Document Friday: A Soldier’s Handbook to Iraq– “FOUO [For Official Use Only]”
When the “Big Red One” —the US First Infantry Division—arrived in Iraq in 2003, its soldiers received this Soldier’s Handbook to Iraq. Its first page proclaimed, “Combined with your warrior ethos, a thorough cultural understanding of your environment is a major combat multiplier that makes you all the more lethal on the front lines in the war on terrorism.” In addition to providing US soldiers a fairly accurate presentation of what to expect in Iraq, the Handbook also provides insight into the Army’s thinking as it began the Iraq War.
The Handbook predicted that American soldiers would face a tough struggle in Iraq. It clearly contradicted Vice President Cheney’s March 2003 assertion that US soldiers “would be greeted as liberators.” On the contrary, it stated that Iraqis had “fears of American mistreatment,” held “suspicion of US intent in their land,” and would be “cautious”—not gracious—toward Coalition forces. The Handbook also correctly predicted the Iraqi people’s coolness toward Ahmed Chalabi, the Pentagon’s first choice to govern the new Iraq. He was “viewed with suspicion by some Iraqis due to his proximity to the US administration and to the fact that he has been absent from Iraq for the best part of 45 years.”
The purpose of the 100-page Handbook was to provide soldiers with advice about the culture, climate, and dangers of Iraq:
- As guests, soldiers were advised to only eat with their right hand, to leave some uneaten food on their plate, and to never decline a second offer of coffee or tea. According to the Handbook, soldiers should not offer liquor or pork to their hosts. They were also instructed, “DO NOT: Try to convert a Muslim to your faith.”
- To combat dehydration and heat stroke, “approximately nine quarts of water per soldier per day is needed in desert terrain.” Soldiers were warned that the intense heat, dust, and sand were “very serious impediments to efficient equipment functions in the desert.” Photographs of Iraq’s poisonous snakes, spiders, and scorpions were also included; “NO MASCOTS!” the Handbook implored.
The Handbook also shared intelligence with soldiers on the threats they would face. It included photos of Iraqi weapons and their Arabic pronunciations. Soldiers saw a labeled schematic of an Improvised Explosive Device (the photographs and schematics of WMDs appear to be redacted). Soldiers were also briefed on “Former Regime Loyalists”; “Ethnic infighting/violence”; “Criminal Activity”; and “Religious Fundamentalist Cells, Foreign Fighters and Iranian Insurgents.” Cryptically, soldiers were told not to “use Poison or alter your weapons to increase enemy suffering.” And forebodingly, they were instructed to “Do your best to prevent War Crimes,” and to “Report War Crimes immediately to your chain of command, IG [Inspector General], Chaplain or SJA [Staff Judge Advocate].”
In addition to providing a useful primer on Iraq, the Handbook also anticipated the problems of occupation. First, it predicted that an Iraqi or American woman’s “opinions and input will most likely be ignored.” Attempting to reform inefficient or corrupt Iraqi practices would also be difficult: “When an Arab is confronted by criticism, you can expect him to react by interpreting the facts to suit himself or flatly denying the facts.” Finally, US soldiers must have cringed when they read that, “when dealing with Arabs or Iraqis, remember that the ‘yes’ you hear does not always mean yes and might mean no.” Iraq would be a tough country to occupy.
The Handbook relies heavily on generalizations for its depiction of Iraq. One sentence definitively states that “An Arab worldview is based upon six concepts: atomism, faith, wish versus reality, justice and equality, paranoia and the importance of family over self.” But despite its inherent ethnocentrism, the Handbook succeeded in giving soldiers a roughly accurate and clear-eyed presentation of the tremendous difficulties they would face during their invasion and occupation of Iraq. It’s a shame copies weren’t distributed to American politicians.