I am convinced more than ever that we need to maintain the course we are on in Iraq or at the least, keep an active and large presence of US troops there. Last night my wife and I were flipping through channels and we were sucked into a PBS special on the Iraq War. Most of it felt like there was a negative slant, but at least PBS (or whoever produced it) seemed to at least try to be objective. During and following the show my wife, who isn’t really into politics and world affairs like I am, was very intrigued and we entered into a long discussion on the situation there and the politics of Iraq in this country, including the anti-war movement. It was really fun to talk about it with her, and I told her I would write about our discussion today.
So in this installment I simply want to highlight Michael Yon’s latest column on Iraq. He says it better than I could. In part II or III (if necessary), I will really get into the meat of my arguments in support of our current efforts in Iraq and why we cannot bring the troops home too soon.
The big news on the streets today is that the people of Baqubah are generally ecstatic, although many hold in reserve a serious concern that we will abandon them again. For many Iraqis, we have morphed from being invaders to occupiers to members of a tribe. I call it the “al Ameriki tribe,” or “tribe America.”
I’ve seen this kind of progression in Mosul, out in Anbar and other places, and when I ask our military leaders if they have sensed any shift, many have said, yes, they too sense that Iraqis view us differently. In the context of sectarian and tribal strife, we are the tribe that people can—more or less and with giant caveats—rely on.
Most Iraqis I talk with acknowledge that if it was ever about the oil, it’s not now. Not mostly anyway. It clearly would have been cheaper just to buy the oil or invade somewhere easier that has more. Similarly, most Iraqis seem now to realize that we really don’t want to stay here, and that many of us can’t wait to get back home. They realize that we are not resolved to stay, but are impatient to drive down to Kuwait and sail away. And when they consider the Americans who actually deal with Iraqis every day, the Iraqis can no longer deny that we really do want them to succeed. But we want them to succeed without us. We want to see their streets are clean and safe, their grass is green, and their birds are singing. We want to see that on television. Not in person. We don’t want to be here. We tell them that every day. It finally has settled in that we are telling the truth.
Now that all those realizations and more have settled in, the dynamics here are changing in palpable ways.
One of the key elements that I see in this is consistent progress in Iraq – Mosul, Anbar, now Baquba. Slowly and surely we are beginning to see the domino effect that we hoped to see in 2003. Considering how (relatively) stabilized the norther Kurdish areas, the southern provinces are, and the progress of many of the central provinces surrounding Baghdad are making, there is reason to be optimistic for real success and victory if we American’s can just keep our emotions in check and our eye on the big picture (this issue of emotions is HUGE and will be addressed in a subsequent entry).
And so on 05 July, or D + 16, after the meeting, Iraqi leaders including the Deputy Governor of Diyala, and also Abdul Jabar, one of the Provincial chair holders, headed to some of the most dangerous areas in Baqubah on what Americans would call “a meet and greet.” At first the people seemed hesitant, but when they saw Iraqi leaders–along with members of their own press–asking citizens what they needed, each place we stopped grew into a festival of smiles.
The people were jubilant. None of the kids–and by the end of the day there were hundreds–asked me for anything, other than to take their photos. These were not the kids-made-brats by well-meaning soldiers, but polite Iraqi kids in situ, and the cameras were like a roller coaster ride for them. The kids didn’t care much for the video; they wanted still photos taken. While the kids were trying to get me to photograph them, it was as if the roller coaster was cranking and popping up the tracks, but when I finally turned the camera on them–snap! –it was as if the rollercoaster had crested the apex and slipped into the thrill of gravity. Of course, once the ride ended, it only made some clamor for more. Iraqi kids that have not been spoiled by handouts are the funniest I have seen anywhere.
American soldiers just watched, but during one of the impromptu stops, an Iraqi man who might have been 30-years-old came up and said that he’d been beaten up by soldiers from the 5th Iraqi Army. He had the marks on his face to lend initial credence. But most striking was that he hadn’t gone to the Iraqi leaders, nor did he come to the man with the camera and note pad. He did what I see Iraqis increasingly doing: he went to the local sheik of “al Ameriki tribe.” In this case, the sheik was LTC Fred Johnson. (Note: I have not heard anyone calling the American commanders sheiks, but during meetings around Iraq, American officers often preside like sheiks and with sheiks.)
More and more Iraqis put their trust in Americans as arbiters of justice. The man said he was afraid to complain to Iraqi officials because he might get killed, but he wanted to tell LTC Johnson, who listened carefully. When the man pleaded for anonymity, Johnson said he needed written statements from witnesses. The man pointed to some witnesses, and then disappeared and came back with statements, and I can say from my own eyes that Johnson was careful with those statements, guarding them until he could get alone with an Iraqi general later on 05 July.
On D +1 and for those first few days of Operation Arrowhead Ripper, the Iraqi leaders seemed mostly inert. But now on D+16, only about two weeks later, they are out politicking, showing their faces in public, letting the people know they are in charge. And, unlike the tired cliché of a politician in a parade, they truly have been working behind the scenes. I know because I sit in on the meetings, and listen to the progress reports as items on the lists get checked off. I hear the whining as each section of Baqubah seems to think they are the forgotten ones. “Why the Sunni getting help first?” They ask. But then in another neighborhood, “Why the Shia getting help first?” But I watch the sausage-making. LTC Johnson will say, “Mike, c’mon. It’s time to make suasage and you need to see this.” It’s messy and frustrating. But food shipments have resumed to Baqubah after 10 months of nothing. Not that Diyala Province is starving: Diyala is, after all, Iraq’s breadbasket.
The efforts highlighted here are indicative of the work that our troops are doing across Iraq. We are even working on creating situations like this in the most dangerous areas of Iraq, places like Sadr City. Obviously there are still plenty of problems in Iraq, for instance the political leadership is mediocre and as stable as house of cards at best, but at least there is political leadership. It seems as though the Iraqi people are finally realizing that we want them to succeed, we want to help them succeed, but we also want to go home, so they better get their act together. They are! So, let’s utilize a little more patience and have some rational thinking and the U.S. may come out of Iraq as heroes rather than as villains.
(note: In the rest of Yon’s article it discuss how it is known that Al’Qaeda is attacking the Iraqis and he also has some wonderful pictures of Iraqi children in Baquba)