Our correspondent in Iraq, Major E., wrote this essay in response to a column he saw in his home-town newspaper which argued that Iraq is a lost cause. We’ve edited it slightly for length; click to enlarge the photos:
The number one question I have been getting from friends and family back home is whether we are winning here in Iraq. In fact, what inspired me to write today was reading an op-ed published by the local congressperson in the Contra Costa Times, a paper I actually delivered for three years many moons ago…. It seems reporting like this might be bringing down morale in the US despite high morale in Iraq. But I have worked around the country in places like Baghdad, Ramadi, Mosul, Tikrit, and Samarra where the threat remains high and I believe we are indeed winning the effort to achieve a free and democratic Iraq.
In summary, our two-part mission of stabilizing the security situation and strengthening the fledgling effort toward democracy is moving forward… We are not winning bloodlessly but we are winning, and this is a mission worthy of sacrifice. The troops see the ground truth and generally agree with this, which is why morale is high based on my conversations with troops all over theater. The casualties that we still take are caused by a resilient and bloodthirsty enemy who thinks nothing of murdering innocent women and children in the name of Islam, but we are slowly grinding them down.
My most reliable sources for the ground truth among the Iraqi population have been the interpreters who work with the various units. First, they must be commended for their bravery. They did not sign up to be soldiers but many leave their families in places like Tampa and Chicago to work here, going out on dangerous military missions in order to help break down the language barrier between troops and locals. Others were born here and want to help freedom take root. One I met lost a brother to terrorist violence and wanted to help defeat the insurgency, even at the very real risk to his own life.
My hat is off to the ‘Terps. The first photo shows a ‘Terp meeting with a local sheikh who was so glad that we visited him that he insisted I take his photo up close, shaking hands with the Americans.
Since the ‘Terps speak the language and understand Arabic culture, I ask every one I meet if democracy in Iraq is moving forward. Without exception, they answer “Yes.” It seems the elections held last January 30th were a watershed moment in the post-Saddam era.
The fact that the average Iraqi feels somewhat invested in the democratic process, and is being targeted more frequently has resulted in many Iraqis, even those who previously resented the coalition presence, becoming more helpful in offering tips and intelligence that help us target insurgents. The helpfulness is manifest on the street level as locals point out suspicious houses and individuals, as well as in the number of calls received on the telephone and internet tip lines set up to allow Iraqis to call in suspicious activity and be financially rewarded for tips that lead to successful anti-insurgent operations.
Also, there are more and more examples of Iraqi Army operating successfully, whether standing and fighting insurgents or finding roadside bombs. The second photo shows an Iraqi Army soldier carrying a piece of ordnance found during a sweep of likely enemy cache locations.
One example of the strength of the Iraqi people came from a patrol conducted by a unit that I was out with during the night before the polls opened on January 30th. We were patrolling around several Baghdad polling stations as well as one key location at a school where the votes would be collected and counted for a large section of Baghdad. The third photo shows a brave American troop sergeant protecting the school while the polling officials arrived.
It ended up being quiet that night except for an Iraqi policeman who, during the excitement caused by a nearby exchange of gunfire, shot himself in the foot. As the polls opened in the morning everyone was holding their breath, expecting the worst. The biggest fear on our side was that the insurgents would employ terrorist tactics early in the morning with television crews in tow (it happens often) and those attacks would be broadcast throughout Iraq early enough in the morning to scare away the voting public, decreasing turnout and the legitimacy of the result.
After the polls had been open for about an hour, the same unit responded to a call that a suicide bomber had attacked one of the polling sites we had visited the night before. When they arrived at the area about thirty minutes after the attack, they expected the locals to have disappeared. Instead, there was a line of would-be voters stretching around the block.
When they moved to the attack location just outside the polling center, they saw the remains of the suicide bomber and his two victims. The Iraqis were resolute in their will to vote, though, and the troops watched them file past the remains toward the polling booths, some even taking time to loudly curse and spit on the murderer. The troop sergeant asked some English-speaking locals about the events, and the local said that the line never shortened, even after the attack.
On that day, while over eight million voted, a few dozen Iraqi civilians gave their lives for the right to vote. I will put my faith in a people who, when attacked by a suicide bomber, not only do not run away but gather and stand to face the danger in order to have a say in the future of Iraq.
Yes, we are winning. Yes, it is bloody. But our mission is moving forward and the enemy’s mission must constantly adapt to the pressure we are putting on them, and their tactic of killing more civilians is making the public more supportive of us, and less so of them.
The insurgents have fought to break the will of the troops and have failed. They have fought to break the will of the Iraqi people and failed. They will continue to attack both fronts, but there remains another strategic front that they are now targeting more and more. The insurgents, in my opinion, are now seeking to break the will of the American people.
To do this, they are using more car bombs which make great sound-bite visuals on television, but while the weapon is sometimes tactically effective it is strategically irrelevant. They also conduct attacks against symbolic targets such as the Abu Ghurayb prison complex which are tactically ineffective and strategically irrelevant. In the most potent enemy action, all attackers were killed and none penetrated even the outer fence. These tactics cannot stop our mission here from moving forward, unless the frequency and manner in which they are reported makes the American people think we are not winning or that it is not worth the sacrifice.
Please do not let that happen. This is worth the fight.
If the daily bad-news bombardment from networks and newspapers starts to erode your confidence in the effort, remember the confidence shown by the troops, the Terps, and the Iraqis who stood in line for hours to cast a vote–even after a murderer struck.
Just as you are counting on us out here in Iraq, we are counting on you back home. Thank you for your support and prayers. Things are going much better out here than some who sell news–or pathologically despise a certain Commander-in-Chief–would like you to believe.
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“Arise and take our stand for freedom as in the olden time.” Winston Churchill