Interesting report from Iraq


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Preacherman
August 19, 2003, 11:38 PM
From the Wall Street Journal (http://www.opinionjournal.com/extra/?id=110003883):

'Bush Good, Saddam Bad!'

A Marine reports from Iraq, where things are far better than the media let on.

BY JOHN R. GUARDIANO
Tuesday, August 19, 2003 12:01 a.m. EDT

AL HILLAH, Iraq--There's more to America than New York, Washington and Los Angeles. The same is true for Iraq; there's a vast country outside Baghdad and the "Sunni triangle" that's now the center of a guerrilla campaign. It's understandable that Western press reports are fixated on attacks that kill American soldiers. But that focus is obscuring what's actually happening in the rest of the country--and it misleads the public into thinking that Iraqis are growing angry and impatient with their liberators.

In fact, there is another Iraq that the media virtually ignore. It is guarded by the First Marine Division, and, unlike Baghdad, it has been a model of success. The streets are safe, petty and violent crime are low, water and electrical services are almost universally available (albeit rationed), and ordinary Iraqis are beginning to clean up and rebuild their neighborhoods and communities. Equally important, a deep level of mutual trust and respect has developed between the Marines and the populace here in central and southern Iraq.

I know because I'm one of those Marines. My reserve unit was activated before the war, and in April my team arrived in this small city roughly 60 miles south of Baghdad. The negative media portrait of the situation in Iraq doesn't correspond with what I've seen. Indeed, we were treated as liberating heroes when we arrived four months ago, and we continue to enjoy amicable relations with the local populace.

The "Arab Street" I've meet in Iraq loves--that's not too strong of a word--America and is deeply grateful for our presence. Far from resenting the American military, most Iraqis seem to fear that we will leave too soon and that in our absence the Baath Party tyranny will resume. This sentiment is readily apparent whenever we venture into the city. We don't make it far outside of our camp before throngs of happy, smiling children greet us.

"Good, good!" they yell, as they run into the street, often oblivious to oncoming traffic. They give us a hearty thumbs-up and vigorously wave and pump their hands. They are eager to see us and to talk with us. To them, it is clear, we are heroes who liberated them from Saddam Hussein.

"Bush good, Saddam bad!" many Iraqis tell us emphatically--and repeatedly. I'm not sure how George W. Bush is faring with the American public, but he's got a lock on Al Hillah.

Iraqis routinely ask me to "thank Mr. Bush for freeing us of Saddam" and tell me, "We are very grateful, because you have freed us of our worst nightmare, Saddam Hussein." (A lot of Iraqis speak surprisingly good English because most studied it in primary and secondary school.)

It all reminds me of my experience a decade ago in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union. Most ordinary Russians, Poles and Czechs hailed Ronald Reagan as a hero for bringing down the "evil empire" when few people had the courage even to call it that.

In much the same way, ordinary Iraqis have a tremendous reservoir of goodwill for the president who coined the term "axis of evil"--and who then acted to eradicate a primary source of that evil.

The Iraqis know who their foes are too. Two Iraqi children once spontaneously shouted to me, "France, Chirac!" while giving the thumbs-down sign and shaking their heads disapprovingly. The children quickly smiled and shouted "Bush!" while punching the sky.

"We are very glad that you are here and we hope you never leave," Zaid, a 31-year-old mechanical engineer, told me. "If you leave, then there will be more trouble. The Bath Party thugs will take over."

Zaid makes a decent living selling pirated American movies. He enjoys sophisticated dramas like "The Shawshank Redemption" and "Saving Private Ryan." But most Iraqis, he notes, prefer action-packed adventures starring Sylvester Stallone, Jean-Claude Van Damme and Arnold Schwarzenegger. (Mr. Van Damme especially is quite popular with Al Hillah children.)

This is not to say that everyone here likes America, nor that Al Hillah is problem-free. Iraq, after all, is still quite poor and suffering from the aftershocks of Baathist rule and economic isolation. One of the biggest problems is looters who steal oil from pipelines and parts from electrical generators to sell on the black market. The country needs more electrical power plants and a better police force.
There are more than 15,000 unemployed ex-Iraqi soldiers in Al Hillah and the surrounding Babil Province. When these soldiers discovered that the U.S. was making interim payments to local municipal employees, they demanded similar financial compensation. A small number of these soldiers even staged a protest at city hall.

The soldiers' complaint was not that the United States is too heavily involved in Iraqi affairs. They were instead complaining that we are doing too little to help them. They want more help, not less; they seek greater engagement, not a withdrawal of American military forces. The difficulties here aren't the result of the U.S. being heavy-handed. Rather, they result from our inability to bring greater resources to bear.

The news from Baghdad, Tikrit, Fallujah and Ramadi--the Sunni triangle--suggests a bleaker image because these areas are very different politically, religiously and culturally from the rest of the country.

Politically, greater Baghdad is populated with people who owe their privileged status in life to Saddam Hussein and the Baath Party. Most Iraqis, by contrast, were brutally oppressed by Saddam. Religiously, greater Baghdad is heavily Sunni. Iraq, by contrast, is two-thirds Shiite, and Al Hillah is 99% Shiite. Culturally, greater Baghdad is relatively secular, political and cosmopolitan. The nation as a whole is more religious, apolitical and insular.

It helps, too, that we Marines have maintained a friendly and visible presence in Iraqi neighborhoods and bazaars. The bottom line: In the Marine-administered towns and provinces in the south, the Iraqi "Arab Street" is mostly docile, compliant and eager to engage rather than shun the West.

As my experience in Al Hillah shows, most ordinary Iraqis are in no way disillusioned with the U.S. What they want--and need--is greater help. This will necessitate a sustained military presence here until the seeds for economic growth and development have taken root.
For that I know the men, women and children of my Arab street are grateful. As Zaid has told me, "It will take 10 to 15 years for Iraq to become a normal country. It is important during that time that the United States be here to help us." Semper fidelis, Zaid.

Lance Cpl. Guardiano is a field radio operator with the U.S. Marine Corps' Fourth Civil Affairs Group and, as a civilian, defense editor of Rotor and Wing magazine.

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Greybeard
August 20, 2003, 12:13 AM
Too few of these stories getting printed, huh? Thanks, Preacherman.

444
August 20, 2003, 12:21 AM
You know what I found to be the best part of the story ?
The fact that the author is appearently a professional person with the expertise to write for Rotor and Wing magazine, not to mention the Wall Street Journal. But when the call went out, he strapped on a rucksack, picked up a rifle and followed his Marine reserve unit into a combat zone as an enlisted man.

Americas Citizen Soldier: The New Minutemen

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