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Letter From Iraq

Seven U.S. soldiers have published their view of the situation in Iraq in the International Herald Tribune yesterday. 

As responsible infantrymen and noncommissioned officers with the 82nd Airborne Division soon heading back home, we are skeptical of recent press coverage portraying the conflict as increasingly manageable and feel it has neglected the mounting civil, political and social unrest we see every day. (...) The claim that we are increasingly in control of the battlefields in Iraq is an assessment arrived at through a flawed, American-centered framework. Yes, we are militarily superior, but our successes are offset by failures elsewhere. (...) We operate in a bewildering context of determined enemies and questionable allies, one where the balance of forces on the ground remains entirely unclear.

The most important problems, however, are not military ones, but rather lie in the sphere of public security; they elaborate:

(...) a vast majority of Iraqis feel increasingly insecure and view us as an occupation force that has failed to produce normalcy after four years and is increasingly unlikely to do so as we continue to arm each warring side. (...) Washington's insistence that the Iraqis correct the three gravest mistakes we made - de-Baathification, the dismantling of the Iraqi Army and the creation of a loose federalist system of government - places us at cross purposes with the government we have committed to support. (...)
The most important front in the counterinsurgency, improving basic social and economic conditions, is the one on which we have failed most miserably. Two million Iraqis are in refugee camps in bordering countries. Close to two million more are internally displaced and now fill many urban slums. Cities lack regular electricity, telephone services and sanitation. (...)
Four years into our occupation, we have failed on every promise, while we have substituted Baath Party tyranny with a tyranny of Islamist, militia and criminal violence. (...) In the end, we need to recognize that our presence may have released Iraqis from the grip of a tyrant, but that it has also robbed them of their self-respect. They will soon realize that the best way to regain dignity is to call us what we are - an army of occupation - and force our withdrawal.

In their letter, the American soldiers point out that, no matter how good or bad an ally the Sunnis might be to the Americans now, "the enduring question is where their loyalties would lie in our absence."

Thomas L. Friedman makes a similar point in his op-ed piece in the New York Times (subscribers only).

There's only one thing at this stage that would truly impress me, and it is this: proof that there is an Iraq, proof that there is a coalition of Iraqi Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds who share our vision of a unified, multiparty, power-sharing, democratizing Iraq and who are willing to forge a social contract that will allow them to maintain such an Iraq - without U.S. troops.


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Don S on :

That was an interesting piece (I read it in the NY Times). One question for a little thought: Do you suppose that these infatrymen sould have recieved such a platform for exprssing their opinion had they not agreed with the editorial policy of the NY Times? I think it's doubtful......

David on :

What about the O'Hanlon piece that praised the Surge after he spent a few days in Iraq with the US military's dog and pony show? That piece was published on the NY Times op/ed page as well.

Don S on :

O'Hanlon is not equivalent to a random group of infantrymen. Albeit this group does not seem quite random, somehow. Just as Scott Thomas, the soldier-blogger for thr New Republic does not appear to be random....

RayD on :

I wonder if Joerg and David care to listen to or mention these voices: This is far more representative of sentiments of the troops and veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan than the above mentioned letter. Of course David is hell-bent on defeat and catastrophe in Iraq - perhaps a much worse regional war when US troops leave. Of course those highly likely consequences don't seem to interest the fanatical left.

Axel on :

Sure, [url=]"Vets for Freedom"[/url] a Republican front group managed by Republican-affiliated public relations, media, legal, and political consultants, including former White House spokesman Taylor Gross, is far more "representative"...

RayD on :

@ Axel, Whether you like it or not, the majority of US military personnel tend to have favored the Republican point of view on the war. In other words, they don't favor a precipitous withdrawal or surrender to car bombers and sectarian thugs. Your attempt at guilt by association doesn't change that fact. Let me ask you something: Do you deny that many US military personnel hold this view? Are you saying that people with this viewpoint have no right to their opinion because they favor one political party? My point in posting a comment was to point out that there is another side to the story - whether it fits your ideology or not.

Axel on :

Nice try to construct a straw man... The seven US soldiers published [i]their view[/i] without debating the percentage of people also sharing their assessment but YOU wrote: "[i]This is far more representative[/i] of sentiments of the troops and veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan than the above mentioned letter." "Far more representative" is an empirical statement and to confirm your claim you linked to a video from a political PR group [i]without mentioning[/i] this relevant fact. You know the meaning of Astroturfing and why this is done? But if you have conducted a representative survey among US soldiers in Iraq I would be very interested to get the results.

RayD on :

@ Axel "Far more representative" is an empirical statement and to confirm your claim you linked to a video from a political PR group without mentioning this relevant fact." I hate to ruin your "gotcha" moment Axel - but the fact that I linked it and made it extremely easy to locate the source is hardly an attempt on my part to hide its producers. I assumed that anyone actually looking at the link would quickly be able to ascertain its source - but apparently you see much darker motives behind my actions... If you want to look at data - check out this article: Support was strong until 2006. It dropped off in 2006 - largely a reflection of public opinion. Even in 2006 - about half of military respondents answered that the United States needed more troops in Iraq. That has since happened - and provided some notable success - which has also likely increased support for staying on and decreased support for rapid withdrawal. One expert correctly noted: He also said the military "will always be more pro-military and pro-war than the civilians. That's why they are in this line of work."

RayD on :

Here another response by military personnel to the NYTIMES piece:

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