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A bit of honour in a cynical world
on 2 December 2009
Whilst much has been made of the modern day 'Dogs of War', what James Ashcroft highlights in his typically understated way is he and the people like him are busy doing work that is unpopular to those who took us into Iraq in the first place. Daily Mail readers everywhere have been cross to the point of learning to write when they discovered that people like Ash are earning money in a war zone, but without people like Ash, Iraq would have disappeared down the toilet a long time ago. The image of the Private Security Contractor has been tarnished by Blackwater, but they are really vital. The rumours of mega bucks abound, but there are many doing incredibly dangerous work for not that much with nothing like the back-up of a conventional soldier - you literally live or die according to your ability and the ability of those around you.
In this book, Ash returns to assist an Iraqi who had helped him at great personal risk during his previous time in Baghdad. There is no money changing hands, Ash is doing it out of loyalty, something all too often forgotten. What comes across is that Baghdad is a crazy place to be: the hope that emerged after the end of the war in 2003 has been replaced by the terror and domination of rival factions whilst others like Ash try to make sense of the maelstrom of conflicting elements. Instead of getting enraged at the sums of money earned by Private Security Contractors, people might direct their rage at those who are fuelling the insurgency and getting rich from the profits of it all. Besides, this book isn't about money or politics, it's about helping your fellow man.
What stands out is the inner conflict of the warrior - Ash is ready to fight for what he believes in whilst coveting the precious life he has with his beloved family. He's not some Hollywood actor with the flaw or deep secret that drives him, he is simply doing this out of loyalty amidst the madness of Baghdad - he didn't have to do it, but he's not the kind of person who could sit back. One minute he is driving down a road at night, the next he is engaging a car full of insurgents that wanted to make him the target for the night. They move from firefights to family scenes which show how much this war has turned lives upside down. That is Baghdad in a nutshell, there is no other city like it.
This book shows the tensions and frustrations in Iraq and above all, it shows that there are still people willing to bring some good to their fellow man. It was a fascinating read and brought back distant memories of a city that was also part of my life. For once, a book about Iraq that isn't justifying or criticising why we are there or telling you who had the biggest gun and how cool they looked with it. An example for us all.