Skip to content

Document Friday: A Soldier’s Handbook to Iraq– “FOUO [For Official Use Only]”

February 26, 2010

Cover page to the 1st Infantry Division Soldier's Handbook to Iraq

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's depiction of an IED.

    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.

  1. ianganderson permalink
    February 26, 2010 1:30 pm

    “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.”

    This is exactly the behavior which got us in Iraq in the first place.

    This is remarkably prejudiced, as well as contradictory, with useful and valid information about Iraqi customs residing alongside stereotypes and ethnic generalizations. In light of this, the racism of many of the occupying soldiers makes more sense.

    • Nate Jones permalink
      February 26, 2010 2:32 pm

      Thanks for the insight.

      It would be interesting to compare the Soldier’s guide to a Lonely Planet guide book, or equivalent.

    • Kim permalink
      February 26, 2010 11:36 pm

      On the racism (which is totally true) – it is inevitable for one to generalize about the people that shoot at you. Especially when you realize that you are simply a pawn of the government, and an uneducated 18-year old pawn at that (or a 22-year old college graduate pawn on his first trip out of the U.S.). Vietnam vets have derogatory names for the North Vietnamese, as do WWII vets of the Japanese and Germans, and Croats about Slavs, Ukrainians about Russians, etc. etc., education be damned.

  2. the_matt permalink
    March 1, 2010 6:15 pm

    The comparison to a Lonely Planet guide would indeed be interesting; also interesting would be a comparison to an introductory undergraduate Middle Eastern politics/culture course textbook.

    That gross generalizations get made in this sort of context is likely inevitable, as a handbook that gives soldiers the guidance that to treat every individual as the snowflake they are is less than useful; a balance just has to be struck between a document useful to the soldiers while still representing the (considerable) diversity of Iraqis. Tough to say whether the Army fell on its face in that regard…

    Is it just me though, or is the most disturbing thing about the war crimes admonition is that it urges soldiers to “do [their] best” to prevent war crimes? Get out there and give 110 percent. Play fair – or at least don’t get caught if you don’t. Now let’s get out there and bring in a W for the h0me team…

  3. Joe Piette permalink
    March 1, 2010 7:46 pm

    When I went through training for Viet Nam, we were told that there are so many Asians, that they don’t care how many are killed during their attacks on U.S. soldiers – they can always get more.

    After I got there, I witnessed a Vietnamese funeral procession (which religion I still don’t know) in which many were crying for the deceased. It made me realize that my training was meant to make us racist killers. The Vietnamese were just as human as I was.

  4. Nate Jones permalink
    March 2, 2010 2:11 pm

    Wow. Thanks for the great insights guys. (One of my favorite parts of this blog is the great interaction and points of view you guys bring.)

    As for the point several of you touched upon— If true, it is indeed very startling to think that instilling racism into soldiers is necessary to promote a country’s “national security.”

  5. ianganderson permalink
    March 2, 2010 5:16 pm

    I would argue that this racism is a necessary part of the occupation strategy, which presumes that Iraqis in general cannot run their own affairs. How else are we to explain Jay Garner’s summary ouster? Garner wanted to transfer sovereignty to Iraq as soon as possible, and opposed the disbanding of the Iraqi Army, but he was overruled and replaced by Bremer. This led to insurgency, lucrative delays in existing construction projects and newly destroyed infrastructure to rebuild at cost-plus, and the popular idea that Iraq is too dangerous to “abandon.” An American advisor in Baghdad, quoted by Seymour Hersh: “The only way we can win is to go unconventional. We’re going to have to play their game. Guerrilla versus guerrilla. Terrorism versus terrorism. We’ve got to scare the Iraqis into submission.” Both views–the public rationale (if you could call it that) that Iraqis are not ready to govern themselves, which leaves out the effects of our inept occupation, and the underlying rationale that Iraqis can be exploited in the name of profits and politics as more than a million die and millions more are made refugee–are inextricably racist. If we ever really understood Iraq, if we ever had a non-prejudiced thought about its people, we never would have invaded. Or, if we had, we would have listened to Garner and made it as short as possible. That we still remain and cannot even be bothered to keep track of Iraqi casualties is proof positive that they are nothing more than dogs in the eyes of U.S. leadership and military enforcement.

  6. April 15, 2010 11:35 am

    Racism is in fact logged as part of the strategy of dividing people so that what they oppose together can be pushed through by fragmenting their opposition into squabbling among themselves.
    ‘Divide and Conquer.’
    Rather than just quoting ‘Structural Racism in the United States’ – don’t think Britain and the Commonwealth aren’t rife with it – I just placed it in a file giving an overview of resources and articles relating to media manipulation and mindwashing of the public. It’s my version of ‘The Matrix.’


  1. Document Friday: CENTCOM’s Efforts to Combat Piracy « UNREDACTED

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: