Email from Northern Iraq

I was recently forwarded some email from an American soldier in northern Iraq. I removed personal comments and information indicating his identity. I thought our readers would be interested:

I cannot wait to be home. I think I am all deployed out for awhile. It’s one of those things you’re glad you did it, but do not want to do it again. I guess that’s war. ‚ĶReally, getting home is all that motivates me right, and of course, beating the bad guy. We’re beginning to see a lot of foreign fighters coming in, and I wonder how long Saddam’s influence will last as more and more of these guys pour in. They are for the most part fanatic types. I guess they and Saddam will be allies as long as we are here. Of course, that begs the question: do we go after them in their own countries? That is something only the American electorate can decide. Frankly, I do not think they have the stomach for that. Where does that leave this whole thing? Hopefully, the Iraqi’s can get their act together to make themselves a more viable state. Many are more than willing, and that is a good sign. Still, it is not a done deal. Let’s hope it ends soon.

Mosul is an interesting place. It is old, like many of the cities here. (Nineveh is here-capital of the Assyrian Empire) At the same time, it is in better shape than Baghdad. In fact, of all of the Sunni cities, it is probably in the best shape. How it works here is this — the Shiite cities, mainly down south around As Nasiriyah and An Najaf, they are in terrible shape. Saddam never really gave them anything. Hence, they are the farthest behind, infrastructure wise. Then comes the Sunni cities, which are mainly around Baghdad and north of the city. That is Mosul and Tikrit and those places. Generally, the infrastructure is better in those places. Finally, you have the Kurdish cities way up north like Dahuk and Irbil. Those places, free from Saddam’s influence for nearly twelve years, are much nicer, almost up to European standards. They understand capitalism and have bought into it.

In one of our towns, they had a wedding, and they bring weapons to the weddings and shoot them in the air as part of the celebration. One guy got a little crazy, probably drunk, and he shot and killed the bride and injured and the groom. The usual solution: the perpetrator pays the bride’s family for the loss. No jail. OJ should have gone here to commit his crime. (And since Goldman was Jewish, he would have been lauded as a hero.)

We have a long way to go, but we are on the right track. We’ve introduced town hall meetings here, and the local sheiks and muktars love it. They are thrilled that they can voice their opinions in a forum such as this. Let’s not kid ourselves here. We are imposing our culture on another one. I guess when you are out here, you begin to realize who we are and what we represent and why so many fear us. Our ideas are addictive. Many of these people do not want us to leave. I guess that is nice. The people who are committing these atrocious acts are few, but they are mainly foreigners and ex Baath. Baath party is like the Nazi party. It has to be expunged, its remnants destroyed. The foreigners are a different story. Their motivation centers on the fear of American culture. They fear what that means for them and their people. They are not poor. In fact, many are well off. Granted, they hire poor locals once they get here. And loyalties are easily bought here. Money is the ammunition of this conflict.

The foreign jihadis sound like the real problem. Will we allow Iran and Syria and Saudi become the Laos and Cambodia of this war? Or will we find a way to prevent enemy infiltrators from getting in? Or will we be able to create an Iraqi army and police force that can secure the border? That may be the key to the whole thing right there.

15 thoughts on “Email from Northern Iraq”

  1. It’s one huge massive project. One that deserves the kind of commitment the US displayed after World War II. It’s not too late. After all, the US didn’t go to war with a master plan to rebuild Germany, Japan and prove a Marshall Plan.

  2. Hit the Post button too fast. It’s “provide”, not “prove”.

    There is a ton of basic construction work to do. That alone could give millions of Iraqis the jobs they want and need. It always starts with bricks and mortar. Once people see progress, have jobs, can make plans for their future, they will take care of the foreign elements who try to spoil what is none of their business. But you do need a level of security first.

    To a large extent, I think it’s almost there. The media fixation on Baghdad – maybe because it is the only place with comfy air-conditioned hotels and restaurants – distorts the picture a great deal. After all, I yet have to read a report from someone who went there, whatever their politics, who doesn’t complain about media reporting being off-base in one way or another. In a way, if there is one place where we need a distributed legion bloggers, it’s got to be Iraq.

    And let’s be honest with ourselves too. The coalition is prone to the anecdotal, bone-headed short-term moves. Like importing foreign workers from India, the Philippines and other Gulf countries to build things, because Iraqis are deemed a ‘security risk’. Sure, if you build a classified bunker, it makes sense. Or if the imported skills do not exist locally. Not to build roads or repair roofs on government buildings. Or to wash the GIs laundry. Unless you really want the guy on the street a daily axe to grind. Provide the expertise, the supervision but involve the locals, security risk or not. It’s just more costly not to in the long run. Lead when you must, follow when you can, but get it done by them.

  3. 10 more years
    Hundreds of billions of dollars
    massive deficits
    thousands of dead US soldiers

    and we can make Iraq a stable place
    and we will


    I’m glad you brought up World War II. Because people here are going to have to make some sacrifices, just like we did during that war. . Are US citizens willing to do that again? Are we willing to forego tax cuts so that we can win the peace and build a better Iraq without damaging our own economy too severely? Are we willing to carpool to save gasoline and oil? Are we willling to write letters to soldiers to boost their morale? Is our government willing to ask these sacrifices of us? This is going to take more than more than money and bodies. There must be a serious public commitment to creating a new Iraq. Only then will the world sees that most Americans are not what the Euros and Fanatics say…

    thanks for the cautiously upbeat letter.

    here’s another good story that should be getting more play…the restoration of the largest wetlands in Iraq and the slow return to normalcy for the so-called Marsh Arabs.

  4. mr. courtesy,

    I disagree that are going to be huge sacrifices involved. The American economy is much bigger as it was during and after WW2, so America can afford it, and it will also get contributions from others. Apart from some extremists nobody in Europe has a desire to see the reconstruction fail, so we’ll pitch in, too, and much more than the EU has promised right now.

  5. I wonder if media coverage of Iraq will improve as the weather there becomes cooler and travel becomes more pleasant.

  6. Mr Courtesy, I don’t think we need to forego tax cuts. Save money on wasteful programs, including those of the DoD, would be a good start and would build a lot in Iraq.

    And I don’t see why we’d need to carpool to save oil when rebuilding Iraq also implies bringing its oil production capacity back to what it used to be, and more.

    Now, I hope Ralf is right but I don’t think the EU has the willingness to spend the kind of resources and money that could have a significant impact, compared to what the US can do. So far, for all the grand words and statements of intent, they have done next to nothing. America can’t assume Europe or others will help, anymore than it could in 1945. But that doesn’t mean it’s going to demand great sacrifices from your average American.

    Spending smarter is more important than spending more.

  7. “thousands of dead US soldiers” — Mr. Courtesy is becoming unreasonably agitated. As to the cash, the costs will be high, but a drop in the bucket compared to lots of things we do.

    Is the public committed to rebuilding Iraq? It looks like it from here. Let’s see how this all looks in the months ahead.

  8. sylvain, along those lines, perhaps the closing of 100 bases (which Don Rumsfeld said they are doing) will be a step in DoD waste cutting direction. Let’s hope that’s a good move.

    Indeed, we may not have to forego the tax cuts or carpool. (The carpool example was more a reminder of WWII, but it couldn’t hurt today, since the iraqi oil hasn’t started flowing as quickly as we hoped).

    lex, i’m definitely agitated, but not unreasonably. My estimate of “thousands” may be wrong.. although i suspect that when the day comes that we pull out our serious military presence in Iraq, all told there will be thousands of soldiers who have died.

    So much of this is speculation.. we definitely need to see what comes in the months ahead. Outsiders (saudis, syrians) are definitely causing a major headache. But we knew this was going to be the case. And as the reconstruction continues, we’ll become better at dealing with that.

    As far as the EU goes… It would be to their advantage to assist in the reconstruction as much as possible. We can’t count on their help, but i predict that they will eventually play a bigger role, financially at least. The reconciliation has already begun, see germany.

    But overall, no matter how many Euros are pumped in, no matter how many Turkish troops come rolling across the boarder, the overthrow of Saddam and the rebuilding of Iraq will be ultimately viewed as an American project. With that in mind, i speak of sacrifice in a sense that will aid not only in the reconstruction of Iraq’s infrastructure, but of the reconstruction of the “hearts and minds” of the Iraqi people. While there are many who are working with the US, there are many who are suspicious and outright hostile toward the US. Any sign of civilian sacrifice within the United States, directly aimed at helping to improve the lives of Iraqis, will help with that type of reconstruction. Perhaps this is just a personal thing for me…feeling slightly helpless and unable to directly contribute to success in iraq.

  9. Peter, I am absolutely positive it is real.

    It is an email from the brother of a close personal friend.

    It is the prose of a paratrooper who is also a very brilliant and scholarly young man. So, you are correct about him not being typical in any way at all.

  10. mr courtesy, Iraqi oil was not such a huge chunk of worldwide production. Iraqi oil infrastructure has been crippled for a long time. The lower level of outputs in Iraq are only a small part of the recent rise in prices. Other oil troubles in Nigeria and Venezuela, combined with Japan’s sudden need for a ton of oil after it had to close most of its nuclear plants following the safety scandal there, all these factors and others are jointly responsible for the rise we have seen.

    Iraqi output has been very low for months and current oil prices in no way requires car pooling. In fact, succesful large-scale car pooling – an extremely unlikely outcome at today’s prices – would significantly reduce demand, and therefore prices, reducing the current value of Iraq’s main natural resource and its most important source of revenue. Needless to say, it would not be helpful for the Iraqis, and would adversely affect the long term plans of those foreign investors who would like to invest in the redevelopment of Iraq’s oil industry.

    Peter, is there such a thing as a typical serviceman these days ? The BBC showed an animated political discussion between paratroopers a few months back and I must say I was stunned. This was not the average blue collar bar talk the stereotypes make us expect. Truth is, it was 10 times better than the blather the channel inflicted on its viewers after the documentary itself.

    Even though I served for a couple of years, and found an environment and people who were not what folklore makes them out to be, I am still surprised sometimes. Even though I shouldn’t. People are not born in the military. As overall education levels rise, so does that of soldiers. About 86 years ago, I bet many American soldiers went to France without even knowing how to read or write. Today, I would bet a surprising percentage of those paratroopers could install and configure a Linux firewall. When they didn’t read some Plato before dropping out of college.

  11. Sylvain is absolutely right. The all-volunteer American military is an extremely talented group of people, truly an elite segment of American society. The old draftee armies of the two World Wars were nothing like this, and the brown-shoe armies of 1865-1917 and 1918-1941 were composed of an almost monastic group of men isolated from society. This group is unique.

  12. There is also the elite factor. The best units simply attract more candidates than there are available spots. Which allows them to raise standards and pick the stronger *and* smarter ones.

    Take the French Foreign Legion. On any given year, a minimum of 6,000 men volunteer for the 1,000-1,200 available positions. Physical training eliminates quite a few but make no mistakes. They pick the brightest of the bunch. And back when I served (1990-91) they were, by far, the unit with the highest average IQ score. Your average draftee infantry regiment scored slightly below 10 on 0-20 scale. The dumbest Legion unit scored 14 back then.

    What a waste to not have them in Baghdad. The silver lining is that the Americans in the Legion are unlikely to renew their contracts when they come due, I think. Many will head home and the Army, the Marines and the Special Forces would be negligent if they didn’t try to snatch them back.

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