REUTERS/Erik De Castro
This is a long post, as I’ve combined 3 items together which I feel have a related theme in them; namely, why we need to persevere and “stay the course” in Iraq; why it is the right thing to do. As Arthur Herman writes in the WSJ (a shorter version of a piece he wrote for Commentary Magazine, Who Owns the Vietnam War?), after drawing the correct lessons from Vietnam (which 2 of the 3 presidential candidates have failed to do),
The judgment of history, as Raymond Aron once remarked, is without pity. History will judge how America and its leaders handle global responsibility in Iraq and the Middle East in the next decade.
As Winston Churchill said of the appeasement of Hitler at Munich, in 1975 Americans were “weighed in the balance and found wanting.”
We have a responsibility to the Iraqis – and to the memory of those we left behind – not to let that happen again.
Please take the time to read the following three stories. One is from an Iraqi blog, the 2nd is Hugh Hewitt’s interview with Michael Yon this past week, and the third is from a NYTimes Baghdad Bureau employee who escaped to Syria, but has since returned to Baghdad, not quite sure whether to believe the stories he heard, that the situation there has improved…
Interesting post dated January 23rd, by an Iraqi blogger, Sooni:
This is my second conversation with Paul of Arena of Ideas. He had few questions for me about the situation in Iraq:
Paul: What is the situation on the ground right now? (e.g. are they stabilizing, getting worse or just more of the same?)
not much happened since our last conversation the four major effective powers in Iraq still doing there best to gain control ( the Government and the American forces on one side, the Militia and al Qaeda on the other side ) of course the Militia and al Qaeda are fighting each other.
Paul: What was the Iraqi reaction to Democrats winning in November, or do they understand the American election process?
When I speak about Iraqis I have to divide them depending on the way they believe or see things. Most of the Iraqis are living in the grace of conspiracy theory and they believe the American policy will remain the same no matter who would win the election, while the intellectual people started to fear that this would be the end of the American presence in Iraq.
Paul: What has been the Iraqi reaction to Bush’s announcement of adding more troops in Baghdad?
The people feel more relief for more American presence in Baghdad. People started to hate the heinous acts of the Militia and Qaeda. People started to feel unsecured because neither the Militia nor Qaeda can protect them from the attacks. What is really going on the ground is very simple Qaeda attacks innocent people (Shiite mostly) and the Militia retaliate on innocent people too (Sunni mostly).
Paul: A recent poll came out which said 49% of Democrats hope that Bush’s plan to stabilize Iraq fails. What would you say to those people?
If this poll is right then it would be really surprising and shocking. I can’t imagine how civilized people like the Americans can think that way, I mean letting the factional competition affect the American image all over the world. If democracy succeeds in Iraq, we will be grateful to the American people regardless of the differences they have inside.
Paul: Many Americans feel like most of Iraq is in civil war and we should pull out. Could you explain to the average American why it is important for us to stay?
Iraq will be in civil war right after the American withdrawal. In fact the only thing preventing Iraq of being in a total civil war is the American presence in it. The American forces should stay in the region not only for Iraq. They should keep a large presence because of the new changes happened the past few years in the Middle East in general. As you can see that there is a wide disturbance in the area extremists started to emerge and get control over things, for example Hamas in Palestine, Ahmedi Nijad in Iran and al Qaeda in Iraq. Those groups have only one goal to achieve and that is killing the largest number of people in the name of God.
Paul: How do most Iraqis view ethnic lines (e.g. Sunni, Shia, Kurd, etc) and how important is it to your culture.
Before the pluralism we have now, there wasn’t such a thing. In fact no one could have imagined that things will turn this way. Anyway the differences are facts now and the politicians are deepen these differences to make benefits from them and get elected in the name of the sect or the ethnicity
Paul: If there was a single thing you would hope us, as Americans, could learn about your culture which could help us understand the situation, what would that be?
The Arabic and Islamic culture in general is a tribal one based on Winning and Losing. They don’t believe in middle grounds like sharing and the only language they understand is force. That’s why dictatorships and families ruled the countries of the area very well. Democracy will need long years to be adapted in the region because in comparison with dictatorship democracy will appear like a weak and tolerant way of ruling. For example, the Sheikh of the Tribe won’t accept to be ruled by his subjects, so the more powerful you appear and control things they will fear you and respect you, the more tolerant you be they will disobey and despise you. This kind of mentality is what we are fighting in Iraq right now hoping we can make them change.
Everyone worth his salt already knows that Michael Yon has a new book out, Moment of Truth in Iraq. It should be on everyone’s book list. Hugh Hewitt interviewed Michael Yon earlier this week Here is part of the beginning of the interview:
HH: I want to start with Farah. The cover picture is of little Farah who died in a terrorist attack, being cuddled by an American soldier rushing her to help. Tell people the story of Farah, and why you believe, as your chapter says in the middle, Farah did not die in vain.
MY: You know, that’s an interesting thing that you said that. I mean, I took that photo on May 2nd of 2005 up in Mosul. A suicide car bomber had lined up to do an attack on some of our soldiers, and they were in Stryker fighting vehicles. And Farah, and about twenty other kids, had run out to…when they would hear the Strykers, they would run out and waive, and the soldiers throw them candy and that sort of thing. And Farah’s mother later said that she ran out barefooted, you know, to waive and get candy or whatever, the suicide car bomber, who could have waited two or three blocks to attack our guys, or at least do it away from the kids, just ran right, drove right through the kids and exploded, detonated right there, killed one boy outright, burned him up. And then, you know, Farah…a woman, I don’t know if it was her mother, but a woman ran out with Farah, and came to the first American soldier she could fine. Walt Gaya, this is a pattern I’ve seen over and over, when Iraqis get hurt, they immediately go to American soldiers. And Walt was pushing out to a sniper position, but…and that’s really where he needed to go. But when he saw Farah injured, he grabbed her and took her back to the medics. The medics started working on her, and then Mark Bieger, he’s the major who’s in the photo that’s on the cover of the book, he picked up Farah, wrapped her in that blanket, and started to rush off to the hospital, grabbed up a few of the family members, and rushed to the hospital with Farah. But she, unfortunately, Farah died, so that’s how that photo was taken.
HH: But you also write that shortly after Farah’s murder, this picture published all over Iraq and over the world, had a devastating effect on the terrorists. Farah’s death was not in vain. Is that still true? Because obviously, it did show the American military man at his finest, but also the cost of this war and its starkest.
MY: It sure did. It had a terrible effect on the enemy. I mean, that neighborhood, which was previously somewhat pro-insurgent, turned completely against them. And in fact, I mean, her family invited the soldiers to her funeral. They didn’t go because, you know, because it just wasn’t appropriate, but the intelligence community told me that, a couple of officers told me that when that photo was released, they got a huge amount of actionable intelligence. And you know, what we’ve seen there in Mosul, that was Nineveh Province, we’ve seen this repeated in other places like Anbar Province and Diyala Province, and down in Baghdad, where al Qaeda, in particular, does horrible things to people, and they just turn completely against them. I mean, the Islamic world and the Arab world are really turning against al Qaeda, and just for this kind of thing.
HH: You know, Michael Yon, I want to spend a little time on that. It’s a little bit out of order, but I’m going to jump ahead in the book to Page 136 where you’re talking about al Qaeda. And you’ve done a lot of work studying cults, you’ve done a lot of work studying gangs, all over the world. And you write on that page, “Iraqis love and greatly value their children. This makes children especially vulnerable as targets for terrorists. This is a brutal fact. The official had gone on to say that on a couple of occasions in Baquba, al Qaeda invited to lunch families they wanted to convert to their way of thinking. In each instance, the family had a boy about eleven years old. When the family sat down to eat, their boy was brought in with his mouth stuffed. The boy had been baked. Al Qaeda served the boy to his family. My repeated attempts,” you write, “to verify this story failed to produce concrete proof, although many had heard similar stories. But the rumors showed how terrible al Qaeda’s reputation for atrocities had become among the local people.” And in another place, you write about exhuming a grave with Iraqi Security Forces, and in fact, you saw the evidence that they’re just butchers.
MY: They are. I mean, just a couple of days, or maybe one or two days before I heard that story, I was at a village just north of Baquba. It’s actually kind of contiguous with Baquba. And I published the grid coordinates of where this happened, actually. You know, al Qaeda had come in, the locals said it was al Qaeda, in the nearby places, and they had butchered everybody there. They had shot the adults, they had shot the animals, even, and beheaded the children. And I saw this with my own eyes. I photographed it. I made video and photos. It was unbelievable. I mean, they beheaded the children. So this is the kind of thing, you know, the Iraqis just have learned to hate al Qaeda. I mean, they are resurging, though, I mean, not all Iraqis. Not everybody’s gotten the memo yet, or the message. But a huge amount of them have just turned completely against al Qaeda.
Khalid Mohammed- AP
May 5, 2008, 10:40 am
Mohamed Hussein is an Iraqi employee of The New York Times in Baghdad. He left Iraq on New Year’s Day in 2007 to escape the sectarian violence from Shiite militias and Sunni insurgents who were both active in his mixed neighborhood. He returned last week, after 15 months out of Iraq. The name of his neighborhood has been withheld, because he is still afraid.
BAGHDAD — I came back to Baghdad last week.
First, it is important to mention the main cause that made me leave everything behind and go to Syria. By the end of 2006 my neighborhood had become an unbearable place. No one could continue there. It was without any simple services, from bakery shops to the hospital and physicians. They all closed their doors and left.
But the real cause is something hidden inside me that affected me more. One day while driving my car to work I saw a corpse thrown alongside the road, and for next three days no one could remove or even touch it. If you moved it you would face the same fate.
So I was gazing at that corpse twice a day for the next three days. That made me think about the whole situation and I said: “It is possible there will be a day when I will be the next corpse laid on that road.”
The other more important cause that made me leave was that it seemed like someone had started a campaign to assassinate everyone living in my area, no matter from which side -Sunni or Shiite – as they just needed numbers of people who had to be killed.
In Syria I did not really get any rest because although my wife and children came with me, my parents stayed behind. They were alone and they are both aged people, so they did not think anyone would target them. But what could I do for them either staying in Syria with all that agony inside me, or returning back and paying with my life as the price of that compassion?
After spending more than a year in Syria one day my father called me saying: “You can now return, and do not worry. Everything is fine now.”
I felt happy for them and for me, but only for a moment.
Later, that feeling began to become a mixture of happiness and wariness. I wanted to return, but at the same time I hesitated. I wanted to know if the situation there was as people said, or if they just exaggerated.
During my travel from Syria to Baghdad I was completely relaxed. There were no worries, no fear of looters and terrorists with Al Qaeda, or Ansar al-Sunna (Protectors of the Sunni), Jaish al-Mohammed (Army of Mohammed) who used to control everything on the expressway between Syria and Baghdad.
Then when we stopped to get some rest near a big restaurant called Bilaad ash-Sham I saw many Iraqi and Syrian buses filled with travelers, and many four-wheel-drive vehicles.
They told me that everything was going fine and that stories that I had heard about the security situation in some Baghdad districts were right.
I reached Baghdad at 6 a.m. The driver dropped me in the Mansour district. My mother was waiting for me there. Sometimes when I was calling her I could not keep back my tears. She always makes me feel like a young child, which is something I like. It covers me with kindness and warmth. She can read my thoughts and feels what’s inside me.
I put my luggage inside my mother’s car and we drove to my neighborhood. While driving I was amazed to see what I had heard about: the huge difference in security, which was much better than when I left.
My mother said: “Drive normally and just slow down when you are near a checkpoint.”
It was a really strange feeling to see my neighborhood again. In some ways it was the same, in others different. The main road had become ugly because there are now many damaged buildings and shops, and I noticed the marks of bullets and shrapnel everywhere around.
At the end of the journey when we reached the main entrance of my neighborhood my mother told me “Just slow down and say ‘Asalaam alaikum,’ (Peace be with you). Do not tell them you were in Syria.” She was afraid they would think I was a wanted man who had run away.
At that moment everything I had heard before seemed not right and I became more anxious with each meter I came closer to the checkpoint. Then I turned my head to the left and I saw the biggest cement wall I have ever seen, which encircles my neighborhood.
There were two Iraqi soldiers standing at the checkpoint. One of them stopped me and told me to open the trunk and engine. The other smiled, saying: “It is the day of bombed cars.”
He inspected my car with an explosive detector device. The other was just looking at us and it seemed that he recognized my mother’s face because he said: “Hi, auntie.”
Now I felt really safe because those people were working properly, not like the security forces in my neighborhood before who were making a secure path during the night for militia members to pass through, targeting everything there.
I think that the Iraqi police and army are working in the right way because there is an American military center inside my neighborhood. But all the people I met said that if the Americans left, those militias would eat our flesh without mercy.
I spent my first night without hearing any kind of shooting and mortar bombing, not like a year earlier when my daughter was asking me about all the sounds around and I was telling her, “Do not panic, baby, that is fireworks.”
This morning I heard the man who sells cooking gas knocking on the cylinders shouting “gaz, gaz, gaz ” which is something that had not happened for two years in my neighborhood.
This meant that all the things I heard about the improvements are true. Even the people are more friendly and I can say that there is now a kind of mutual trust between the people and the soldiers, not like before when there was no trust between each other.
Now, maybe if we think deeply about it, we will find that each needs the other. People need the soldiers to secure them. At the same time the U.S. troops are now in a safe place, maybe they can have more than one Green Zone.
Will it stay safe or not?
I guess that all depends on the American troops, since we will not have qualified Iraqi forces soon. Although most Iraqi forces are sincere you find some have been infiltrated by groups of gunmen and sectarian people who made the mess all around us.
So we still need the Americans because if they intend to leave, there will be something like a hurricane which will extract everything – people, buildings and even trees. Everything that has happened and all that safety will be past, just like a sweet dream.
As people say in my neighborhood: “The Americans are now Ansar al Sunna.” Protectors of the Sunni.
Hadi Mizban – AP
A former fetus, the “wordsmith from nantucket” was born in Phoenix, Arizona in 1968. Adopted at birth, wordsmith grew up a military brat. He achieved his B.A. in English from the University of California, Los Angeles (graduating in the top 97% of his class), where he also competed rings for the UCLA mens gymnastics team. The events of 9/11 woke him from his political slumber and malaise. Currently a personal trainer and gymnastics coach.
The wordsmith has never been to Nantucket.