Wednesday, April 21, 2004

Dear Mrs Faiza.

I'm a U.S. soldier currently in Baghdad and scheduled to be here for a while. I've been reading your blog and other Iraqi blogs since before the war started. I was reading, intently, the words of Salam Pax when the cruise missles were being launched, and even earlier when the world was debating how, when, and if military force should be used in Iraq.

I want to thank you, and others bloggers like you, for offering me the opportunity to understand better the people and culture of this country and what it must be like on the other side of the uniform. This letter is in a sense a letter to you, at the same time it is my letter to all Iraqis.

It is an apology of sorts.

As I mentioned before I am a Soldier, more specifically, I am a soldier in the Army reserves. I have a life and a proffession seperate from my military specialty. As a civilian i'm a researcher and junior analyst for a geo-political "think tank". It is because of this that I may have a different understanding of this war, and it's aftermath.

It's because of this understanding that I want to apologize for how things have happened so far. U.S. involvement in Iraq has been, at the very least, a mixed blessing. A tyrant was removed at the cost of both american and Iraqi lives, unfortunately a vacuume was created that allowed chaos to come crashing into the country. Prisons had been opened, and weapons had been flooded into the street previous to his fall.

There was nothing anyone could do about that.

After the fall of Saddam there was the rash of looting and crime that swept through the country. Soldier were shown standing there watching it happen and doing nothing. What could we do? what prison would we put them in? Who did we have to watch them? We did not even (at that time) have the handcuffs or bags to restrain them with. The only thing we could have done, was kill them.

Looting, as criminal as it is, isn't a crime that is deserving of death.

Though there are stories of military units that did fire on looters, I didn't personally see it. Though I will admit that my not witnessing something personally, does not mean it could not have happened.

As I mentioned before, I am a soldier, and as a soldier I am proud of my military. Even so, I know that we are limited. We have been trained to fight and win on a battlefield, we were never trained to be peacekeepers and policemen. Except for certain small units, we have not been taught how to deal with rebuilding a country, and dealing with what is to us a strange foreign culture.

I should apologize for this, because in this way we have failed the people of Iraq.

It does not take a great deal of foresight to realize that once Saddam had been removed from power, there would be other issues that would need to be dealt with immediately. However, it seems that we were so concerned with winning the war swiftly and with minimum loss of life, we failed to prepare for the work that would need to be done after the war.

Again, I want to apologize for this, as in this way we also failed the people of Iraq.

I say we failed the people of iraq because I believe that we are obligated to provide security and rebuild the country since we removed the stabilizing influence in your country. As horrible as it was, the regime did keep the streets secure and there were jobs, at the very least more jobs than there were now. I believe that it is our obligation to at least fill in what we took out. I do not regret what the Army did in removing Saddam Hussein, but it is much like pulling a bullet out of a wound. A painful thing, but one that needs to be done, regardless.

Rebuilding and restoring is never easy. Through history it has never been easy and it is reasonably to believe that it never will be easy. For all our technology and wealth there really is no way that we could have gotten the electricty up in weeks or even a few months. There was no way that we could have installed a police force or Iraqi military force in weeks or a few months. There was no way we could round up all the weapons and criminals that flooded the streets.

For everything that we have, we still did not have the ability to do that. It was in the realm of the other things that we could not do, such as see through clothes with our nightvision goggles, or have personal air-conditioners in our body armor. All things which I'm sure you have realized aren't possible. (though I pray someone invents the body-armor airconditioner before this summer).

I also want to speak about the governning council. I'm fairly certain that what the iraqi people needed after the fall of Saddam was strong leadership to see them through these times. Instead what we offered was the governing council. Admittedly I am not familiar with the all the people who are sitting on the governing council. However, it seems to me that with the fall of the old regime, there was a need to place a governing body in charge that could be trusted. However, the only people that could be trusted were people that we (yes, I mean the coalition) already had been dealing with. Unfortunately it seems that this has turned out much like hiring ones friend or relative for a job and then realizing they aren't much suited for it, or merely are lazy.

But what could we do? Who else could we trust?

There is also the matter of who "we" are. When I use the word "we" do I mean "we" in the coaltion or "we" the people of Iraq? It is safe to say that the two groups don't necessarily have the same goals or desires. WE don't necessarily have conflicting goals and desires either. I won't lie to you and say that this war was all about deposing Saddam and his regime for the liberty of Iraqis and that there was no gain on the part of the United States in this. I realize that most of the people in Iraq know this, and I am guessing that the fact that none of the U.S. representatives or the coalition are willing to say what the gain is, makes you all nervous.

It know would make me nervous and suspicious to say the least.

My understanding of the situation is that this had little-to-nothing to do with weapons of mass destruction, It had little to do with freeing the Iraqi people, it DID have to do with eliminating Saddam, and I PERSONALLY think it probably had quite a bit to do with fostering and nurturing a friendly and NON-fundamentalist government in the middle-east. however, that is just the opinion of this soldier.

I wish I could go on at length as to the probable motives of my government regarding Iraq, but the affairs of countries being what they are, it would take up an entire book and read like directions through a labrynth.

I also want to say (because it keeps comming up) that any of the actions in the middle east by my country have nothing to do with religion. In general I'm sure you've noticed that Americans are a pretty irreligious group. This has it's benefits and drawbacks since it makes us more tolerant of other religions, but at the same time it's often harder to go through life when you have little that you believe in. When I was sent to afghanistan I asked an interpreter there if he thought we were part of a crusade against muslims. He said " no, I think that's silly, you've never done anything to the muslims here, you guard us when we pray and we guard you when you sleep."
"But what about the taliban?" I asked him.
"those were not muslims." he said "Men who do the things that they did are not muslims, no matter how many times they say it is for Islam."
"Then what do you think we're here for?" I asked.
"Well, judging from what you do, I'd have to say you're here for the food." he said.
"The food?"
"Yes, you seem to like going to restaurants a lot."

Afghans have an interesting sense of humor.

I think that one of the issues between the Iraqis and American soldiers is the lack of dialogue between us. How many soldiers have you actually spoken to? How many iraqis have the soldiers actually had a conversation with (outside of a checkpoint)? I'm almost certain this is the reason behind all the issues with soldier's behavior with Iraqis.

That is something else that I have to apologize for.

Soldiers in general are not the most polite people. I know that is no excuse for what they do while in another country (in essence, in another man's home). However, it is somewhat the reason. I also believe that part of the problem is "culture shock". A large number of these soldiers are young men who have never been in another country. least of all an arab country that does not share the same western mindset that they are used to. I've had other soldiers come to me when we are on missions and ask... "there's a group of Iraqis comming this way, what do you want us to do?"

"Are they armed?" I asked.
"Well, then you should probably say something like, Asalaam alaykum."

It's the little things that can often mean the difference between a conversation and an argument. If only we had taught our soldiers about Arab customs and explained the importance of these we could have avoided a lot of the hard feelings that has been developed between us. Adding to this difficulty is the stubborness of some of our soldiers and commanders who don't understand the importance of learning and practicing these things. They are war dogs and behave as such. Also adding to these difficulties is the targeting of Iraqi translators. I fully believe that the majority of the problems between U.S. soldiers and Iraqi civlians stems from lack of communication. When Iraqi interpreters are targeted for "working with the coaltion" it bothers me immensely. How else are we to understand each other? How else are we to get past the mistakes that we have made to the civilian population so far? How else are we to hear about what has gone wrong, what is GOING wrong, and what we need to concern ourselves with when it comes to our behaviors. Interpreters serve as our guides and to some degree our concience when it comes to matters of etiquette and understanding. We would be lost and cut off without them, and I think the extremists know this. Who else benefits from a lack of dialog. Only those who preache hatred benefit, because hatred is bred of ignorance and ignorance is bred from lack of exchange.

But all that I have spoken of so far comes down to words and apologies. I look out a window when I write this and Baghdad is still the same. Things are still moving as slowly as ever, even though they are indeed moving. All my apologies and explanations come to nothing if they do not produce action. But who is to act and how? I am just one soldier and although I can struggle to affect what little I can touch, I am just one of thousands. I cannot do this alone. The Coalition army is also just few among many. Even though there are thousands of us in Iraq, there are millions of you. There are those in this country that do not like it, but the simple fact remains that we are all in this together now. As a soldier here in Iraq, my fate is tied to your fate. We're bound by our situations to either be set against each other or to work beside each other. Personally, I would rather have it be the second thing than the first.

We all (both the coalition and Iraqis) have to ask ourselves what we each can do to make this situation work out. To make all the sacrifice and suffering show fruit and not be made in for nothing. We cannot give up and till this is done. I know that some of you have already given everything you have to this. You have given sons, daughters, fathers, uncles, brothers or sisters in the effort to turn this situation for the better. I cannot thank you enough for what you have suffered, I feel I cannot ask you for more. I can say that the work is not done yet, and that we cannot rest yet. This is a long road that we are on, and we cannot afford to sit and rest until we reach our destination.

Find those among you who are leaders and who are willing to show the way to rebuild this land. Do not doubt, if you read this words and wondered what it is you could do for your country without thinking of the gain you could secure for yourself, it is probably you who should be leading. If so, do not be afraid to shoulder the burden, this struggle is bigger than any one person, bigger than either of us, perhaps bigger than all of us. Either way, we must persist, we must march on.

Do what you are able, and I'll do what I can.

-Joe Soldier

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