Recent polls suggest the American people have very little confidence or faith in the Iraqi people to establish their own nation. My experience with the Iraqi’s and their progress over the last three years demand otherwise.
If you understand what they’ve been through, you understand the difficulty of the journey they’re on. An entire generation, everyone my age and younger, only knew the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein, while those older had more than thirty years to forget how to lead, take the initiative, and work for themselves.
How good would any of us be at football, farming, leading, or politics if we hadn’t participated in those activities for the last 30 years? How steep would our learning curve be if we had never even learned those activities, yet suddenly found ourselves in those positions? They do face a deficit of experience running their own country, free from dictatorial tyranny, but they are finding ways to make it happen.
From about June, 2004 after working directly with the Iraqi’s for a couple months, I saw them change thought processes. Somewhere in there they got it. They came to understand why we were there and the need for their initiative, to work and to fight for their future, and then they acted.
I worked with Iraqi’s right in the Sunni Triangle who risked everything to make a better future. They came to understand they could make a difference. They took action and spread the word. After more than 30 years under Saddam Hussein they understood they could act without fear of reprisal from the government. The women quit beating themselves in the face with rocks out of despair when we pulled someone aside to question them (usually when someone was pulled aside under Saddam Hussein they simply disappeared). They told us who and where the bad guys were. Risking their own lives and the lives of their families, they stepped forward to determine their own future.
Every report out of Iraq shows that pattern increasing all the time. Not only are the Iraqi’s giving up the bad guys, but they’ve also taken up arms against them. It’s a tremendous paradigm shift because taking personal initiative like that was previously interpreted as a threat to the Baath party, resulting in torture or death.
The Iraqi’s have held three successful elections. In the face of terrorist threats, they went to the polls and made their choice. Have we already forgotten the pictures of Iraqi’s dancing in the streets, purple stained fingers raised in the triumph of democracy? Have we already forgotten the significance and impact for the future because of those events? (With such low voter turnout here, maybe we never understood it to begin with.)
Their democratically elected parliament met for the first time this week. Those working closely with them very clearly see their government cooperatively working to find a way forward. Sunday morning General Casey described a process amongst the elected Iraqi officials which was “very productive and substantive” and members who were “working diligently” “to ensure the rights of all Iraqi’s”. That’s a long way from where they’d been for the last 4 decades.
They have an increasingly effective fighting force which led Operation Swarmer last week. Anyone who’s ever been involved with an air assault operation understands the difficulty and magnitude of this Iraqi planned, led, and executed operation. Their armed forces have taken the lead in so many ways that they are on schedule to take over 75% of the battle space with 8 of 10 planned divisions in place by this summer.
Lines of recruits are killed by suicide bombers while waiting outside military and police enlistment stations. Why are there still young men willing to stand in those lines? They do it because they want and desire a better future for themselves and their country. They understand that freedom and liberty require the courage and commitment of those strong enough to make the stand for them.
These are all significant benchmarks of a people who deserve our confidence, not our doubt.
The Iraqi’s that others and I worked with are great people. We share stories of dirt poor people who survive by subsistence farming or odd jobs and live in hand made adobe brick huts, but out of hospitality and generosity will offer you every last bit of food they have. Imagine that, people with almost nothing, willing to give even that. That is a group of people who possess the character to make a future.
They’ve lived hard for nearly forty years, harder than most people here might ever imagine living. Now, they have a vision and desire for a better and brighter future. They want to support their families, to be mom’s and dad’s, to raise their children, have a decent job, and not live in fear. They want the same things you and I want. They are working and fighting for the same thing you and I have. They want freedom and are worthy of our sacrifice, perseverance, and confidence in their struggle for it.