Iraqonyms: Technobabble for the Unspeakable

Baghdad, March 15, 2007 -- The AO was full of AIFs and ECs who were planting IEDs, including EFP and HEPs, along the MSRs particularly near ECPs and TCPs, including complex attacks incorporating IDF and SAF. MI at the FOB assesses the actors were FRE and FRL, TCNs and AQs. Also in the AO, there are JAM elements, which HUMINT indicates in some cases are no longer under OC of MAS, setting illegal IP TCPs and carrying out EJKs of IZs. In recent weeks EJKs of this sort have declined as CFs roll up HVTs. This has necessitated a review of TTP in order to cope with a shift to an increased deployment of VBIEDs, as well as VCIEDs and even VOIEDs, also known as PBIEDs or SVIEDs. It is assessed that the greatest risk to the IZ remains from IDF, and VBIEDs at CPs, but there have also been cases of IRLs. But the large number of PSDs operating in the area also poses a risk of blue on blue attacks and FF incidents are not unknown, especially since the ROEs of the many PSCs are not uniform, despite the many FRAGOs issued by MNF-I and JASG regarding this issue. In the event of personnel WIA the POC is _____ at the CSH, which will receive INs, TCNs as well as CFs. Under no circumstances should personnel remain at the scene of RTAs, particularly if escorting VIPs or VVIPs.

The above is an entirely plausible account of the situation in Baghdad, although fortunately even the military and security contractors don't resort to quite that density of acronyms. (If you want a translation, scroll to the bottom of this entry or click on the links above.) Still, there are enough Iraqonyms in general use to drive a civilian to distraction. What is it with the military and acronyms, anyway? Some of them are useful--MNF-I is certainly easier to say than Multi National Forces - Iraq, the formal name of the coalition military. MiTTs for Military Transition Teams, and JSSs for Joint Security Stations, you can see the utility, and others are too good to pass up, like COPs, for Combat Outposts. And a few are holdovers from the Vietnam era that have pretty much entered the language, such as LZ (landing zone), KIAs and WIAs, though we don't get many MIAs in Iraq, since the terrorists simply kill their coalition prisoners out of hand in most cases. Most of the Iraqonyms, however, are not really shorter ways of saying a mouthful; IED takes a lot longer to utter than "bomb" or even "homemade bomb", but perhaps some Pentagon desk jockey figured Improvised Explosive Device sounds more military and official, somehow, and IED at least shortens that. SAF, Small Arms Fire, could in most cases just be gunshots, and what's wrong with shells instead of IDF, Indirect Fire? Does that make it sound less lethal? In much the same way, calling Al Qaeda terrorists AQs seems to confer on these cretins a kind of semi-official status that makes them more palatable.

This war has introduced a slew of acronyms that are, as George Orwell discussed in his famous essay Politics and the English Language, really just a way of avoiding thought, masking emotion and disguising meaning. EJKs for Extra Judicial Killings makes the skin crawl in this regard; they're trying to find a sanitized way to say murder, often carried out by some of our own allies in Iraq, such as the IPs (Iraqi Police). Consider IZ. Initially it was used to describe Iraqis, and still is sometimes; at one point the plural of this started to get pronounced as a word, "Izzies." Aside from sounding a little derogatory, it was uncomfortably close to "Israelis," and is in fact a nickname some people use for them. Now there's been a shift to INs, Iraqi Nationals, a flagrant example of that military style rule: Never use one word where two words will do. (The corollary to that is, Why use a short word when a long one can do? Thus, MANPADS for Man Portable Air Defense System, instead of shoulder-fired missile.) Another abandoned Iraqonym was GZ, for Green Zone, a name the military has been on a determined but losing campaign to wipe out ever since Baghdad got divided into two zones, the Green Zone government and military area, and the Red Zone, everywhere else. There was some talk of changing the GZ to Amber Zone, since it's not always totally safe--but I imagine someone pointed out that might get translated as Yellow Zone, which wouldn't do. Finally they came up with IZ, since it was now available, short for International Zone, which at least made "GZ" obsolete -- though "Green Zone" is too good to die.

All the contorted acronyms for the various suicide bombing modes are in the same genre: a technobabble makeover for the unspeakable. There is no way anyone is going to say "S -V -B -I -E -D" faster than you can say "suicide car bomb". SVBIED isn't even clear; some use it for a Suicide Vehicular-Borne IED, and others for a Suicide Vest-Borne IED, though the newer PBIED (Pedestrian-Borne IED) is coming into vogue. This has resulted in neologism upon neologism, leading to VCIED--Vehicle Concealed IED--and VOIED--Vehicle Operated IED. IED-madness led at one point to the coining of the mother of all Iraqonyms, the almost-unutterable DBMRLP, which actually appeared in several military reports for a few months after a spate of attacks in which rockets were fired from donkey carts, most famously at Paul Wolfowitz's room at the Al Rashid Hotel in the Green Zone. Donkey-Borne Mobile Rocket Launching Platform, indeed. Fortunately for Wolfowitz, though not for a colonel on another floor who was killed, donkey carts do not make for precision launch pads. You also have to get a new donkey afterwards. Now there's a messy EJK for you.