Thursday, May 29, 2008

Mahdi Army Itches to Fight Again

Success in Iraq will depend on how the Iraqi government deals – or fails to deal – with the Shiite militias like the Mahdi Army.

To watch a comparable situation, keep your eyes on the democratic government of Lebanon that continues a shaky relationship with the radical Hezbollah terrorist militia.

By the way, both Hezbollah and the Mahdi Army are supplied, funded and trained by Iran. Iran’s ultimate goals in both Lebanon and Iraq are the establishment of fundamentalist governments like the one in Tehran.

Check out the following article:

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Philadelphia Inquirer
May 29, 2008

Dissent Arises Over Iraq Cease-Fire
A Mahdi Army leader said, "We were duped." A disagreement could restart Shiite fighting.

By Hamza Hendawi, Associated Press

BAGHDAD - An angry Shiite militia commander complained yesterday "we were duped" into accepting a cease-fire in Sadr City - remarks that pointed to a potentially damaging rift within the movement of radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.

The May 11 truce ended seven weeks of fierce fighting in Baghdad between U.S. and Iraqi government forces and Sadr's Mahdi Army militia, which held nearly complete control of the capital's sprawling Sadr City district.

Iraqi soldiers now have moved into most parts of Sadr City with little resistance. But the objections raised by the commander highlight apparent dissent by some Mahdi Army leaders.

A split among Sadr's followers - between those favoring a more militant path and others seeking compromise with Iraq's government - could threaten the relative calm in Baghdad and reignite Shiite-on-Shiite violence across Iraq's oil-rich south.

The commander, speaking to tribal sheikhs and lawmakers loyal to Sadr, said "we were duped and deceived" by the truce. "They are arresting many of us now."

The group had gathered in Sadr's main Baghdad office to discuss how to respond to what they consider cease-fire "violations" by Iraqi troops, such as arrests and house searches.

Some in the audience, however, took issue with the views of the commander, whose name was not made public for security reasons.

"You can be the winner without a military victory," said Falah Hassan Shanshal, a prominent Sadrist and one of two parliamentarians who attended the meeting in Sadr City, home to 2.5 million Shiites.

"We had to bow before the storm because it was uprooting everything and everyone standing in its path," he said.

Shanshal was referring to the punishing attacks by U.S. and Iraqi government forces, which used tanks, helicopter gunships, and Hellfire missiles fired from unmanned aircraft. The strikes killed and wounded hundreds and left parts of Sadr City in ruins.

The southern section of the district has been sealed off from the rest of Sadr City in an attempt to foil militia movements and rocket and mortar attacks on the U.S.-protected Green Zone.

The battles in Sadr City were part of a wider Mahdi Army backlash to a government crackdown on armed groups launched in late March in the southern city of Basra.

Sadr, who has been in Iran for at least a year, supported the Sadr City cease-fire, perhaps to save his Mahdi Army from further losses so it can continue the fight later.

But signs of opposition have been growing within the militia ranks. Last week, two Mahdi Army commanders said militiamen were divided over whether the cease-fire was in their interest.

The head of Sadr's office in Sadr City, Sheikh Salman al-Freiji, suggested the truce might collapse if "violations" by the Iraqi army continued.

"There will not be any trust built between the two sides like that," Freiji warned. "The Mahdi Army was created to defend the Iraqi people. How can you do that without fighting the occupier?"

Shanshal, the Sadrist lawmaker, was conciliatory. He blamed the Iraqi army for heavy-handed tactics but stressed that he did not want more fighting in Sadr City.

* * * *

As long as the armed radical militias remain in the shadows, ready to continue their fight, long-term peace will be difficult to achieve in Iraq.

SFC Chuck Grist

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Hal Moore Is More Forgiving Than I Am - My Problem, Not His

There are few men that I admire more than Hal Moore, the legendary commander of the First Cavalry Division troops who fought so bravely in the Ia Drang Valley during the Vietnam War.

The following article was forwarded to me by the man who introduced me to retired Lieutenant General Moore when he came to Central Florida to help jump-start a scholarship fund in the name of a Marine killed in Iraq.

I also admire Moore because he has the ability to forgive his enemy.

Here is the article from USA Today:

* * * *


How enemies became friends in this unique lesson of Vietnam

"When the blood of any war soaks your clothes and covers your hands, and soldiers die in your arms, every breath forever more becomes an appeal for a greater peace, unity and reconciliation.

It was Vietnam. I was their commander and accountable for them. We charged the enemy with bayonets fixed to our rifles in face-to-face combat. I still hear the ugly sounds of war.

(Photo - 1993 meeting: Vietnamese Lt. Gen. Nguyen Huu An, with the author at the Ia Drang Valley in Vietnam / File photo courtesy of Hal Moore)

... I still see the boots of my dead sticking out from under their ponchos, laces tied one last time by their precious fingers. … I still carry the wounded to the helicopters as they bled, screamed and begged to live one more day … and I still hold those who die in my arms, with their questioning eyes dreading death, as they called for their mothers … their eyes go blank and my war-crusted fingers close their eyelids. The blood of my dead soldiers will not wash from my hands. The stains remain.

On Nov. 16, 1965, we won the LZ-Xray battle in the Ia Drang Valley of Vietnam. But 79 of my dear troopers died for those of us who lived. During the battle, we took prisoners of war. We gave them water and aspirins to help relieve their pain. Their anxious faces soon gave way to expressions of relief that they were treated with dignity.

My unending thirst for peace and unity drove me to return to the "Valley of Death" in 1993. Some of my men accompanied me to meet with the man, along with a few of his soldiers, who had once endeavored to kill us all. Lt. Gen. Nguyen Huu An and I came face-to-face. Instead of charging one another with bayonets, we mutually offered open arms. I invited all to form a circle with arms extended around each other's shoulders and bowed our heads. With prayer and tears, we shared our painful memories. Although we did not understand each other's language, we quickly saw that the soul requires no interpreter.

Gen. An and I then walked toward each other and shook hands. He kissed me on both cheeks! A communion of friendship was established that far outweighed past bloody memories. Later, Gen. An and I walked part of the battlefield. Together we surveyed the once blood-soaked terrain. Foxholes dug long ago were adorned with blooming wildflowers. No thunder of war filled the air. Instead, birds sang with a most beautiful "noise." Ever so gently, Gen. An placed his arm in mine. We had made a very long journey from war to peace. This was sealed through the reverent affection of one arm in the other.

Col. Tran Minh Hao, one of An's soldiers, accompanied us during the battlefield visit. As we dined that night in Pleiku, he beautifully expressed the unity we all felt in the circle earlier that day.

"We have come to you this afternoon … feeling the loss of each of you … we come to span a bridge … untroubled by ancient rifts … we look together towards the future … we leave old hates for new friendships … forever in peace and harmony."

Spontaneous gestures of respect and friendship followed Hao's poem. I took off my wristwatch and offered it as a gift to Gen. An. Gladly, he accepted the gift. Then, he picked up his much-prized three-star helmet and offered it to me. Stunned, I accepted his most personal gift. Our eyes locked, as the door to our hearts had been fully opened to each other.

Lt. Gen. An died on April 9, 1995. I later visited his family in Hanoi to pay my respects. The wristwatch I had given him was displayed in a viewing case as a part of the family shrine in Gen. An's home.

Resting in my den, our dueling helmets duel no more! To the casual observer, they might just be old war souvenirs. But to me they are examples of a greater peace and unity between once warring nations.

From face-to-face combat to arm-in-arm friendship — unity was restored by our efforts to come together. I implore our great leaders on "the many days after" Memorial Day to advance this most worthy of causes for peace and unity. People and nations rise above their differences only through effort, through trust.

Without trust, unity is beyond reach and restoration. With trust, unity is within reach and preservation. We must reach out to others in order to preserve the freedom we hold dear. We are each called to bear witness to the ideals of liberty. When we treat others with the respect and friendship that true liberty engenders, they will be brought into that same liberty.

When the heartbeat of one soldier stops forever, the heartbeat of our nation should accelerate, driving us to ensure that this life was not sacrificed in vain. That racing pulse should rouse us to seek, at all costs, better ways to understand, forgive and deal with our differences. Reconciliation should always be our objective.

We owe our dead and their survivors no less! We owe our children much more! We owe our children's children even more! Let us pay our debts.

God bless America."

Hal Moore served in the Vietnam War from 1965-67. He is co-author of the book We Were Soldiers Once … And Young as well as the book We Are Soldiers Still, which will be published in August. He is also founder of the National Endowment for The Public Trust.

* * * *

Hal Moore is a better man than me. He experienced much more vicious combat than I did, lost more comrades in more horrible circumstances than I did and is much better qualified to make the decision to forgive such evil people.

The communist regime in Vietnam today is the same enemy who murdered so many innocent civilians during the war, who tortured our prisoners-of-war, who murdered untold thousands in the post-victory communist purge, who tortured untold numbers of South Vietnamese in the post-war “re-education” camps and who expect American tourists, veterans and visiting politicians to walk through the bullshit “American War Crimes Museum” when they visit Vietnam today.

If I ever made the trip to Vietnam – which I won’t – and some former NVA soldier tried to tell me about American “war crimes”, I’d have to kick his ass. Then I’d end up stuck in whatever replaced the “Hanoi Hilton.” Even as we increase our trade with Vietnam, we must never forget that the murder of innocents was part of the national policy of the communist North Vietnamese; when Americans did such evil deeds they were violating our own laws and national policy.

Other Vietnam veterans can make their own decisions, but - God forgive me – the “North” Vietnamese can still kiss my ass.


SFC Chuck Grist

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Memorial Day 2008: We Must Never Forget

I have fought a good fight
I have finished my course
I have kept the faith.

Timothy 2:4:7

The following posting is much the same as it was when I first added it to this blog for Memorial Day in 2007:

* * * *

I remember the 18-year-old kid from Tennessee who let me use his transistor radio, the baby-faced private from North Carolina with the big grin, Staff Sergeant James, Sergeant Brezinski and Sergeant Dowjotas. There are others whose names, God forgive me, I cannot recall. All of their names are on the Vietnam wall because they gave their lives for their country.

I also remember Lieutenant King.

Late in 1970, after several months as an infantry platoon leader, I got sick as a dog one morning after we returned to the firebase. At first the medics thought it was malaria, but it was just some other type of jungle virus and I was laid up in the rear area for about a month. Unfortunately, another lieutenant was sent to take over my platoon.

When I recovered, I asked the battalion commander to re-assign me to another platoon. He said he would let me fill the next platoon leader vacancy. When the lieutenant for the second platoon of Bravo Company rotated back to the States, I politely reminded the battalion commander of his promise.

He was nice about it, but he said he was sending Lieutenant Thomas P. King to take over that platoon. I had gotten to know King from our chess games in a firebase bunker. King was a West Point graduate and a career officer who needed the field time, so the commander said I could have the next platoon.

Less than two weeks later, Lieutenant King and his men walked up on an NVA bunker complex. Along with several other soldiers, he was killed when a North Vietnamese soldier detonated a Chinese claymore mine. If I had been in command of that platoon as originally planned, I would have been the one killed.

Years later I stood in front of the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, D.C. and stared at the engraving of King’s name. Only a quirk of fate put his name there instead of mine.

Now there are those from Iraq and Afghanistan who don’t have their own place in Washington, D.C. yet, but whose names will one day appear on a monument for Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom. They have sacrificed everything in this new war just because their country needed them.

From Bunker Hill to Baghdad, America’s warriors have given their lives to defend this nation and its allies from those who would enslave or kill our fellow citizens. On battlefields in Iraq, Afghanistan and other countries throughout the world, we continue to lose our sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, fathers and mothers as they protect our way of life with honor and valor.

Those of us who have fought in America’s wars will never forget the faces of our comrades. We will remember them when they were laughing, sharing a meal, missing their families or lying dead in a body bag. They will always be in our hearts and souls.

We hope that, on this Memorial Day, all of you will remember them, too.

SFC Chuck Grist

Saturday, May 17, 2008

It Wasn't My Fault Say the Generals

One day in 2004, my team and I stood by at the front doors of the Water Palace (Al Faw Palace) at Camp Victory. As a protective service detail, we were waiting for our general to emerge from the palace after meeting with then-commander Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez (pictured above).

Before our boss exited the palace, Sanchez came walking out of the doors, followed by his “Incredible Hulk”-style Army bodyguard. I saluted Sanchez and he crisply returned my salute.

At the time, all of us average soldiers believed that men like Sanchez had their fingers on the pulse of the war. Still, we were concerned with several issues whose solutions seemed fairly obvious, even to the average privates and sergeants.

The failure of CPA boss Bremer to pay for obviously critical improvements to Iraqi society bothered us all. We had invaded a nation of more than 25 million people, removed their government, their army, their police and their infrastructure, but somehow we were supposed to fix everything with only 140,000 troops. The people needed electricity, water, jobs and a host of other things. Our failure to provide these necessities resulted in a lot of hungry ex-soldiers and ex-cops joining the insurgency.

When fiery cleric Muqtada al Sadr launched his up-risings in 2004, the troops wanted to take him out along with his Mahdi Army. The CPA succumbed to political pressure from al Sadr’s fellow Shiites. Now, in 2008, the Mahdi Army is Iraq’s version of Hezbollah or Hamas and this Iranian-trained militia is still killing Americans and Iraqis.

Also in 2004, we watched our troops fight valiantly in Fallujah, only to be pulled out when a former Iraqi general under Saddam Hussein was given permission to form the “Fallujah Protective Army”. This was a force of Fallujah residents who did exactly as all of us average soldiers predicted - nothing. They gave insurgents free reign in Fallujah and refused to turn over the foreign fighters.

The soldiers always knew what should have been done in the beginning. We had faith that our military leaders would do what was necessary to succeed in Iraq, but our faith was misplaced to a large degree in those early days of the war.

We must still emerge victorious in Iraq – as long as the Iraqis continue to work with us. But now we are watching some of our former commanders, like Sanchez and other generals, try to put all of the blame on the politicians for those early strategic mistakes. Most of the blame belongs with the political leaders in Washington, but some of it does not.

Generals whose men are making the ultimate sacrifice on the battlefield must do more than “follow orders”. When it comes to the ultimate test of honor, a general has an obligation to speak up on behalf of those who are doing the fighting and dying, even if it costs that general his job. A good example of such a general of honor is Eric Shinseki, who told Congress exactly what it would take to succeed in Iraq and who was summarily shuffled off into retirement.

Like many veterans of the Iraq war, I have become tired of listening to retired generals who have become “talking heads” on the evening news. It wasn’t their fault, they say. They were only following orders, they say. Many of these generals were commanders who failed as leaders because their honor became secondary to their next promotion.

Things have changed for the better in Iraq because the military leaders, and the soldiers under them, have taken the lead in getting things done. As it should have been in the beginning, authority to make things happen has finally been delegated to all levels of command. This is much improved over those early days in the war when very little authority was granted – even to the generals.

The following article about retired Lt. General Sanchez’s new book appeared in today’s Miami Herald.

* * * *

Miami Herald
May 17, 2008

Ex-Iraq Commander Distances Self From Culpability
The former head of command in Iraq said he may have been the chief, but he was just following orders.

By Nancy A. Youssef

WASHINGTON--To hear retired Army Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez explain it, the mistakes of the Iraq war that happened while he was in command there weren't his fault. Not Abu Ghraib, not the birth of the insurgency, not the decision to let rebel cleric Muqtada al Sadr survive.

Sanchez was a soldier, and according to him, a general's job is to give advice. What the civilian leaders decide after that is out of a general's hands.

''It's our responsibility to provide the best judgment we can,'' Sanchez said in an interview with McClatchy. ``But when those decisions are made, if they are not illegal or immoral, civilian control of the military dictates that we comply.''

Sanchez argues that crafting a strategy wasn't his responsibility, even as the top commander in Iraq. That fell to the civilian leaders, such as the secretary of defense and the president.

But as part of the military's emerging counterinsurgency strategy, commanders now are calling their soldiers ''strategic corporals.'' That is, every soldier's decision is part of the broader strategy.

Captains serving in outposts throughout Iraq now are leading fiefdoms alongside local Iraqi leaders, deciding everything from who should protect the community to how local funds should be spent. Commanders now stress to corporals and captains stationed in those outposts that their decisions are part of the broader strategy.

''It's all well and good for a general to say I am not responsible for grand strategy,'' said retired Army Brig. Gen. Kevin Ryan. ``But corporals can be strategic. They can make things happen.''

Latest book

Sanchez's comments were part of a series of interviews he's given recently to promote his new autobiography, ''Wiser in Battle: A Soldier's Story,'' the latest of several books by key Iraq decision-makers that seem intended to exonerate them of responsibility.

In his book, Sanchez repeatedly spells out instances in which civilian leaders made decisions that countered his recommendations.

Advice ignored

Sanchez said the key window for the United States to turn the situation around in Iraq opened with the capture of Saddam Hussein in December 2003.

It closed the following April, he said, when the U.S. made two key mistakes: It launched its first major offensive into Fallujah and decided not to capture Sadr, whose Shiite militia has since grown into one of Iraq's most powerful forces.

Sanchez said he advised President Bush not to go into Fallujah in April 2004 after four private security contractors were taken hostage and killed. Their burned bodies were hung from a bridge as several Iraqis celebrated beneath them, in widely-circulated photos.

Sanchez said he feared that proponents of attacking Fallujah were being driven by a knee-jerk reaction to the photos and not by any consideration of the difficulty of moving into the city, which had been a troublesome redoubt of anti-American insurgents since the day U.S. troops toppled Hussein.

He said he advised against the offensive. The president ''appreciated our caution but then ordered us to attack,'' Sanchez wrote.

That battle ended in failure less than a month later and signaled to the insurgency that the U.S. would walk away from a major fight.

That same month, the U.S. had a chance to arrest Sadr, but Sanchez said that L. Paul Bremer, then the head of the Coalition Provincial Authority, called off the operation. Sadr has been haunting U.S. efforts in Iraq ever since.

Abu Ghraib

Sanchez said that he should have known more about what was going on at the Abu Ghraib prison, where Iraqi prisoners were subjected to abuses that resulted in the courts-martial of seven low-ranking soldiers.

But even there, he said he bore no direct responsibility for what was taking place. Instead, the abuses of Abu Ghraib were a result of the Bush administration's endorsement of aggressive interrogations, which began in Afghanistan. He points out that an Army inspector general report ultimately absolved him.

* * * *

The early mistakes in Iraq do not negate the necessity to succeed in our military efforts in that country. We must never forget that the ultimate problem is, and shall be for some time, the Iranian issue. If we pull out of Iraq before the Iraqis can defend themselves, Iran will use Muqtada al Sadr to carry out a proxy takeover of Iraq.

This is the ultimate goal of the radical Shiites and such a victory would only ensure a continued river of blood throughout the Middle East.

SFC Chuck Grist

Friday, May 2, 2008

My First Grandson is Born!

I am extraordinarily proud of my three little grand-daughters: Kaitlyn, Jessica and Ashley. They supported me greatly during my tour in Iraq and the oldest, Katie, inspired me regularly with emails from “Peachrose”.

On May 1, Debbie and I were pleased to welcome our first grandson, Aiden. My daughter Jennifer and her husband Ken (who, like me, is a cop) have done a great job and we are proud to welcome this latest addition to their family.

I guess they will have to put up with Grandpa giving them little Army uniforms with Ranger tabs and jump wings sewn in place, but they’ll get used to it.

Rangers Lead the Way!

SFC Chuck Grist