Friday, May 11, 2007

Report from Iraq

This report from LTC G, currently serving his third tour in Iraq, came by way of a mutual acquaintance. It's actually his Update number 13, and I will post the previous Updates very soon.

"Update # 13
9 May 2007

I would complain about being hot, but I know that the worst is yet to come. After several months of remarkably pleasant nights and reasonable days, our grace period is up. At a mere 104 degrees everything is incrementally harder. The only real mercy is that the sun remains out longer, and the pace of life in the mid-east adjusts to the brutal reality.

We make the turn off of Haifa Street and into on of the poorer muhallas. Three months ago this wide side street would have been completely empty of all but trash, stray dogs, and a few men busy getting from one place to another. Two months ago, we would have been confronted by elder males eager to tell us about their woes. One particular shop owner made a point of stopping every American patrol that passed in those first weeks and bringing them to his shop. Off his shelf he would take one of about twenty cans of various foodstuffs. The can had a bullet hole in one side and out the other. Proof of the “sniper,” that hunted by night in the high rise apartments that overlooked the slums. An all too real urban legend, the sniper boogey man, struck fear I the neighborhood and kept them out of the main street and tucked in the relatively secure back allies. Coupled with the corpse like hulk of the burnt out power station on the other side of the neighborhood, the residents told a constant and unrelenting tale of horror. Last month, the sniper threat had stopped as some cancer in the local forces was carved out. People ventured back out in the streets and children became common place.

Now, the street is packed for the almost nightly game of soccer. The late afternoon cools off significantly and the last few hours of the day see families enjoying themselves at every doorstep, in the cafes, at the slowly improving parks and gardens, and in the streets. The crowd parts as we pass by during a joint patrol with our shurta. We weave in and around the makeshift rock goal posts and through the slums. In another few hours, when we pass through again, curfew will be in effect. The streets will be empty, and most of this area will be dark, the electrical corpse here has not been resurrected yet.

But the next neighborhood tells a different story. This area while still a ghetto, is nowhere near as ancient as the one we have just left, nor has it suffered quite as much recent loss. Its infrastructure has been easier to replace, and neon signs and well lit shops are gearing up for the setting of the sun. The streets are filled, and our fourteen vehicles wind trough as if on parade. The tentative waves of February’s children are replaced by almost enthusiastic responses from entire May families. Women that once discouraged kids from interacting smile and wave. Males eagerly take the newspapers we drop off. Hard to say if they believe the governmental papers, but they are at least considering them. We still get hard stares from many. Knots of young males glare from street corners. Older men study us as we go by. Many still hate us, but terrors fever has largely broken and fled the neighborhood.

At the end of the block we recognize two of the local government leaders from our weekly council meetings. We pull over and dismount to chat with them. COL B, MAJ B and I chat on the corner while the nightly block party swirls around us. The frosty reception COL B received at our arrival in sector has been replaced with warm greetings and genuine appreciation. Months ago, the conversation would have been dominated with a list of demands about plugged sewers, mounds of trash, downed power lines, missing relatives and abusive security forces. Tonight, over a cold orange soda hastily offered from a local vendor, they eagerly tell us of the work that has gone on the last few days. Junker cars towed away. Water pipes repaired. Increased electricity. They are beginning to see that cooperation with security forces allows real work to get done. And when real work gets done people are happy. And happy people are happy voters.

As we stood there, the shurta passed out newspapers. Many of the young kids took them, anxious to have anything free. One tiny young boy, barely pushing two was determined not to be left out. Smart enough to know that the papers probably originated from the Americans and not the National police, he gathered up his courage, strode up to MAJ B, executed a flawless parade ground salute, stomped his heal in Iraqi style and asked in a clear young voice if he too could have a newspaper. One of COL Bs security detachment quickly acquired one back from the many they handed out while our terp filled us in on the young lad’s request. MAJ B presented the young trooper his trophy. If I could have one untaken photo from my trip here, it would be of that young child saluting the American soldier.

I won’t be so na├»ve to say that all is rosy. The violence still rages all around our sector and as last week reminded us, also in ours. Nor will I say that these men on the street corner have been converted. It is however progress that they are at least showing signs of being conflicted. Unsure if they should jump fully on the winning team, or if they should hedge their bets and keep one foot solidly in the enemy camp…just in case worse comes to worse. These men walk a fine tight rope. And why shouldn’t they, they read a steady diet of defeatism in the press.

I can’t help but wonder about the huge amount of relief the enemy must feel after years of climbing, knowing that they are no longer looking at a false peak. There it is! The summit, right in front of them! I have climbed enough mountains to know how easy that final ascent is. The burst of enthusiasm at knowing the end is in sight. After years of constant conflict, in a brutal strategy of pure attrition, this must be a huge relief. They had no measurable way of marking success. No march across Europe. No castles to siege, no flags to raise. Only an endless series of explosions and ethnic killings with no real way of knowing when victory might be in sight. But now, completely inexplicably we have told them where the finish line is. Foes that thought they were in a marathon know that they only have several hundred more meters to run. Those on the fence have renewed hope. Victory is in sight.

I wish my grandparents were still alive, or my parents were old enough to remember D-Day. I would love to know how they felt on hearing Eisenhower’s powerful D-Day message.

Soldiers, Sailors and Airmen of the Allied Expeditionary Force!

You are about to embark upon the Great Crusade, toward which we have striven these many months. The eyes of the world are upon you. The hopes and prayers of liberty-loving people everywhere march with you. In company with our brave Allies and brothers-in-arms on other Fronts, you will bring about the destruction of the German war machine, the elimination of Nazi tyranny over the oppressed peoples of Europe, and security for ourselves in a free world.

Your task will not be an easy one. Your enemy is well trained, well equipped and battle hardened. He will fight savagely.

But this is the year 1944! Much has happened since the Nazi triumphs of 1940-41. The United Nations have inflicted upon the Germans great defeats, in open battle, man-to-man. Our air offensive has seriously reduced their strength in the air and their capacity to wage war on the ground. Our Home Fronts have given us an overwhelming superiority in weapons and munitions of war, and placed at our disposal great reserves of trained fighting men. The tide has turned! The free men of the world are marching together to Victory!

I have full confidence in your courage and devotion to duty and skill in battle. We will accept nothing less than full Victory!

Good luck! And let us beseech the blessing of Almighty God upon this great and noble undertaking.

SIGNED: Dwight D. Eisenhower

How sad that General Petreus couldn’t pull this speech in it’s entirety off the shelf. Unfortunately the third paragraph needs some serious work….but this is 2007, much has happened since Al Queda’s triumph of 9/11. We have inflicted serious defeats on the enemies’ capabilities. Our home front…well, ok we don’t have a funding bill…..and the freedom loving nations of the world…well, ok they have lost their stomach…and victory would be cool and all…But you troops, you guys rock! We love you. Go knock yourselves out…you have about three months to pull a rabbit out of the hat. Don’t screw it up.

The note that Eisenhower didn’t publish, the one he kept in his pocket, written before the operation in case of failure, read:

Our landings in the Cherbourg-Havre area have failed to gain a satisfactory foothold and I have withdrawn the troops. My decision to attack at this time and place was based upon the best information available. The troops, the air and the Navy did all that Bravery and devotion to duty could do. If any blame or fault attaches to the attempt it is mine alone.
What an incredibly amazing document. The fact that the commander, on the ground, in charge of the free worlds human and industrial treasure, took personal responsibility for the success or failure, knowing he had the backing of his government and its people. Great big brass balls!

Can you imagine if we had put the D-day invasion up to a congressional vote? How about the A-Bomb? How much harder would D-Day have been if every aspect of the strategy had been second guessed in every nightly talk show and editorial for months on end. Rommel would have giggled like a school girl.

While I would never advocate a restriction on a vigorous public debate, the simple reality is that there is a time and place for the doors of Congress to be shut. The hard decisions to commit or withdrawal should be done in secrecy. And in a way that keeps the troops certain that the sand on the beach is worth wading up onto, keeps the enemy uncertain of how high the climb is, and keeps hope alive in the millions tyrannies’ victims who have a vested interest in which way the tide will turn.

Our job gets harder every day, but is no less rewarding. This morning we drove past construction crews already rebuilding last weeks collapsed traffic circle. The crazy lady has been forced to pick a new corner to sit on, but she is alive. And I am left to wonder whose world is crazier, hers or mine."