Like Elan Carr, featured in the article, “Military Officer speaks of U.S. action in Iraq,” published on March 8, I am also an Army reservist who recently returned from serving in Iraq. While I worked throughout Baghdad as a civil affairs soldier, I also had the chance to see the inner workings of the Coalition Provisional Authority, the civilians overseeing Iraq in the infamous green zone.
While Mr. Carr did eloquently demonstrate the way in which the U.S. military was able to bring hope to those who had seen mass graves and torture cells, he failed to elaborate on another tragedy that cost the lives of my fellow soldiers — a failure that put those of us who didn’t have the luxury of working as lawyers behind closed doors away from combat at an unnecessary risk. That failure was embodied by the fact that the Jan. 30 elections in Iraq did not take place right after the fall of Baghdad in the spring of 2003.
CPA, under the direction of Ambassador Paul Bremmer, tried to avoid direct elections by implementing a “caucus-system” of handpicked Iraqi leaders. This move was widely viewed by Iraqis as an attempt to impose outsiders as leaders, including the likes of Ahmed Chalabi, an Iraqi exile convicted of bank fraud by Jordan, a U.S. ally in the war on terror. The lack of legitimacy given to both the proposed caucus system and the 15-member governing council, composed mostly of Iraqis who had lived in the West for decades, cost us public support, which then fueled the insurgency.
Not until Ayatollah Ali Sistani, a respected leader in the Shia community, continued to advocate one vote for each Iraqi, and until the level of violence throughout the country grew nearly exponentially, did the White House decide to shut down the CPA on June 30 and move away from a caucus system and toward direct elections.
This move, while a blow to the policy wonks, think-tanks, Likudniks, and civilians in charge of the military, was a vindication of the policies advocated by real soldiers and pragmatic leaders like former Secretary of State Colin Powell, along with much of the U.S. State Department and many in the CIA whose judgment was clouded not by hubris, but by reality and by the lessons of history.
While I as a soldier, and an Arab-American, am immensely proud to see Iraqis vote for the first time and my Iraqi Kurdish friends drive for eight hours just to vote in Irvine, Calif., I am saddened by the fact that the delay in proving our commitment to a transparent democracy for the Iraqi people lost us so much of the momentum I felt we had immediately after the fall of Baghdad. That lost support meant that more of my fellow soldiers didn’t make it back home. That lost support meant less crucial intelligence to warn us of those who would do harm to my fellow Americans, both in distant lands and close to home. It’s a lesson the cheerleaders on both the left and the right of the political spectrum would do well to learn.
“Somewhere between wrongdoing and rightdoing there is a field. I’ll meet you there.” — Rumi
Senior finance major
Veteran, Operation Iraqi Freedom