The Right Coast

September 21, 2004
View from Iraq
By Tom Smith

You may have seen this already, but I think it's worth posting here in full. [Addendum: Andrew Sullivan, who I guess doesn't know a lot of Leathernecks, says he can't "authenticate" this email. Well, I can Andrew. It was forwarded to me by a good friend and Navy wife who knew the Marine when he was posted in Lima.] It's a letter from a Marine officer posted now in Iraq. I got the letter from the wife of a Navy MD, mother of my 13 year old's best friend, and our very generous hostess when we visited Lima two summers ago for rainforest and high Andean adventure. The military being a small world, she knew the Marine when he was posted in Lima. Anyway, here's what he has to say:

17 September 2004

Al-Nasar Complex (FKA Camp Victory), Iraq


A thought from Iraq - "Doom & Gloom about Iraq's future....I don't see it
from where I'm sitting."

[For those of you who haven't gotten my "Thoughts" before, I'm a Major
in the USMC on the Multi-National Corps staff in Baghdad. The analysts
and pundits who don't see what I see on a daily basis, in my opinion,
have very little credibility to talk about the situation - especially if
they have yet to set foot in Iraq. Everything Americans believe about
Iraq is simply perception filtered through one's latent prejudices until
you are face-to-face with reality. If you haven't seen, or don't
remember, the John Wayne movie, The Green Berets, you should watch it
this weekend. Pay special attention to the character of the reporter,
Mr. Beckwith. His experience is directly related to the situation
here. You'll have a different perspective on Iraq after the movie is


The US media is abuzz today with the news of an intelligence report that
is very negative about the prospects for Iraq's future. CNN's website
says, "[The] National Intelligence Estimate was sent to the White House
in July with a classified warning predicting the best case for Iraq was
'tenuous stability' and the worst case was civil war." That report,
along with the car bombings and kidnappings in Baghdad in the past
couple days are being portrayed in the media as more proof of absolute
chaos and the intransigence of the insurgency.

From where I sit, at the Operational Headquarters in Baghdad, that just
isn't the case. Let's lay out some background, first about the
"National Intelligence Estimate." The most glaring issue with its
relevance is the fact that it was delivered to the White House in July.
That means that the information that was used to derive the intelligence
was gathered in the Spring - in the immediate aftermath of the April
battle for Fallujah, and other events. The report doesn't cover what
has happened in July or August, let alone September.

The naysayers will point to the recent battles in Najaf and draw
parallels between that and what happened in Fallujah in April. They
aren't even close. The bad guys did us a HUGE favor by gathering
together in one place and trying to make a stand. It allowed us to
focus on them and defeat them. Make no mistake, Al Sadr's troops were
thoroughly smashed. The estimated enemy killed in action is huge.
Before the battles, the residents of the city were afraid to walk the
streets. Al Sadr's enforcers would seize people and bring them to his
Islamic court where sentence was passed for religious or other
violations. Long before the battles people were looking for their lost
loved ones who had been taken to "court" and never seen again. Now
Najafians can and do walk their streets in safety. Commerce has
returned and the city is being rebuilt. Iraqi security forces and US
troops are welcomed and smiled upon. That city was liberated again. It
was not like Fallujah - the bad guys lost and are in hiding or dead.

You may not have even heard about the city of Samarra. Two weeks ago,
that Sunni Triangle city was a "No-go" area for US troops. But guess
what? The locals got sick of living in fear from the insurgents and
foreign fighters that were there and let them know they weren't welcome.
They stopped hosting them in their houses and the mayor of the town
brokered a deal with the US commander to return Iraqi government
sovereignty to the city without a fight. The people saw what was on the
horizon and decided they didn't want their city looking like Fallujah in
April or Najaf in August.

Boom, boom, just like that two major "hot spots" cool down in rapid
succession. Does that mean that those towns are completely pacified?
No. What it does mean is that we are learning how to do this the right
way. The US commander in Samarra saw an opportunity and took it -
probably the biggest victory of his military career and nary a shot was
fired in anger. Things will still happen in those cities, and you can
be sure that the bad guys really want to take them back. Those
achievements, more than anything else in my opinion, account for the
surge in violence in recent days - especially the violence directed at
Iraqis by the insurgents. Both in Najaf and Samarra ordinary people
stepped out and took sides with the Iraqi government against the
insurgents, and the bad guys are hopping mad. They are trying to
instill fear once again. The worst thing we could do now is pull back
and let that scum back into people's homes and lives.

So, you may hear analysts and prognosticators on CNN, ABC and the like
in the next few days talking about how bleak the situation is here in
Iraq, but from where I sit, it's looking significantly better now than
when I got here. The momentum is moving in our favor, and all Americans
need to know that, so please, please, pass this on to those who care and
will pass it on to others. It is very demoralizing for us here in
uniform to read & hear such negativity in our press. It is fodder for
our enemies to use against us and against the vast majority of Iraqis
who want their new government to succeed. It causes the American public
to start thinking about the acceptability of "cutting our losses" and
pulling out, which would be devastating for Iraq for generations to
come, and Muslim militants would claim a huge victory, causing us to
have to continue to fight them elsewhere (remember, in war "Away" games
are always preferable to "Home" games). Reports like that also cause
Iraqis begin to fear that we will pull out before we finish the job, and
thus less willing to openly support their interim government and
US/Coalition activities. We are realizing significant progress here -
not propaganda progress, but real strides are being made. It's terrible
to see our national morale, and support for what we're doing here,
jeopardized by sensationalized stories hyped by media giants whose #1
priority is advertising income followed closely by their political
agenda; getting the story straight falls much further down on their
priority scale, as Dan Rather and CBS News have so aptly demonstrated in
the last week.

Thanks for listening. Feedback is always welcome, though I can't
promise an immediate response....

ADDENDUM . . . At the Major's request, I've removed his email address -- he's getting too many responses. He says they were (mostly) wonderful, but too much of a good thing.