In the Middle of a Perilous Peace
A U.S. Army Soldier from Charlie Troop, 2nd Squadron, 1st Cavalry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division out of Ft. Lewis, Wash., patrols a village during an operation south of Baqubah, Iraq, Oct. 4, 2007. U.S. Air Force photo
Michael Yon in November traveling with soldiers of the 2-4 Alpha of the 10th Mountain Division:
We rumbled into various neighborhoods in south Baghdad. Nothing was going on. No gun battles. No mushroom clouds from car bombs or IEDs. I wore the headset and the incessant radio alerts about units fighting here or there were completely absent. In the old days, while the Iraq war was hot, there was constant chatter about fighting, car bombs, snipers, name it. Today, there were no alerts at all. There was more chatter about the Kenyan sitting in front of me who had been in the Army for a couple years. The other soldiers said he should get automatic citizenship for volunteering to fight, and we all agreed. The soldier came straight from Kenya into our Army. Did not even pass GO, and suddenly was in Iraq.
On another day, I had lunch with a soldier from Ghana. He told me that Ghana has the same constitution as the United States, and that he was proud to join the American Army. He had become an American, to which I said, “Welcome aboard.” He had one of those Ghana accents and was black as coal. By the time he finished telling me about his homeland, I was sold on wanting to travel there someday.
“Are Americans welcome?” I asked.
“Sure!” He seemed to think the question was humorous for its simplicity about Ghana. He said that American soldiers in Ghana are treated like kings, and if anyone gives a hassle, a U.S. soldier has only to show his military ID, and the clouds all disappear. The soldier from Ghana told me that when he goes home on leave, the police actually salute him because he joined the American army. I was incredulous, and asked for reassurance, “Really?! They salute you?”
“Yes,” he said, with that funny Ghana accent. “They Salute American soldiers in Ghana! They love America and many Americans retire there.”
Sounded like Kurdish Iraq, where the kids ask soldiers for autographs, and even ask interpreters for autographs if they work for American soldiers.
Why al Qaeda has lost legitimacy, thanks to the war in Iraq:
I still find people in America, Nepal, Thailand, UAE and other countries who believe al Qaeda propaganda that they attack us because we support Israel or occupy Muslim holy land. This would not explain the decapitated Iraqi children I photographed when locals told me al Qaeda did it. This would not explain the Iraqi children al Qaeda has blown up, or the Afghans and Pakistanis killed by al Qaeda, or the Africans who are murdered by the same cult of serial killers. Did those decapitated children in the Iraqi village even know where America or Israel are? What about the Shia mosques they destroyed in Iraq? Were they occupying Saudi Arabia or supporting Israel?
Read the whole dispatch.
Michael Yon has recently been very optimistic about the current path to stability in Iraq, declaring the "war over" in Iraq as far back as July, and re-affirming it last month. Michael Totten has been more cautious and reserved, while noting that "pessimists have been losing the argument in Iraq ever since General David Petraeus radically transformed the American counterinsurgency strategy". Recently, he made a return to Baghdad, and has a more somber view, which includes the need to insure that Iraq remains on the right course, by keeping an American footprint in Iraq longer than 16 months:
BAGHDAD – For the past two weeks I’ve been embedded with the United States Army in Baghdad, and I find myself unable to figure out what to make of this place. Baghdad, despite the remarkable success of the surge, is as mind-bogglingly run-down and dysfunctional as ever, even compared with other Arabic countries. Iraq is a dark place. At times it feels like a doomed country that has only been temporarily spared the reckoning that is coming. Other times it is possible to look past the grimness and see progress beyond the mere slackening off of violence and war. Is Iraq truly on the mend, or has a total breakdown been merely postponed? Opinions here among Americans and Iraqis are mixed, but nearly everyone seems to agree about one thing at least: terrorists and insurgents will respond with a surge of their own in the wake of the upcoming withdrawal of American forces.
Sergeant Nick Franklin took me to meet an Iraqi woman named Malath who works with the local Sons of Iraq security organization in the Adhamiyah district of Baghdad. When I asked her if she thought her area was ready to stand on its own without American help, she bluntly answered “Of course not.” She doesn’t think Iraq needs another year or two or even three. She thinks it will need decades. “We won’t be ready until young people replace the older generation in the Iraqi Army and Iraqi Police. They need to replace the old Baath Party members who are still inside.”
Her view is the darkest. But Iraqis who think the job should only require a few more years are still pessimistic about what they think is likely to happen when the negotiated Status of Forces Agreement goes into effect and American troops withdraw from Iraqi cities in 2009. “We’ve seen hell,” an Iraqi intelligence source said when I met him in his house. “And that hell, if the American forces evacuate, will repeat. If Obama forces an evacuation from Iraq soon, everything will turn against him in this land.”
Headline title for this post inspired by From Counterinsurgents to Peacekeepers