One Veteran's Voice

26 December 2005

Building walls

An article in today's Washington Post about the situation on the ground in Samarra, Iraq, reminded me of my own battles.

Most of the combat I was involved in during Operation Iraqi Freedom II was against the Mahdi Army, an anti-American Shiite militia led by a radical young cleric with ties to Iran, Muqtada al-Sadr.

Nowadays, the streets of Sadr City where those battles took place are controlled by that very same militia (often wearing the uniforms of Iraqi police or security forces, because they happen to be members of both organizations). The Mahdi army provided security during the elections in January. I would imagine they did the same during the recent elections.

So did we "win" in our fight against the Mahdi Army?

By any conventional military assessment, the answer is no. Despite heavy combat, we never seized control of the slum of Sadr City by military means after the uprising of April 4, 2004. We blinked when al-Sadr holed himself up in the Iman Ali mosque in Najaf. Thank God Sistani was able to negotiate a face saving de-escalation of the situation, or a more widespread Shiite uprising could have been the result. Several weapons buyback programs with the Mahdi Army were initiated in and around Sadr City, but they are still heavily armed. The truth is that the Mahdi Army were rooted too deeply in the Shiite culture and community for us to confront them militarily.

The violence of 2004 in Sadr City, while some of the heaviest of the war so far, never quite reached the all out pitch of Fallujah. The marines leveled Fallujah. This is not to say that a great deal of damage wasn't done to Sadr City's infrastructure by both sides, but when faced with the choice of all out urban war or letting the illegal militia exist and even control the disputed territory, the higher-ups chose the latter option.

In my view, this was a wise choice. When the cease-fire was enacted with the Mahdi Army in late summer of 2004, the daily mortar attacks on our base all but stopped. IED attacks continued (hard to tell who's behind them), but the pitched urban battles in and around Sadr City more or less ended. The Mahdi Army turned in some of their weapons. They begin rebuilding Sadr City, instead of destroying it. Civic government and reconstruction efforts, both totally non-existent during the fighting, were restarted.

The Mahdi Army is not comprised of terrorists. Its members aren't interested in traveling to the United States to wage jihad on Americans (although they might be sympathetic to that cause, especially now). It is a radical Islamic organization, and there's no love for the United States to be found there, but it was not a serious threat to our constitution or way of life. The same could be said about most of the insurgent groups and militias fighting US forces in Iraq. By Bush's own admission, they are mostly comprised of Iraqis. They are young, male, poor, extremely angry, and they fight against US forces that they believe are occupying their nation for selfish and imperialist purposes. Many are Islamic in name and ideology, and use the rhetoric of jihad to recruit and justify their fight. But not all Islamic militants are terrorists, and not all terrorists are Islamic militants. There are die hard terrorists in Iraq, to be sure, and they must be dealt with-- ideally by the Iraqi people and government. Killing innocent people to prove a political point is unacceptable, and must be stopped.

The US military is not geared to fight an urban guerilla war. It can do it, sure, and hold its own, but when the people we are trying to protect generally despise us and want us gone, military force is not going to change hearts and minds. Building a wall around a city and shooting anyone who approaches is not going to create a democracy. When we clear and hold one area, the insurgents who don't get killed flee and start again somewhere else. They don't wear uniforms, they don't have a single leader, and there is no shortage of arms in Iraq for them to use in their campaign. They can and will fight indefinitely, as long as their will remains.

The first step in solving the Iraq situation is for US forces to move outside the urban areas in Iraq. Day to day tensions with checkpoints, run-ins with heavy-handed US patrols, and convoys that hog the road (or worse, I saw countless Iraqis run off the road by overzealous US drivers), have been alienating the average Iraqi for years. Iraqi security forces simply have to pick up the ball and run with it-- and very soon. Every wall we build is the new best recruiting tool for the insurgency.

George Bush would call me a defeatist, but I don't believe I am. I am a realist. I am his worst nightmare in some ways, because I've actually been there and done it, and I'm not afraid to say what's going wrong in Iraq. They can't dismiss me as some kind of anti-American leftist, because I've fought for America (something George Bush never chose to do). Rest assured, America, that if an occupying army ever arrives on our shores, I will be one of the sons of liberty fighting for freedom in the streets with my AK. I'm deadly serious.

It's true that we've got some great things going for us in Iraq. Number one is our military, which will fight to the death when ordered, and will never surrender. We must be careful how we wield that power, however. We are so large and powerful that we can easily be perceived as a bully.

Number two good thing is an Iraqi population that genuinely seems to be excited about democracy, even though they haven't all learned that violence among sectarian or political factions is unacceptable. The Iraqi security forces will fight twice as hard when they actually realize that they, and not us, are the only thing standing between anarchy and tranquility.

Number three good thing is that the Sunnis are beginning to join the political process, with some Sunni insurgents going so far as to suspend attacks and provide security against al-Queda bombers during the recent elections.

As a realist, I am aware that we need to be in Iraq for a little longer. Sadly, the inept way in which the campaign was handled has left us in a bad situation. We have the responsibility to insure that Iraq does not descend into anarchy and all out civil war. We can do this with air power and moderate numbers of US troops stationed as a quick reaction force at bases around Iraq. We don't need to be driving up and down the streets looking for IEDs that we find when they blow up in our faces.

There is a large US military presence in Kuwait. Most of the camps are out in the middle of the desert. We're not the Kuwaiti police or army, we stayed there to act as a deterrent against Saddam and other Mid-east despots after Gulf War I. It worked pretty well against Saddam, but not against Osama. That's because Osama is not a country. An invasion is not going to defeat Osama, or al-Queda. Freedom and economic prosperity will. Bullets may be needed for some, but an army of occupation in Iraq is not helping our cause.

What do you think?

Current Events, Iraq, Mahdi Army, Terrorism

8 Other Voices:

Sarah said...

So many, many people said exactly these things during the media blitz and buildup to this invasion. So many people spoke up and said: "this is the disaster that is going to happen." And it did, all of it. Those voices were not heard on American television naturally, but they were saying these things nonetheless. I think you are pretty much dead-on correct about what we need to do in Iraq now. But I will never, ever, in a million years think we are in that country legitimately. There is so much wrong with why our troops are there, that I can't get past it...

12/30/2005 10:28:52 AM  
OneVeteran'sVoice said...

We are not there legitimately, because Bush wasn't patient enough to let the UN do its job. He could have taken a few lessons from his daddy: If you want to get involved in the mid-east for OIL, at least make it LOOK legitimate.

With that said, we are there, and we do have some responsibility to make sure that everything doesn't go to shit. This may be impossible. I'm honestly not sure yet. One thing is for sure, we need to reduce our numbers and presence in Iraq, get out of the cities, and let the Iraqis take the lead on this twisted experiment in democracy. I for one would never have enlisted knowing that I would be sent to fight for an Iraqi's right to democracy. I enlisted to protect and defend the constitution, not Iraq.

12/31/2005 05:57:06 AM  
BadTux said...

Re: defending country vs. defending Iraqis: Exactly. I showed up on the Air Force recruiter's doorstep in 1983 to protect and serve *AMERICA* and *AMERICANS*, not *IRAQIS*.

Regarding the "we broke it, now we have to fix it" argument: My problem is that this statement shows a vivid lack of imagination. Just because we broke it with the military doesn't mean we have to -- or can -- fix it with the military. If, say, instead of spending $80 *BILLION* per year stationing troops in Iraq (most of which goes into Halliburton's pockets to feed and supply the troops and never makes it to Iraq), we instead loaded up C-5's with that much money in hundred-dollar bills, and send them circling over Iraq's cities throwing hundred-dollar bills out the doors, we'd have more of a chance of winning hearts and minds than we have while shooting up the country, and the resulting prosperity would tend to make the Iraqis too fat and happy to think about shooting each other.

That's just one imaginary solution for fixing Iraq. I have no idea whether it would actually work. But my point was that just because we broke it with the military, doesn't mean we have to fix it with the military. That's like saying that if I broke my computer with a hammer, I have to fix my computer with a hammer. Using a screwdriver might work better.

- Badtux the Patriotic Penguin

12/31/2005 12:14:01 PM  
Trevor said...

Other than the bitterness you obviously feel, which may be understandable, I think you have an intelligent and well-thought out argument to add to the ongoing debate over this war.

As far as letting the UN do its job, it never would have...the UN is a fatally flawed organization riddled with corruption and tin pot despots.

Happy New Year, my friend. Hope to see you back home over a cup of coffee one day. That's how civlized people debate.

1/01/2006 06:59:00 AM  
BadTux said...

"As far as letting the UN do its job, it never would have...the UN is a fatally flawed organization riddled with corruption and tin pot despots."

As compared to the United States government, which is a perfect organization with no corruption and no tin-pot despots.

Alrighty, then!

In case you didn't notice, the UN *did* do its job in Iraq. Hans Blix was on the verge of issuing a report that said that Iraq had no WMD -- a report that the US knew he was about to issue because the CIA had tapped his phone -- and, guess what: Hans Blix was *RIGHT*!

Imagine that, the UN got it more right than that perfect paragon of competence and clean government, the Bush Administration. Who woulda thunk it?!

- Badtux the Snarky Penguin

1/01/2006 03:15:20 PM  
The Un-Apologetic Atheist said...

Good analysis, OV. Wrote my own little assessment of this, quoted you pretty heavily. I've been all but melting down my brain, trying to figure out how to get these messages across to the "black and white world" go-alongers who won't see the greys in the picture.

Since Americans lately seem predisposed to only listen to those who've been shot at in our name, I'm glad to see you doing this: real thinking, not ideology-driven hippie talk or jingoistic sabre-rattling. Thanks, man. Really.

1/03/2006 12:02:29 PM  
OneVeteran'sVoice said...

Thank you, un-apologetic atheist, for reading, and for the blog-roll. I totally agree that Americans are so polarized that it's hard to get any message across that isn't targeted at one side from the get go. I.E.-- I know my audience, I write off the other side as unreachable, now let me craft the speech that's going to reinforce what my target audience already believes (or wants to believe). That kind of shit is fake, and it's really holding our country back. I blame TV.

1/03/2006 02:55:10 PM  
Joe Visionary said...

Excellent blog. I have always found that the front liners are the best place to get the starkest truth from.

This guy was also there, but he would seem not to have spent as much time in Iraqs' faces, and also doesn't seem to have considered much beyond Bush's talk.

Unfortunately, it your comment doesn't agree with his thinking, he wont post it. Pretty hopeless.

Please be careful.

Happy New Year.

1/04/2006 06:55:13 AM  

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