Michael Totten has yet another amazing piece taking a firsthand look at the Anbar Awakening from the former AQI “capital” of Ramadi. What he finds is a dramatically different story from the media narrative of an Iraq that is damned to civil war and constant terrorism. What happened in Ramadi was not an accident — it took both the brutality of al-Qaeda in Iraq and the steadfastness of American and Iraqi forces to take Ramadi from one of the worst places in Iraq — or in the world for that matter — and turn it into a city that is slowly becoming livable again.
Why is this war worth it? Totten quotes one American soldier’s answer:
This place has made an amazing turnaround,” he said. “Everyone knew about Ramadi. It was another Fallujah, but it was worse than Fallujah. I did not want to come here. I was supposed to have an easy deployment in Karbala. Most guys coming out here were looking forward to combat. Not me. I had already done it. If you told me a few months ago what it would be like now I wouldn’t believe it. A little while ago we went to a soccer game. Lieutenant Tierney put it together. They have sixteen soccer teams now. We bought them uniforms, balls, water for the field, everything. They had a huge opening ceremony. Hundreds of people were there. It was incredible. Just incredible. It was a real storybook turnaround. This is why we fight. This is why what we do is worth doing. This is what makes the sacrifices, like Lieutenant Hightower having metal enter his body, worthwhile.”
Lieutenant Hightower was standing right next to us when Lieutenant Welch said that. He was hit with an IED a few months ago. Pieces of shrapnel tore up his leg. He nodded at what Lieutenant Welch said, agreeing that getting “blown up,” as Welch put it, was worth it.
“That is the most encouraging thing,” he said, “seeing American Soldiers at soccer games at a stadium that recently was used as a graveyard.”
In the end, that’s also how successful counterinsurgencies are won. We have to fight al-Qaeda in Iraq, and the way to do that is to work with the locals. The reason why we can’t fight this war from Okinawa is because troops a world away can’t build soccer stadiums. They can’t provide the people with services. They can’t do the things necessary to ensure that people like the citizens of Ramadi don’t end up forced to side with al-Qaeda for their mere survival.
The argument goes that it’s really the Iraqis who are responsible for the turnaround in al-Anbar, not the “surge.” In fact, that’s not at all untrue. The Anbar Awakening wasn’t something planned by the US military — it was an organic uprising of Iraqi Sunnis who had enough of al-Qaeda. At the same time, the US has been an instrumental part of that success — the Iraqis drove al-Qaeda out, and we’ve been stomping on them as they flee. It is an example of what we’ve needed for this whole war: a partnership between Iraqi and America standing against terrorism and tyranny.
AQI will try to take back Ramadi. They will fail. They’ve lost the people, and ultimately, they’ve lost the war. There have been minor swings of fortune throughout this conflict, but never something this fundamentally profound. Counter-insurgency wars are won when the people decisively swing to one side — an insurgent force cannot survive without broad popular support. AQI has lost that support, irretrievably.
Even better, this new “Awakening” movement is spreading. There is word that Shi’ite tribal leaders are also joining forces with the US to combat Iranian influences. The idea that sectarianism was stronger than nationalism in Iraq was never true. Iraqi Sunnis and Shi’ites were not all that different for most of Iraq’s history. Most Iraqi tribes were mixed Sunni-Shi’ite. Most Iraqi families were as well. The sectarian violence was being caused by the few, not the many. Now that the conditions are changing, Iraqi unity is shining through.
To be honest, I’m proud of what our Iraqi allies have achieved. Their government is still dysfunctional, sectarian, and nearly worthless. They still have a long way to go in terms of political and social development. At the same time, would you or I have the strength to resist al-Qaeda after years of brutal oppression? Before we start criticizing the people of Iraq, we should at least try to take a few steps in their shoes and realize just how profound their struggle has been.
In solidarity with our Iraqi allies, we will defeat terrorism. Iraq will be free, strong, and proud. The murderers and the savages of al-Qaeda will go into Iraq and find their grave. Iraq will struggle, but it will develop from a weakly federal system based on compromises to a government that can provide for its common defense. It took us over 80 years — Iraq has had only 4. At that point in our political development, we were still a nation divided along sectarian lines living in a weakly federal system under the Articles of Confederation. We learned, and so will they.
The Iraq War is largely viewed as a mistake in the polls. Looking at the pictures of those Iraqi children, knowing what their lives would be like had the US and the Iraqis not stood against the barbarians who were systematically raping Ramadi to death, it’s hard to make the argument that it wasn’t worth it. If there is to be a free Middle East, it will start in places like Ramadi, and if there is to be a Middle East that continues to be rife with conflict and death, it too will start in Ramadi. The choices we make now will have effects far larger than the next election — they will decide what kind of future those children and ours live in. We owe it to the future not to leave the world to the barbarians, but to free men and women. That is why we fight in Iraq, and that is why we must not give up until the enemy can be defeated.