BADHDAD, IRAQ - He’s
been a soldier for more than 26 years and fought in three wars and now an
insurgency. As part of the Iraqi Special Forces he was wounded eight times in
the Iran-Iraq War. He took a rocket propelled grenade in the lower left
abdomen. Had it exploded it would have cut him in half. As it was his liver,
stomach and intestines were damaged permanently. After a year recuperation he
returned to the fight.
travail, he stayed on duty and today is a prominent leader in the National
Police. Brigadier General Najam is a bit of a legend in his own time. These
days he, as do all of his contemporaries, live under constant threat of
assassination. While he can and does deal with this in his own way, he feels the
strain of the threats directed against his family. His fears are justified.
One of his
superiors at the Ministry of the Interior has survived 14 assassination
attempts. His brothers have been killed in attempts to intimidate him. He
evacuated his family to Europe and returned here alone because he is dedicated
to making Iraq
into something it has never been: a country where individual rights and free
markets are the norm, where all Iraqis regardless of ethnicity or religion can
live together in relative peace.
critics in America
deride these phrases as sophomoric and unrealistic, men such as General Najam
risk their lives to bring the idealistic into reality. For them this is not a
game, not a political contest to see who wrests temporary power from an
opponent, nor is it a way of enhancing wealth. For them this is a Manichean
struggle to save their country and their people from sliding into the abyss of
a dark terror worse than that of dictator Saddam Hussein.
know what the Taliban did to the people of Afghanistan and they have seen what
al Qaeda operatives do to Muslims who resist them. As US and Iraqi troops
liberated al Qaeda controlled cities of Fallujah, Ramadi, and Tal Afar, and Sadr City in
found scenes of unspeakable horror.
and back rooms of houses had been turned into torture chambers with
blood-splattered walls where men and women had suffered terribly before summary
execution, often by beheading. These were not foreigners, infidels, or other
outsiders but were ordinary citizens who refused to conform to the harsh
Wahabbist beliefs imposed by AQI.
hundreds paid with their lives, and men like Najam know that such terror would
be multiplied a thousand-fold were AQI to conquer Iraq. As a consequence they are
determined to fight to the death to prevent such tragedy.
third decade of combat, Najam and his contemporaries are stripped of illusion.
Replying to a query about his satisfaction with America’s role, he replied bluntly,
“No.” He quickly clarifies that he is extremely grateful and appreciative of America for
removal of Saddam and establishing democracy. Nevertheless, he is terribly
worried about commitment. “I fear that America will grow tired and abandon
us,” Najam said. Such concerns have precedent. The historically minded will
recall empty promises to Hungarians and Vietnamese. Contemporary Iraqis have
only to look back a dozen years when America encouraged them to throw
Shi’a’s responded, foreign policy “realists” counseled a “measured,
well-considered” response. As they had done in the past, such intellectually
dishonest euphemisms condemned tens of thousands to their deaths and changed
the immediate possibility of a small sacrifice into the certainty of a long-term,
men are faced with a difficult decision. Stay in Iraq
and fight for its freedom or flee to Europe (America denies many of these men
asylum). That they choose to stand and fight is commendable. And it is our
responsibility to stay until stability and freedom are attained.
Personal Notes from the Road
On Monday I moved out of the Green Zone to Camp Victory
near the international airport. I’m now staying with the 18th MP
Brigade and after two days here will pass down the chain to their 95th
in one of Saddam Hussein’s minor palaces on the banks of an artificial lake.
Last night I sat on the open courtyard at the back on the palace and watched a
fat moon rise over Baghdad.
We smoked cigars (I brought dozens out with me to share) and spoke
enthusiastically about the mission and our own personal military backgrounds
while listening to fish jump in the lake.
One of the
officers, the Operations officer, LTC Tom Lombardo, from Buffalo, NY,
remarked that a few days ago a rocket barrage hit all around them including on
a small island in the lake. A seagull
was wounded, hit in one wing, and can no longer fly. He swims up to the edge
and the soldiers feed him daily.
have named the bird “Rocket.”
I join with some soldiers on a visit to a provincial police station. We’ll meet
in the morning in what the troops call “full battle rattle” for the visit.
We’ll roll out of the motor pool in Humvees for the trip.
FYI, this is
my first war in which I have to travel unarmed. It is a very unsettling state
of affairs but part of the embed rules.
on the visit.