The present-day U.S. military qualifies by any measure as highly professional, much more so than its Cold War predecessor. Yet the purpose of today’s professionals is not to preserve peace but to fight unending wars in distant places. Intoxicated by a post-Cold War belief in its own omnipotence, the United States allowed itself to be drawn into a long series of armed conflicts, almost all of them yielding unintended consequences and imposing greater than anticipated costs. Since the end of the Cold War, U.S. forces have destroyed many targets and killed many people. Only rarely, however, have they succeeded in accomplishing their assigned political purposes. . . . [F]rom our present vantage point, it becomes apparent that the “Revolution of ‘89” did not initiate a new era of history. At most, the events of that year fostered various unhelpful illusions that impeded our capacity to recognize and respond to the forces of change that actually matter.

Andrew Bacevich

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

News & Views 09/05/07

Photo: A man rushes an injured child into the hospital in Sadr City in Baghdad, Iraq on Wednesday, Sept. 5, 2007. The child was injured after a roadside bomb exploded on the fringes of the capital's Shiite slum of Sadr City early Wednesday, killing at least 11 and injuring 19, police and hospital workers said. (AP Photo/ Karim Kadim)


IRAQ: With Donkeys for Transport, All Is Well

A brave new attempt is under way to project that all is well now with Fallujah. Residents know better -- or worse. Former Iraqi minister of state for foreign affairs Rafi al-Issawi visited Fallujah, 60 km west of Baghdad, Aug. 22. Issawi, who resigned Aug. 1 when the Sunni Iraqi Accord Front withdrew from the government, visited the city with other members of the Sunni Accordance Bloc, al-Tawafuq. The group toured the city and met with senior officials and community leaders in a show of conversion of the city from the most violent to the most peaceful in Iraq. The Iraqi Islamic Party's TV channel, al-Baghdad, accompanied Issawi on his tour and broadcast some of the scenes from inside Fallujah. The footage exposed the painful truth of the real situation here. The streets were deserted, shops were closed, and people appeared with sullen faces. "Of course we are happy to have our city peaceful, but not this way," lawyer Ahmed Hammad told IPS. "The local police guided and supported by the American Army have prevented car movement for nearly three months now. They should not be proud of having the city quiet in a way that kills everybody with hunger and disease." Hammad referred to the vehicle ban which was imposed by the U.S. military in Fallujah in May. Some residents in Fallujah praised the police, others described policemen as savages.

……A tour of the city on foot gives the impression of the dark ages. People are back to riding donkeys.

Iraq: Government Death Squads Ravaging Baghdad

Death squads from the Ministry of Interior posing as Iraqi police are killing more people than ever in the capital, emerging evidence shows. The death toll is high - in all 1,536 bodies were brought to the Baghdad morgue in September. The health ministry announced last month that it will build two new morgues in Baghdad to take their capacity to 250 bodies a day. Many fear a government hand in more killings to come. The U.S. military has revealed that the 8th Iraqi Police Unit was responsible for the Oct. 1 kidnapping of 26 Sunni food factory workers in the Amil quarter in southwest Baghdad. The bodies of ten of them were later found in Abu Chir neighbourhood in the capital. Minister for the Interior Jawad al-Bolani announced he is suspending the police unit from official duties, and confining it to base until an investigation is completed. But sections of the ministry appear responsible for the abductions and killing. Ministry of Interior vehicles were used for the kidnapping in this case, and most men conducting the raid wore Iraqi police uniforms, except for a few who wore black death squad 'uniforms', witnesses told IPS.

No Relief From Fear

Driven by fear and desperation, Um Abdullah's parents, who are Sunnis, swapped homes with a Shiite family they have known for years. Her parents moved to a section of Baghdad's Saidiya neighborhood controlled by Sunni insurgents. And their friends moved into her family home in the Risala area, controlled by Shiite militias. Each family left behind their furniture, so they could move swiftly and in secret. It seemed a perfect solution in a capital whose polarization along sectarian lines has deepened this year, despite the influx of 30,000 U.S. military reinforcements. But within days of the arrival of Um Abdullah's parents two months ago, Shiite militias pushed deeper into Saidiya, driving out hundreds of Sunni families. The parents' fear returned. "If they leave their house in Saidiya, that means they will lose their house in Risala because they made the exchange," said Um Abdullah, who would allow only her nickname to be used because of safety concerns. "My parents feel trapped."

…..In the past few months, real estate agent Alla Thabit has funneled dozens of displaced families into homes in Baghdad's upscale Karrada neighborhood. Nearly all were from tense mixed areas. At the start of the security offensive in February, five families walked into his office each day, on average. Now, that number has tripled. "The security plan has failed in the neighborhoods. This is why they are moving," Thabit said. "I have not seen anyone moving back to their homes."

IRAQ: Violence, poverty, unemployment fuel rising alcoholism

As the violence continues in Iraq, many people have been turning to alcohol to relieve their stress, say observers. “The consumption of alcohol in Iraq has surprisingly increased in the past few months,” said Kamel Ali, head of the Health Ministry’s drug and alcohol-prevention programme. “Every day more patients look for help as their addiction begins to seriously affect their personal lives.” “Iraq has one of the worst treatment and follow-up regimes for alcohol abusers in the Middle-East,” he said. “Alcohol abusers are treated as drunks rather than as people suffering from psychological stress… They need the support of a psychologist or psychiatrist to help them stop drinking.” Officials at Ibn Rushd Psychiatric Hospital in Baghdad - the only medical facility in the country that treats drug addicts and alcohol abusers - said alcoholism was increasing but lack of professional staff and investment had prevented success.

Iraqi Crude Oil Flowing Through Turkey

Iraq's oil minister said Tuesday that crude oil began to flow from his country's northern oil-rich Kirkuk to a Turkish export terminal last week - for the first time since Saddam Hussein was toppled in 2003. "We're pumping between 300,000 to 400,000 barrels a day of Kirkuk crude to the Turkish export terminal of Ceyhan," Hussain al-Shahristani told Dow Jones Newswires in a telephone interview from Baghdad. The pipeline - Iraq's main export route from Kirkuk to the Turkish Mediterranean port of Ceyhan - has been mostly closed because of constant sabotage since the U.S.-led war. Two weeks ago, Iraq agreed with Syria to repair and subsequently reopen another key pipeline, a 550-mile-long link connecting Kirkuk and the Syrian port of Baniyas. Once the Baniyas line - built in the 1950s but bombed by U.S. forces during the invasion that ousted Saddam - is reopened, Iraq would be using two terminals on the Mediterranean Sea. Currently, Iraq exports nearly all its oil through the Persian Gulf.

Who Will Cry for Innocent Iraqis?

Half of Iraq's population of 27 million are children. UNICEF data show that nearly one-fifth of Iraqis are children under the age of five. These children are the most vulnerable members of Iraqi society. Twenty five percent of Iraqi children are malnourished and one in ten is acutely malnourished. A USA Today report indicates that 70 percent of Iraqi children suffer from symptoms of traumatic stress syndrome manifested in psychiatric and psychological symptoms. These children daily witness death and destruction in their neighborhood. This is not surprising since a third of our own soldiers in Iraq return with symptoms of mental illness and traumatic stress disorder. But it is difficult for citizens in the U.S. to empathize with those in Iraq. The U.S. has suffered over 3,700 deaths and 27,000 wounded. Multiply these numbers by one hundred and you can get a sense of the impact of the war inside of Iraq -- a country one-tenth the size of our population. Secretary Gates tears were sincere and heartfelt for Captain Douglas Zembiec. He would likely tear-up if he became as familiar with the anguish of Iraqi mothers and fathers' who have lost their children -- not soldiers, not terrorists, and not insurgents. The Secretary might even cry if he saw Iraqi children scrounging in the garbage for food or going into prostitution to survive.

U.S. forces raid Radio "Ahad" station in Baghdad

U.S. forces stormed on Wednesday the headquarters of Radio Ahad station in eastern Baghdad, holding all journalists and technicians and stopped broadcasting for more than two hours, the Journalistic Freedoms Observatory said. "U.S. forces surprisingly raided the radio station building and destroyed its furniture," a JFO's statement quoted Radio Ahad public relations manager Qassim Numan as saying. Numan, according to the statement, said "the forces held all those present at the building and confiscated the guards' arms." "The soldiers also beat some of the radio journalists and switched off the broadcast for more than two hours," it added. The statement also quoted Numan as saying "the U.S. force also took photos to all the workers who were present in the building during the raid." This is the second time the U.S. forces raided the Radio Ahad station in as many days.


Iraq PM discusses filling govt posts with top cleric

Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki met on Wednesday with the reclusive leader of Iraq's Shi'ite majority, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, to discuss a government crisis in which nearly half his cabinet has quit. Sistani is the sponsor of the prime minister's ruling United Alliance and rarely leaves his home in the holy Shi'ite city of Najaf in southern Iraq. Speaking after the meeting, Maliki told reporters he had come to Najaf to seek Sistani's advice on filling empty ministerial posts and to get his thoughts on the possibility of reforming the government. "I discussed with him the case of the government. I asked his help in forming a government and nominating new ministers, or if there is the possibility to form a new government based on technocrats," he said. Maliki did not say how Sistani responded, and the cleric's office declined to comment. One of the biggest blocs in the United Alliance, the movement of fiery Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, pulled out of the government in April in protest at Maliki's refusal to set a timetable for a U.S. troop timetable. The biggest Sunni Arab bloc in parliament, the Accordance Front, has also pulled out its ministers, accusing Maliki of sectarianism.

Many Trainees Are Complicit with “Enemy Targets”

The platoon of American soldiers was pinned down in an alley outside the holiest Shiite shrine in western Baghdad's Kadhimiyah neighborhood. Machine-gun fire sprayed from apartment windows and rooftops with a deafening clatter. The troops were 15 yards from their Humvees, but they didn't know if they could survive the dash. Less than a mile away, a powerful Shiite parliament member stood inside an American military base, in the office of the Iraqi army brigade commander responsible for Kadhimiyah. The Americans had called for Iraqi army backup, but according to the brigade commander and American officers, the lawmaker would help ensure that no assistance arrived from the Iraqis that crucial day. "No Iraqi army unit, of the 2,700 Iraqi security forces that are in Kadhimiyah, no Iraqi army unit would respond," said Lt. Col. Steven Miska, a deputy brigade commander based in this Shiite enclave of 200,000 people on the western shore of the Tigris River. "It shows you how difficult it is to root out the militia influence when they've got political top-cover." The two-hour firefight under the golden domes of the Musa al-Kadhim shrine on April 29 left at least eight Iraqis dead. While no Americans were injured, it marked the start of the deterioration of security in Kadhimiyah, once one of Baghdad's safest neighborhoods. It also made plain -- "the first time the complicity was staring us right in the face," as one American soldier put it -- that the Iraqi army's problem in the area was about more than just being under-trained or ill-equipped.

Missteps and Mistrust Mark the Push for Legislation

Meanwhile, bitterness was rising from many factions -- unions in the oil-rich port city of Basra, petroleum industry experts, Sunni politicians and those loyal to Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr -- that the law would allow foreign companies to make off with Iraq's oil wealth. A group of 419 Iraqi academics, engineers and oil industry experts would later sign an open letter to parliament stating that "it is clear that the government is trying to implement one of the demands of the American occupation." The draft oil law, the letter stated, "lays the foundation for a fresh plundering of Iraq's strategic wealth and its squandering by foreigners, backed by those coveting power in the regions, and by gangs of thieves and pillagers."

Central government loses clout to regions; Bush skips Baghdad

In the latest move in the strategy, American commanders are trying to export recent success co-opting Sunni sheiks to the much more strategically important Shiite tribes. American commanders for the first time are pushing these leaders to turn against extremists from their own sect, much like U.S. officers have convinced Sunni chiefs to turn against Sunni extremists in places like Anbar. Among the Shiite tribes south of Baghdad, the Americans' weapon of choice has become the "concerned citizens" agreement. A typical deal involves the U.S. forking over a monthly payment of $350 per tribal guard willing to fight. The money is channeled through local sheiks who in return promise to keep their areas safe from attacks against Americans. Conversely, senior military officials are worrying less about the dysfunctional central government that has been the focus of so much effort in the U.S. military and political strategy over the last three years. The change is the simple outgrowth of what the summer surge of more than 30,000 troops into Iraq has wrought. The U.S. has been most successful in areas where it has taken an intensely local approach, working with local leaders who share U.S. goals.

DEATH PENALTY: U.N. Faults Iraq for Continued Executions

A new United Nations report on human rights criticises the government in Baghdad for its continued executions of prisoners despite appeals by the United Nations and its human rights bodies for a moratorium on capital punishment. The death penalty in Iraq -- argues the report authored by Leandro Despouy, the U.N. special rapporteur overseeing the independence of judges and lawyers -- also denies crime victims the right to the truth. The study specifically criticises the recent execution of an Iraqi prisoner, who may have possessed key evidence relating to the 2003 bombing of the U.N. compound in battle-ravaged Baghdad. In a report to the upcoming 62nd session of the General Assembly which begins Sep. 18, Despouy says he is "extremely concerned about the circumstances surrounding the execution of Awraz Abdel Aziz Mahmoud Sa'eed," who had confessed to having participated in the attack against the U.N. offices. The Iraqi government, he complains, went ahead with his execution in spite of the fact that the United Nations had specifically requested the "cancellation" of the execution in order to elicit information on the bombing. "The execution also violated the right to the truth of the victims of the attack against the U.N. offices in Baghdad, and frustrated attempts to obtain significant evidence relating to the tragic attack that cost 22 people their lives, including Sergio Vieira de Mello," a senior U.N. official who was a national of Brazil.


Iraqi Progress: The View from Baghdad

Recounting for U.S. troops his meeting with Sunni tribal sheikhs, Bush said "they told me that the kind of bottom-up progress that your efforts are bringing to Anbar is vital to the success and stability of a free Iraq." Bush and others have begun speaking enthusiastically of that kind of "bottom-up" reconciliation, and Anbar is the chief example. But the Anbar tribes have made progress and reconciled with the American military, not with the Shi'ite government. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki met Monday with Anbar power broker Sheikh Abdul Sattar al-Rishawi, but that does not signify progress at ground level.

Britain to Half its Iraq Troops

BRITISH military strategists are drawing up plans to cut the number of British troops remaining in Iraq by almost half early next year no matter what the Bush administration decides to do about its military presence. The highly symbolic withdrawal this week of British troops from central Basra to a fortified airport base is likely to be followed next April or May by a cut from the current 5500 troops to about 3000 troops in an "overwatch" role. British government officials stressed yesterday that the future role of British forces would depend on conditions on the ground in Basra, Iraq's second-largest city, rather than the tougher landscape in Baghdad where US troops are almost certain to remain heavily engaged. Prime Minister Gordon Brown insisted the withdrawal from central Basra, which left the southern city without foreign forces for the first time since the invasion, was a sign of progress rather than the embarrassing defeat being claimed by many critics. Iraqi soldiers and police were now capable of controlling the city and British troops would be just a few kilometres away at the city's airport in case they were needed to help local security forces, he said.

Pattern cited in killings of civilians by U.S.

Newly released documents regarding crimes committed by United States soldiers against civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan detail a pattern of troops failing to understand and follow the rules that govern interrogations and deadly actions. The documents, released today by the American Civil Liberties Union ahead of a lawsuit, total nearly 10,000 pages of courts-martial summaries, transcripts and military investigative reports about 22 cases. They show repeated examples of troops believing they were within the law when they killed local citizens. The killings include the drowning of a man soldiers pushed from a bridge into the Tigris River as punishment for breaking curfew, and the suffocation during interrogation of a former Iraqi general believed to be helping insurgents.

US Money Pouring Into Iraq Industry

Efforts to rebuild Iraq's shuttered industrial base, including an infusion of $760 million in U.S. funds over the past year, is making slow progress but has had little success getting Iraqi products to American consumers. Paul Brinkley, deputy under secretary of defense in charge of business transformation, said Tuesday that the U.S. government spent $180 million of that total in July alone on Iraqi goods and services. But he acknowledged that U.S. companies, which have many questions and concerns about production and stability in Iraq, are still slow to stock Iraqi products. Considering the state of play in Iraq, Brinkley said, people are cautious about placing orders for Iraqi goods. Fawzi Hariri, Iraq's minister of industry and minerals, told Pentagon reporters that the unemployment rate in his country is about 40 percent, but that number is an improvement of 7 to 10 percent over last year. Underscoring the difficulties, Brinkley said that "measurable progress" has been made in putting Iraqis back to work. Conservatively, he said, that number so far is just 5,000 people in 17 different factories. Speaking at a Pentagon briefing, Hariri and Brinkley said they have earmarked $40 million of the $50 million that Congress approved earlier this summer for economic development in Iraq. The funding will go to about 30 Iraqi businesses scattered across the country, mostly around Baghdad and up in the largely Kurdish north.

US Efforts May Work Against Iraqi Self-Sufficiency

Since April, scores of reconstruction teams have been dispatched across Baghdad and other volatile areas to help stabilize Iraq. Made up of aid workers, diplomats and military officers, they include experts in agriculture, economics, engineering and other fields. They help create small businesses, generate jobs, support agricultural unions and work with local and provincial governments to provide essential services in areas where the dominant power is the U.S. military. "We can fire the police chief, we can get the mayor removed if we want. Iraq is a sovereign country, don't get me wrong, but I wonder how much they would get their act together if our presence was reduced," said Maj. Craig Whiteside of the 1st Battalion, 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment. "It's impossible to put the American military somewhere and not have everybody, when they have to make a decision, ask, 'Is this okay, boss?' "

Basra: The soldiers' tales

The convoys from Basra Palace were lined up outside the airport yesterday, their dusty armour punched and dented by rocket-propelled grenades and bullets in the months of ferocious firefights in the "ambush alleys" of the city. The 550 soldiers who had withdrawn from the one remaining British base in Basra to the airbridge, the last post for UK troops before the final departure from Iraq, were tired and reflective. There had already been mortar rounds fired at their new home, but it was nothing compared with what they had been facing, and most had not even noticed the attack. The soldiers of the 4 Rifles Battle Group spoke for the first time yesterday about their night-time evacuation from the palace and also how, for five months, they had been living under a state of siege with attacks around the clock and patrols being hit by roadside bombs. After their experience, the vast aridness of the airport, with its comparative security, air conditioning and showers was a welcome respite. Cpl Frank Taylor, a 29-year-old from Fiji, said: "This actually feels like a holiday. I am actually quite relaxed. We have been through some pretty difficult times, and, yes, I have been scared.

The Iraq News Black-Out: How the Press Spent its Summer Vacation

Americans are hungry for news out of Iraq. News directors prefer covering Paris Hilton. But the pullback we've seen this summer, the chronic dearth of on-the-ground reporting, likely marks a new low of the entire campaign. It's gotten to the point where even monstrous acts of destruction cannot wake the press from its self-induced slumber. Just recall the events of August 14. That's when witnesses to the four synchronized suicide truck bombs that detonated in northern Iraq on that day described the collective devastation unleashed to being like an earthquake, or even the site of a nuclear bomb explosion; the destruction of one bomb site measured half a mile wide. A U.S. Army spokesman, after surveying the mass carnage from an attack that targeted Yazidis, an ancient religious community, called the event genocidal. Indeed, more than 500 Iraqis were killed, more than 1,500 were wounded, and 400 buildings were destroyed.

The bombings in the towns of Tal al-Azizziyah and Sheikh Khadar marked the deadliest attack of the entire Iraq war. In fact, with a death toll topping 500, the mid-August bombing ranks as the second deadliest terror strike ever recorded in modern times. Only the coordinated attacks on 9-11 have claimed more innocent lives. Yet the press failed to put the story in context. Early news dispatches about the attacks (which pegged the early death toll at a smaller, but still remarkable, 175) were posted around 6 p.m. ET on August 14. Yet that night on CNN's Anderson Cooper 360, the hour-long news program that airs at 10 p.m., the carnage from Iraq garnered just a brief report, and that was relegated to the "360 Bulletin," halfway through the program; a report on a playground catching on fire due to spontaneous combustion of decomposing wood chips was given slightly more airtime and, unlike the suicide bombings, prompted a reaction from host Cooper himself: "That's incredible. I never heard of that."


Revisiting Halabja: Hanging the Reaganites' Allies

The best summary of the long intercourse between the estranged bed fellows of the Saddam and Reagan administrations is available in the form of a book review penned by Andrew Cockburn in this week's copy of The Nation, the article itself being a review of the exhaustive book on the topic by Joost Hiltermann titled A Poisonous Affair. Some of the noteworthy findings in Cockburn's review of Hiltermann's book include such morsels as:
1. Saddam used chemical weapons against Iranian troops in 1983, but the Reaganites refused to sanction these actions because Iran had been turning the tide in the war since 1982 ( a war which the Reaganites had encouraged their Gulf friends to push Saddam into in 1980).

2. Current Iraqi president Jalal Talabani had initially fought alongside Saddam in the 1980 war before he flip-flopped and turned against him. His rival Kurd militia leader, Masood Barzani, had been allied with Iran.

3. The CIA issued a report in 1986 noting that Saddam would continue to use chemical weapons because there was no international outcry against him - and the Reaganites made sure the outcry did not take shape. In 1988, Saddam went on to bomb Halabja and use chemical weapons against "his own people."

4. In order to muddle the waters and protect Saddam from criticism, the Reaganites falsely blamed the 1988 chemical bombing of Halabja on Iranians. They lied to protect Saddam.

5. In his visits with Saddam in the years that the monster killed his own people and Iranians with chemical weapons, Rumsfeld rarely broached the subject, being more interested in convincing Saddam to build an oil pipeline to Israel. Yes, Israel.

6. In 2003, after its "liberation," Colin Powell opened a memorial in Halabja, touting it as proof of Iraq's WMD. The disgusted residents of Halabja, angered by the manner in which their plight had been exploited and then ignored in the three years of the Bush occupation, marched on the memorial in March 2006 and burned it down. The town of Halabja is now a haven for Islamic radicals.


Big Oil in Iraq: "World Class Racketeering"

Those who want to hold Iraqis "accountable" with a series of benchmarks that are important to Washington fail to understand what those benchmarks are about to begin with. It was clear from the start that the Iraqis would not meet the "benchmarks" that Congress and Bush have imposed on it. But anyone who expected them to is deluded. Not simply because the timelines are unreasonable, but because those who want to hold Iraqis "accountable" (as if they are in a position to make such demands) fail to understand what the benchmarks are about to begin with. Congress might have learned a great deal about one of those benchmarks had it paid attention to a hearing held by the House Committee on Foreign Affairs back on July 18.

As experts who have followed Iraq's oil sector explained at the hearing, one benchmark Iraq is being pressured to pass involves not one but a series of hydrocarbon laws (i.e. not just a revenue law that divvies up Iraq's oil revenues between the federal government and the different regions, but also three other interrelated laws that would also establish the oil sector legal framework, the Ministry of Oil and the new Iraqi National Oil Company). The confusion over what Iraq is being asked to do may be a failure that critics can lay at the media's feet, but the more important issue as far as I can tell is the manner in which these laws are being pushed so aggressively -- which, as Rep. Mike Pence (R-IN) put it, has the potential to "jeopardize [Iraq's] entire constitutional order."

Iraq's war of the warlords

WHEN the radical Shi'ite cleric Moqtada Sadr called last week for a freeze on his Mahdi Army's operations, it might have been tempting to take it as a positive step toward reducing violence and promoting stability in Iraq. But even if his directive is heeded by most components of the far-from-unitary Mahdi Army, any such timeout will only be a tactical pause to let Sadr's forces regroup. It hardly portends a transformation of the basic situation in Iraq. Iraq is a smashed state. Indeed, the government housed in Baghdad's fortified Green Zone is practically irrelevant to the multifarious power struggles fought in the streets by disparate militias and gangs.

The fracturing of Iraq has had tragic consequences for Iraqis who lost their families, their homes, and their communities amid the anarchy. Before the war, many Iraqis had hoped that a pluralist sense of national identity could be cultivated in the aftermath of Saddam Hussein's overthrow. That illusion is long since lost. And however the blame is apportioned for Iraq's shattering, the desolating reality is that Iraq has devolved into a collection of separate cities and regions ruled by sectarian or criminal militias - and the warlords who command the men with guns. [This piece goes on to comment negatively on Sadr and his militia, without a mention of the Badr militia. – dancewater]

Quote of the day: As we crossed the border and saw the last of the Iraqi flags, the tears began again. The car was silent except for the prattling of the driver who was telling us stories of escapades he had while crossing the border. I sneaked a look at my mother sitting beside me and her tears were flowing as well. There was simply nothing to say as we left Iraq. I wanted to sob, but I didn't want to seem like a baby. I didn't want the driver to think I was ungrateful for the chance to leave what had become a hellish place over the last four and a half years. -Riverbend