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War in Iraq from a soldier’s perspective

Letter to the Editor | Sunday, September 13, 2009

Reading Lauren Jacobi’s article on the reporter’s lecture on Iraq (“Reporter lectures on Iraq conflict,” Sept. 10) filled me with the same sense of frustration I often get trying to explain the war in Iraq to someone who has not been there. And apparently, Thomas Ricks spent some time in Iraq. I was there for 15 months as part of the Baghdad Security Plan or, as it is often referred to, “The Surge.” My Brigade (approximately 3,500 soldiers) deployed in March of 2007 and stayed until June of 2008. Our job was to secure the eastern edge of Baghdad to limit accelerant movement into Baghdad.

Ricks is correct in that the Surge was a very difficult time in Iraq. The fighting was intense; I lost several friends and saw the carnage first-hand as a Scout Platoon Leader. Then things changed. As more forces poured into the area and our troop numbers swelled, we were able to provide stability. Patrol bases were established to maintain watch over the neighborhoods, we were able to achieve near constant presence in the streets and the violence crested and then rapidly dissipated.

In the weekly sheik counsel meetings, that change became very real. What started as a hodgepodge of local leaders without a voice in the government shaped into the “Sons of Iraq” movement that started in the Anbar province and spread like wildfire. The people in our corner of the Wassit Province found their voice. The Iraqis took the responsibility of security into their own hands, not just as paid volunteers under the Sons of Iraq, but the ebbing tide of violence allowed for vast improvement in the Federal Police, local Police and Iraqi Army. Additionally, many political leaders that shut themselves out of the previous election where able to make their voice heard through non-violent means. This was the basis for current Security Agreement that allows Iraqis to tell Americans that they do not need our help in the cities.

According to Jacobi’s article, Ricks’ three points that Americans do not understand were how difficult the surge was (and that it ultimately failed), that the elections will be violently contested and that there is impending civil war. I feel that is an unfair conjecture at this point. Iraqis have only had security in their hands since July. It’s early September; this is not a football season – things take time. New Orleans is still nowhere near where it was before Katrina and that was a natural disaster. Iraq is a country that has been at war with itself and its neighbors for the better part of its history.

Here are the three things I believe most Americans do not understand about the war in Iraq: 1. Iraq is not America and Iraqis are not Americans. They have different moral and ethical standards, different standards of living and a different outlook on life in general. If you hold Iraq or Iraqis to American standards you will always see a huge dissonance because they are completely different.

2. The current Security Agreement in Iraq is still in flux. Iraqi security forces need time to be tested, learn and improve. This is their first chance to establish security since 2003 so things are not perfect. But they are far better than what most people would believe and they have come a very long way in a short period of time.

3. The elections this January are the true test of how long we will have to stay in Iraq to provide stability and assistance. I refuse to believe that it is a foregone conclusion that Iraq will have a violently disputed election. There may be violence, but Iraqi security forces have three more months to continue to grow and develop. Additionally it is an opportunity that most Iraqis see as a chance to show the international community that are capable of achieving a democratic and non-violent society.

I know that the war in Iraq is far from over and I think most Americans now realize that nation-building takes time. It took decades to rebuild Germany and Japan after WWII and decades to rebuild Korea after the Korean War. I believe that Americans know and understand this, but that it is a tough pill to swallow when America itself is in turmoil economically and politically. There is light at the end of the tunnel and I believe that, given the opportunity to succeed, our efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq will produce stable strategic partners in critical parts of the globe.

John Dickson


class of 2005

Sept. 11