Thursday, January 04, 2007

Soldier Stories (I)

I am mid-way through reading "What Was Asked of Us: An Oral History of the Iraq War by Those Who Fought It," and thought I would share a few stories that grabbed my attention. I'll break up these stories in several posts throughout the day.

It is certainly enlightening to hear some analyst make a pronouncement on our policy in Iraq, but the argument becomes more persuasive when put forth by someone who was there on the ground experiencing the ramifications of the policy firsthand.

Alan King was in the 422nd Civil Affairs Battalion responsible for the reconstruction of Iraq. As the U.S. had not devised any sort of post-conflict security or reconstruction plan, these Civil Affairs battalions were commanded to "come up with something [for Baghdad] in twenty-four hours." And they did.
"We needed people who could help run the government...We didn't know how to run the government, and we didn't have the troops on the ground to reestablish governmental functions and provide security too. Being a member of the ruling Baath Party is like being a member of any political party...We called Nazis back to work after World War II because they knew how to run the government. I told General Blount that first night, 'Sir, if we call them back to work, we'll at least know where the bad guys are.'...And for the first thirteen days our plan worked. We had ninety-seven hospitals that were up and operating; we had five thousand police officers back to work; we had fourteen hundred firemen back to work; the electricity had been turned back on.

...So people came back to work, and then ORHA showed up, the Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance. One night I said, 'Look, here's what we've done in your section.' And the guy from ORHA said, 'We want you to stop. We want you to let everyone go.' I said, 'I don't understand. We're accomplishing things, and if you stop it, everything goes back to minus.' But they wanted to stop the ball we got rolling."
As King notes, the de-Baathification program was perhaps the greatest blow dealt to the reconstruction effort. Thousands of qualified Iraqis were forced from their jobs creating an enormous security vacuum and crippling the economy. The U.S. military would immediately feel the impact of disbanding the Iraqi army, as ex-soldiers became insurgents and militia men. As one shiekh commented during the battle of Falluja,
"You told five hundred thousand men who were trained to kill people and break things to become productive members in a society that had 70-plus percent unemployment, and I'd say they're being pretty productive right now."

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