Monday, April 9, 2007
Baghdad: Four Years After Liberation
"We regard Iraq’s success to be our success.
And, God forbid, Iraq’s failure will also be ours.”
Zalmay Khalilzad, U.S. Ambassador to Iraq on February 20, 2005
This is the fourth anniversary of the liberation of Baghdad by America and the Coalition. When Saddam’s statue was brought to the ground (above photo from Reuters), we were greeted as liberators and welcomed by most of the citizens of Iraq. Then we dropped the ball.
Ignoring the advice of experienced military leaders, Donald Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney and George Bush believed we could invade a country of 25 million people, remove its entire governmental infrastructure, including all of its police and military personnel, and then fix everything with only 140,000 soldiers. This type of intellectual arrogance has plagued the upper regions of our government for too long. These leaders failed to plan for contingencies, failed to understand the history of the Arab people and failed to recognize the limitations of their own down-sized military.
I was in Baghdad on the first anniversary of its liberation. Even in 2004, most average soldiers could see that the Coalition had a tiger by the tail. The Iraqi people were hungry, jobless and they had no electricity or clean water. Civil affairs soldiers submitted plan after plan for rebuilding Baghdad. The Coalition Provisional Authority took its time in reviewing the plans and rejected too many of them. The clock was ticking and the patience of the Iraqi people would not last long.
The presence of any western military power will eventually be rejected by most Arabs. We choose to forget that the Crusades of the Middle Ages were not enlightening religious experiences to the Arab world. Those who came to the Arabian deserts in the name of Christianity were brutal “terrorists” who murdered and pillaged in the name of God. The Arabs have never forgotten this period in history and they don’t welcome westerners who want to “teach them a better way”. They even convinced the mighty British empire of the last century that it was in their interests to go home.
From the moment of Iraq’s liberation, we have been held in contempt by the same radical Shiite leaders we freed from oppression. While we waffled, backed off and tried to walk a political tightrope with the Shiites and the Sunnis, our indecision encouraged the likes of Muqtada al Sadr. Al Sadr, the founder and spiritual leader of the Shiite Mahdi Army, remains in hiding and he is probably in the land of his generous foreign sponsor, Iran. He called for massive demonstrations today in the holy city of Najaf to protest the “occupation” of Iraq by Coalition troops. Al Sadr and his militia should have been destroyed when they numbered in the hundreds. Now there are tens of thousands of them clamoring for American blood.
Although our post-invasion strategy has been poor, we have been warmly received by most Iraqis. Our brave soldiers have proven they are friends to the average citizens and they have accomplished many great things. The stumbling block continues to be the inability of the Iraqis to get along with each other long enough to build a future of cooperation, brotherhood and prosperity. Even if they can find an Iraqi solution, the radical fundamentalist groups like Al Qaeda will probably always be around in this ancient land.
There is much controversy about whether or not America will stay in Iraq until we “win” the war. The war to liberate Iraq from the clutches of Saddam Hussein was won. The challenge now is an Iraqi struggle to create a strong, self-sustaining nation with the helping hands of the Coalition. Only the Iraqis will decide if the final chapter will be a free and prosperous Iraq or a new tragedy for old Mesopotamia.
While the Iraqi front in the world-wide war on terror has not been managed well, we must not give up and allow the fundamentalists to make Iraq their new sanctuary. We must convince Iraqis on all sides to work together, we must increase our efforts to build a strong Iraqi military and we must destroy any armed force – whether Sunni, Shiite or foreign - that tries to bring down the new Iraq.
We must not forget the words of Mr. Khalilzad.
SFC Chuck Grist