Friday, September 14, 2007

I Heard, Felt the Explosion that Killed Sheikh Sattar

Thou shalt be far from oppression; for thou shalt not fear: and from terror; for it shall not come near thee.
—Isaiah 54:14

I happened to be off (a rare occasion) and was partially finished with the majority of this blog when—Kaboom!—the earth rattled and time stood still. The first major explosion since the start of Ramadan (September 13) dealt a devastating blow to U.S. forces and the Sunni tribes here in the al Anbar province. Sheikh Sattar left mortality.

I had just gotten done writing and came into work when I heard the news. “Oh no!” I threw my hands high in the air and grabbed my head as if in physical pain. “That’s terrible.” I figured something bad would soon happen (I’ll tell you why soon), but I wasn’t expecting that.

Sheikh ‘Abd al Sattar Bizi’a Fitikhan al Rishawi, a.k.a. Abu Risha for short, had led a group of influential Sunni tribal leaders against al Qaeda in Iraq. At only 36 or 37 years old, I was surprised he was the leading force of this vanguard movement. It didn’t take too long for him to move into a position of influence (or wasta in Arabic) because all the other sheikhs were fleeing Iraq or getting killed off. In September of last year he came to U.S. forces and volunteered to help. He was determined to fight infectious al Qaeda spawn after they murdered his father and his two brothers. Now he’ll be buried next to them.

He will be missed.

Some al Anbar leaders, supportive of the U.S., have taken refuge in Jordan for fear of their lives. Trying to convince them to return hasn’t been easy. This terrible assassination only exacerbates the problem of trying to get—and keep—worthwhile Iraqi leadership in this province.

Not to fear, though. There are plenty of good Iraqis eager to fight off al Qaeda. They want the bombs to end. They want the killing to stop. They want peace. And, as much as I rue being here, I recognize that people like Sattar and his tribe need our help. Those who want peace from al Qaeda oppressors, willing and eager to behead little Iraqi children in order to intimidate and instill fear, cannot succeed without adequate resources and support.

These terrorists are without principle and past feeling.

Let’s hope the leader who replaces Sheikh Sattar (perhaps his older brother, Sheikh Ahmed), and the hundreds of other Iraqi who yearn for peace, stay safe.

Now, for the rest of the blog. With the exception of my finishing statements (I was nearly finished writing it when duty called), I’m going to leave the words below how I originally wrote them before learning of the full nature of this tragedy. It’s quite ironic.

* * * *

The battle lasted for nearly seven hours. They knew the consequences going into this vulnerable skirmish. It was a high threat mission that few would ever volunteer for. Casualties were expected. Once it began the level of stress and exhaustion was nearly overwhelming. Tempers flared and thoughts of soldiers dying surfaced. Thick tension filled the battle zone like never before. Shocking chills and near-tearful pleas came and went. Demanding, screaming voices could be heard over the sounds of gunfire and car bombs. There was fear, anger, rage, uncertainty and frustration. It was tough. And, the relief seemed days away.

That’s exactly what happened on Monday when the commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, General David Patraeus, flanked by Ambassador Ryan Crocker, testified in the Cannon Caucus room in Washington DC.

The al Anbar Awakening

Usama bin Laden and his henchmen want Coalition Forces gone. (Big shocker, I know.) The correlation between Monday’s meeting and the bin Laden video that surfaced just prior came as no surprise. Bin Laden is a strategic planner. Inspired by the truck bomb that drove U.S. forces from Lebanon in the early 80s and Mogadishu a decade later, the Saudi-raised magnate would no doubt seek to repeat that ouster here in Iraq.

To that end, it didn’t take long once Ramadan began, to hear and feel a giant explosion from in the al Anbar providence. I’m here. I’d know. And here’s the warning I’d offer to people back home, especially our law and policymakers: A few terrible attacks in Anbar would benefit anti-Sunni and anti-Coalition Forces greatly. These extremist understand that wrecking havoc in Ramadi, Fallujah and the surrounding area would help them strategically. One gruesome attack would, in effect, give merit to those not looking at the whole picture that, ‘yes, the area is a failure—and, see, there’s our proof,’ they’d say. But that wouldn’t be reality.

The reality is the area has turned. Sunni tribal sheikhs, the ones with the real power, have joined the coalition. Because of that, a drastic change has occurred. Violence has ceased dramatically. There were no ‘cooking’ statistics, as some have accused General Patraeus of doing. I’ve witnessed the downward trend myself. Besides, who can say with confidence that the reports from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) and the National Intelligence Estimate are all lies? Well, a lot of people, apparently. Fathom that.

The situation here is not as claimed in their giant Gen. ‘Betray Us’ add in the New York Times, it’s not as some members of Congress, or their spokespersons claim. Nothing about the al Anbar providence is a failure. And, to say the war as a whole is a failure…well, now there’s a topic.

The Un-Surging of Troops

Approaching the delicate we’re at war, now what?-topic literally makes my stomach turn. I think because every aspect of war and fighting is so terrible. But is this war the Vietnam War experience? Rep. Robert Wexler, the Democrat from Florida, who captured all the attention by his virulent comments and contentious remarks, must have planned for days to compare Patraeus’s report to General Westmoreland’s report of the Vietnam War to Congress in 1967. Although there are significant differences, the number of U.S. causalities being the utmost, here’s all I have to say about that:

Throughout history no insurgency has been beaten in four and a half years. The average of those considered successful campaigns have lasted eight or nine years! That’s if everything was done just right. For the most part, though, not many wars that morph into unconventional battles are success stories. Insurgencies are wars like no other. I learned those lessons, and many others from retired Command Sergeant Major Steven Greer, a veteran Special Forces soldier and regular on Fox News. ( And, he ought to know. He does.

I want to go home as badly as the next guy. Being away from home is never fun. Some people have never spent a week away from their spouses, let alone a year! This is the third deployment to Iraq for several of the soldiers I’m with. Handfuls of them have been awarded Purple Hearts for injury sustained in combat. Some have just received them. There are wounds and scars that run deeper than the physical injuries, though. Post traumatic stress has tormented even my best of friends. No one is immune.

The young girls in my daughter’s Sunday School class told her I would die. My six-year-old son is terribly stressed about that. No doubt his school mates say the same thing. I can’t communicate with the smaller kids. The refrigerator and hot water heater broke soon after I left, leaving my sweet wife to fix that, as well as the toilet sewer water that flooded the basement. And that’s just the beginning of it! Forget the stress that comes from being separated and the difficult transition when coming home.

(This is where I left off and inevitably learned about the good Sheikh’s death.)

Less than one percent of American’s serve in the Armed Forces. We cannot sustain the current deployment tempo without serious consequences to soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines and their families. Even with the downsizing of 20,000 troops, as President Bush indicated would happen in his speech last night, a half dozen tours to Iraq would seem the norm for any career military person—even those in the Reserves or National Guard. If we keep that up, we’d have to implement a draft. America wouldn’t go for that.

A minimal military force would face a barrage of heavy-hitting insurgents. The onslaught of foreign enemy fighters would continue to attack such a force, with renewed vigor. Surely other options are being considered at levels well above my pay grade. For example, would we turn the area over to private military contractors or mercenaries as they’re often referred to as? That might not be far from the truth. But it doesn’t sound that good either, does it? What is needed is support from the locals. The Anbar Awakening has set the perfect example for entire provinces to follow.

Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds, oh my

Precipitous withdrawal would make the region even more unstable than it currently is. Setting concrete dates to fully depart would not leave room for future politico-military possibilities and changes. It would destroy foresight. In other words, things could change in the future that might affect the area or our national interests.

When considering strategic and national security-level initiatives, withdrawing now is not an easy decision. There are so many elements and factors to consider. I endorse and favor some downsizing. That seems to be bipartisan. Yet admittedly, I’m torn on what to do. On one hand, I think we need to leave this land forever, never looking back. Let’s secure our own borders. We’ve lost lives and treasure. If we don’t plan on leaving by setting a date, we might be here for the indefinite future. There are a lot of facilities we’ve built here. We didn’t leave Germany or Korea, but we left Vietnam and moved troops from Panama after several years.

On the other hand, considerable downsizing or leaving from the area would leave the vulnerable land open for attacks from terrorist-backed states. The Syrian-backed Hezbollah is seeking to get a foothold in Iraq. The hateful Iranian President and his Shia regime will continue to destabilize the region, by acquiring nuclear weapons in order to ‘wipe Israel off the map’, intimidate the West, et al. Forget the calamity with the homogenous Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds.

When bin Laden released his video last week, he railed on the U.S. for re-electing Bush and criticized the Democrats for not pulling out of Iraq fast enough. Do we appease the school-yard bully who wants us off his ‘turf’ and who has beaten us up on our land? Or, do we be the ‘bigger man’ and walk away? Either way, UBL has vowed to raise the price of oil to $144 a barrel. It’s his way of making the West suffer and pay the jizyah (poll-tax). I won’t go into the history of jizyah here and now. But, certainly the Whitehouse has considered the implications of oil, Operation Iraqi Freedom and U.S. National Security. As an oil-dependent society, if gas prices rose too high too soon, an economic disaster would occur, perhaps akin to the Great Depression. Of course, I’m leaving a lot of facts out. You can fill in the blanks.

Without public support—the will of the people—I mean the citizens of the U.S., no war can continue with favorable odds. The overarching question to the invasion of Iraq: Was it just? Undoubtedly, the President and his staff have access to greater levels of clandestine intelligence and national security assessments than what is made available, or leaked, to the media. When considering the ballot box in 2008, we must vote for the honorable, good and wise.

Lastly, I’ll end with a copy of a letter I have in my possession written by the Mayor of Tall’ Afar, Ninewa, Iraq. A friend who served in Tall’ Afar at that time provided me a copy. I’m sure the sentiments of the letter still remain unchanged today. It's okay to cry.

“In the Name of God the Compassionate and Merciful

“To the Courageous Men and Women of the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment, who have changed the city of Tall’ Afar from a ghost town, in which terrorists spread death and destruction, to a secure city flourishing with life.

“To the lion-hearts who liberated our city from the grasp of terrorists who were beheading men, women and children in the streets for many months.

“To those who spread smiles on the faces of our children, and gave us restored hope, through their personal sacrifice and brave fighting, and gave new life to the city after hopelessness darkened our days, and stole our confidence in our ability to reestablish our city.

“Our city was the base of operations for Abu Mousab Al Zarqawi. The city was completely held hostage in the hands of his henchmen. Our schools, governmental services, business and offices were closed. Our streets were silent, and no one dared to walk them. Our people were barricaded in their homes out of fear; death awaited them around every corner. Terrorists occupied and controlled the only hospital in the city. Their savagery reached such a level that they stuffed corpses of children with explosives and tossed them into the streets in order to kill grieving parents attempting to retrieve the bodies of their young. This was the situation of our city until God prepared and delivered unto them the courageous soldiers of the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment, who liberated this city, ridding it of Zarqawi’s followers after harsh fighting, killing many terrorists, and forcing the remaining butchers to flee the city like rats to the surrounding areas, where the bravery of other 3d ACR soldiers in Sinjar, Rabiah, Zumar and Avgani finally destroyed them.

“I have met many soldiers of the 3d Armored Cavalry Regiment; they are not only courageous men and women, but avenging angels sent by The God Himself to fight the evil of terrorism.

“The leaders of this Regiment…embody courage, strength, vision and wisdom. Officers and soldier alike bristle with the confidence and character of knights in a bygone era. The mission they have accomplished, by means of a unique military operation, stands among the finest military feats to date in Operation Iraqi Freedom, and truly deserves to be studied in military science. This military operation was clean, with little collateral damage, despite the ferocity of the enemy. With the skill and precision of surgeons they dealt with the terrorist cancers in the city without causing unnecessary damage.

“God bless this brave Regiment; God bless the families who dedicated these brave men and women. From the bottom of our hearts we thank the families. They have given us something we will never forget. To the families of those who have given their holy blood for our land, we all bow to you in reverence and to the souls of your loved ones. Their sacrifice was not in vain. They are not dead, but alive, and their souls hovering around us every second of every minute. They will never be forgotten for giving their precious lives. They have sacrificed that which is most valuable. We see them in the smile of every child, and in every flower growing in this land. Let America, their families, and the world be proud of their sacrifice for humanity and life.

“Finally, no matter how much I write or speak about this brave Regiment, I haven’t the words to describe the courage of its officers and soldiers. I pray to God to grant happiness and health to these legendary heroes and their brave families.

“[Signed] Najim Abdullah Abid al-Jibouri, Mayor of Tall’ Afar, Ninewa, Iraq”

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