove by in their Humvees.

“We started putting armor on the Humvees, so they started leaving bombs in the middle of the road to detonate as you drove over it,” he said.

The latest tactic of terrorists, Merill said, is to use an improvised explosive device with a laser tripwire. Terrorists would put it out in a main traffic thoroughfare where they could see it, but not arm it until troops in a Humvee come along. To combat this, Humvees are now equipped with a shark fin four feet in front of the vehicle to trip the laser and detonate the device before the Humvee gets within range of the explosion.

“You don’t hear a lot about it on the news,” he said.

Dakak pointed out other things that don’t make national or local evening news — the good things the soldiers are doing in Iraq.

“When I lived in Iraq as a girl in the early sixties, they were just putting in concrete culverts for drainage,” she said. “Iraquis now have a wastewater treatment plant and water treatment plant. Children can get a clean drink of water since America helped overthrow Saddam.”

She said the good things the soldiers have done, such as helping re-open schools and render healthcare aid to children, go largely unreported. Saddam closed all schools and newspapers and he served as the only source of information for the people in his country.

“They only report the shocking things,” Merrill said. “Some things they just make up.”

An example, he said, involved a rocket-propelled grenade fired from a moving car at a hotel. The RPG hit a palm tree, which exploded in flames, but nothing else happened.

“On the television report that night, the camera just showed flames, so you couldn’t tell what it was,” he said. “The reporter said on camera there were multiple RPGs fired in the incident and the number of casualties was unknown. It was unknown because as far as I know, there were no injuries. The guy made his thirty seconds of fame and moved on.”

“It would be as if other countries only reported the number of murders happening in the United States,” Dakak said. “It would give a real jaded view of the country.”

Merrill said people live normal lives in Iraq, although a degree of caution is needed.

“If I hear a car bomb in the distance, I know I’m O-K,” he said. “It’s mortar and R-P-G attacks that cause concern because they usually come in threes. If I hear one, I know I need to take cover.”

Merrill said one of the techniques used on the evening news is to report the number of deaths in Iraq. To date, approximately 3,500 troops have been killed in Iraq. That number, he said, pales in comparison to the 210,000 deaths in traffic accidents across the country in 2006.

“I’m happy knowing I’m twice as safe in Iraq as I am driving in rural Atlanta,” he said. “Soldiers know this is a possibility when we volunteer and we never think it could happen to us. I’m proud of the job we’re doing over there and if I were to die doing what I love, I wouldn’t mind it.”


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