Friday, April 04, 2003

J. Aug sent me this Reuters story explaining the difficulties U.S. and British forces are having with the language barrier. Apparently, Iraqis don't speak English, and U.S/Brit forces don't speak Arabic either. What a shock. One regiment has only two Arabic speakers, says one tank officer:

"One is from Egypt and even he struggles because he says the dialect is different. The other one I reckon is speaking Pakistani and just pretends to get a language allowance."

He speaks Pakistani? Really? Does he speak Belgian as well? Maybe he could utter a few phrases in Swiss? (FYI: There ain't no such language as Pakistani.)

OK, this is a bit of a cheap shot, but worth taking nonetheless. To be fair, probably the most amazing interaction I've seen so far between locals and coalition forces did not involve words, yet succeeded nonetheless. It was aired on CNN last night: In An Najaf, forces confronted a mostly peaceful -- but potentially very angry -- mob of Iraqis chanting something along the lines of "The city yes, the mosque no!" After a stand-off wherein communication consisted mainly of hand gestures and pointing guns at the ground, rather than the crowd, the troops appeared to convince the mob that they weren't interested in destroying the city's mosque, one of the holiest sites in Shi'ite Islam, despite the fact the Fedayeen were holed up there and firing on US/Brit forces. The denouement came when the commanding officer, camera in toe, told the line of soldiers to turn around and walk back to their tanks. He then waved to the crowd and, I think, bowed. It was actually kinda nice. I would be interested in seeing a print/online version of the event.


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