Why I want to keep fighting in Iraq
A US soldier gives his perspective on the war.
Despite strong public appeals by Gen. David Petraeus and President Bush this month, American views on the Iraq war remain dim. The latest Pew survey shows that 54 percent say US troops should come home as soon as possible, while 47 percent believe the US will probably or definitely fail to achieve its goals in Iraq. Many experts and politicians, meanwhile, have suggested the war can't be won.
I am a US soldier in Iraq. And I disagree. It's not too late to succeed. The stakes in Iraq are too high not to keep fighting for progress.
As a National Guardsman serving on a Provincial Reconstruction Team, I've seen what is working on the ground in Kirkuk, a city in northern Iraq.
In Kirkuk, just as in any American city, people go about their daily business attempting to provide for their families. The only difference is that in Kirkuk (and throughout much of Iraq), there is a small but extremely violent segment determined to deny citizens any semblance of a normal life.
Life in Kirkuk, of course, does not fairly represent conditions across Iraq. Having served more than four months in Baghdad, I know firsthand that violence has been much more severe in other parts of the country. But I'm convinced that the progress I've seen here can happen elsewhere.
Kirkuk is a city of many tensions. Ethnic strains have been compounded by a planned referendum about the city's political status. But the good people of this city have largely resisted these factors that would tend toward sectarian strife and violence. And they, like many other Iraqis, still need America's help.
I've been asked by more than one Iraqi, "How long are you staying?" When I reply "At least a year," I'm told "A year is nothing in Iraq. It is a blink of the eye."
Local tradesmen are justifiably proud of their history and are fond of printing "Welcome to Iraq – More than 7,000 years of civilization" on hand-tooled leather goods. Time here is measured not in weeks and months, but in years and decades. How can we measure progress any differently?
For 35 years this country was under the thumb of a brutal regime that told the populace what to do, when to do it, and where. It is unrealistic to expect a battered national psyche to emerge unscathed and create a functioning government virtually overnight – especially when the concept of "democracy" is as foreign to Iraqis as tribal relations are to Americans.
What Iraqis have accomplished to date is remarkable. In just over three years they have elected provincial councils nationwide, elected and seated a National Assembly, appointed a cabinet, and implemented a Constitution from scratch. Sometimes we forget that the birth of America was equally, if not more, chaotic. The US Bill of Rights alone took more than four years of intense debate before it became the law of the land.
The Provincial Reconstruc-tion Team I serve on has equal numbers of civilian specialists and military members, led by the Department of State, who work together to help Iraqis rebuild basic infrastructure, economics, rule of law, and governance.
We work throughout the province, "outside the wire," which means off the Forward Operating Base, on a daily basis. We see firsthand the human face of longing for a better life. That is all the Iraqis I interact with want: peace, security, and a future for their children. It is exhilarating to sit and listen while the Provincial Reconstruction Development Committee, consisting of Kurds, Arabs, Turkomans, and Chaldo-Assyrians, hashes out project proposals and votes its approval to rebuild a school or construct a playground at a local orphanage. It makes me proud to play a role in this process.
Iraqis here are nervous that the US military will leave. By most assessments, the Iraqi police and Army are just not ready to operate solo. They work hard and improve daily.
I can see it in the pride they take in morning drill at the Kirkuk Government Building, as the commander puts the security force through its paces. The Police Academy in Kirkuk runs four training classes a day, six days a week. The academy has dug its own well for water – without waiting for help from Baghdad. But these security forces simply need more time and mentoring before they can take on Al Qaeda or potentially other violent factions by themselves.
Politicians and thoughtful citizens alike decry US losses, and no one denies the fact that even a single American life is a high price to pay for the security of a foreign country half a world away. I've attended my fair share of "ramp ceremonies" where a thousand soldiers stand for hours at the position of attention well past midnight and salute a fallen comrade's casket being carried aboard a plane for the final journey home. With the possible exception of family, no one feels the loss any keener than a fellow squad or platoon mate.
The reasons America got involved in Iraq may be suspect. But US forces are here, parts of the country are still broken, and regional security may hang in the balance if we don't stay and help the Iraqis fix it. The effort is succeeding in the north, and it can in the rest of Iraq as well. America's forefathers had help from other nations when the United States was born. Allow us to continue to help Iraq be reborn.
• Lt. Colonel Chris Brady is a National Guardsman and the deputy team leader of the Provincial Reconstruction Team in Kirkuk, Iraq. His views are his own. This piece was subject to military review.