Singapore soldiers on the front line

Working from Saddam's former palace

The Singapore Armed Forces has been involved in rebuilding Iraq. Nearly 1,000 servicemen served in Iraq between 2003 and 2008 to help it get back on its feet after the ouster of dictator Saddam Hussein. This is a soldier's account of the mission, some 10 years on. The SAF has withheld his identity to protect his safety because he is still in active service and indirectly involved in the current operations in Iraq.

For six months in 2007, senior Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) officer "G" (not his real name) lived in the former presidential palace of Saddam Hussein in Baghdad.

He was a military planner that the SAF had sent to Baghdad to serve with the multinational coalition that was helping the Iraq government find its feet.

"I volunteered for the mission," said the officer, then in his 30s, who had completed a stint as a battalion commander.

"It was my first extended operational deployment overseas."

He recalls flying into Baghdad from Kuwait City on a United States Air Force C-130 plane.

"When the plane landed at Baghdad International Airport, I walked out calmly while the other passengers ran into the building to avoid being exposed. I didn't know the danger," he said with a laugh.

For six months, he was an adviser to the Interior Ministry of the Iraqi government.

"I helped them plan and set up gated communities with security measures such as access control," he recalled.

The coalition officers were housed in the former presidential palace of the Iraqi dictator within the "Green Zone", or safe district, of the city.

"The toilet was bigger than our typical bedrooms," he said.

 
 

Being in the Green Zone did not guarantee one's safety, he noted. There were regular rocket and mortar attacks over the walls of the Green Zone.

The veteran added: "I know of two cases in which coalition soldiers were killed. One of them was a medic or nurse."

His training as a soldier kicked in.

"I maintained my weapon and kept my helmet and vest close to me," he said.

"I knew that my life might depend on them."

"G" is modest about his contribution to the country's rebuilding efforts.

"I did what I was trained to do," he said, in a matter-of-fact tone.

The six-month stint had a lasting impact on him personally and professionally.

He proposed to his girlfriend of more than 10 years as soon as he returned.

"Life is precious," he explained. The couple got married.

He has remained in the SAF.

He said: "I did not volunteer for the deployment expecting a promotion. But I learnt that there is a strong purpose to the job.

"This is what being in uniform is about."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on October 01, 2017, with the headline 'Working from Saddam's former palace'. Print Edition | Subscribe