A Letter from Iraq

This letter is from a reader in Iraq. He is apparently a Marine and expressed his views on the war against terrorism and the situation in Iraq from his on-the-ground perspective.

Editor’s Note: This letter was received by e-mail as an anonymous comment from a reader in Iraq. The letter was sent as a comment in response to a survey question in which we queried readers as to whether personnel in Iraq were herores. From the content, we presume the writer is a soldier serving in Iraq. We printed an excerpt from this letter in an article about the survey results. This is the letter in its entirety.

Here is the short story of our base. We do have running water and electricity, although most of the electricity for our tactical systems is from generator power. The base power, on the Iraqi grid, goes down quite a bit. The local sewage system is not what we are used to back home, to say the least, but luckily I am able to mentally block out bad smells.

Our base is close to a few small towns. The big cities that you hear on the news, Fallujah and Baghdad, are to the east of us. Luckily for us that is where most of the bad guys are.

I wanted to save this part for last, but I have opened the door to it. I can only imagine the horrors that are being shown on the news now, especially in light of the recent mob action following the killing of 4 civilian American citizens in the Fallujah area. I would like to provide a little perspective on this and other events.

To fully understand and appreciate the enormity of the mission here is difficult, even for someone like me who is experienced somewhat in these “stabilizing Operations” and is fully briefed on the intricacies of daily operations. This is a country almost without a national identity. The masses are largely ignorant, and like most Islamic peoples, are told what to think by the Muslim clerics. [The Arab mentality is one of innocence, i.e. they can’t conceive of shouldering responsibility or blame. It is ALWAYS the leader’s fault, or whoever is in charge at the time. Right now, it is the US lead coalition that is in charge, so of course all the problems are our fault]. They have been brutalized and repressed under a hostile dictatorship rule for decades. It is almost as if they have forgotten, if they ever truly knew, what it is like to work together for a common goal-the betterment of their society.

The workforce age men and women have difficulty trusting anyone, and are largely unwilling and unable to look toward long-term goals. Hence, you have both public officials and private citizens more willing to make a quick buck selling information harmful to coalition forces or weapons, or worse yet employing weapons against us, than they are willing to work together to better their society. There is no quick solution, and little short-term gain to be had in forming and nurturing what we consider a civilized, compassionate society. The citizens of Iraq want safety and a stable economy, but are unwilling (scared) to take the actions necessary to help achieve these goals.

They are still harboring terrorists in their homes and mosques, even though they are many times outsiders. They do this out of fear and racial loyalty-they trust another Arab more than coalition forces. Also, their infrastructure is in such a state of disrepair from decades of neglect that it will take literally years to rebuild. Hence, normal utilities and community services are difficult to establish and maintain with the constant fear and violence. Police forces are being trained, but the illiteracy rate is high, and there is little loyalty to a transitional government that is, to the Iraqi citizens, unproven and untrustworthy.

The only loyalties that exist here are tribal. All others are temporary and coerced by force or money, or both.

SO, what are we doing to help? I can promise you that the Marine Corps sees this as a worthwhile, even monumental mission for the Corps and our Nation. We simply must nurture a seed of freedom and democracy in the Arab world. My friends, we are talking about a race of people that are still living in the 7th century. Their culture has not matured in over 1300 years. I don’t think they will or ever have to become “Americanized” but I think it is imperative to solidify a government over here that is trustworthy, one that will not promote, tolerate, or export terrorism, and that will be a stabilizing force in this troubled land. For me, I cannot tolerate or accept the vision of a future for our children that finds them afraid to go to the mall or restaurant for fear of being injured or killed by a fanatical terrorist homicide bomber. I say “homicide” vice “suicide” because their mission is to take as many with them as they can.

The Marine Corps forces are very active in both rebuilding the country’s infrastructure, helping with community projects, as well as rooting out the bad guys. We are very visible in the cities and towns, which naturally exposes us to dangers. So, please don’t be unduly influenced by the press and their penchant for sensationalizing events, horrific as some of them are. It is a long and difficult road to overcome decades of turmoil, but we are making progress and helping people. The political decisions of “is it our job” and “should we be over here expending all this money to do this” are not in the military’s hands. We take orders, plain and simple.

I do offer that one 9/11/01 event costs billions to our economy, not to mention the thousands of deaths that occurred. Simply ignoring the problems over here or allowing nations to harbor terrorists only breeds more dangers. There is documentation that Sadam’s regime made payments to PLO terrorists. While direct ties to Bin Laden or Al Queida may not be established, remember these alliances are almost all of convenience, expediency, or financial in nature. I urge you to not judge these various terror organizations or regimes by our standards, since they don’t follow what we consider “normal” rules. There are no rules. Their main goal is the disruption and destruction of the western society. If you keep that in mind, it keeps it simple.

We have to provide the Iraqi people a clear and achievable alternative. That is our goal over here. Until they can ultimately become responsible for themselves, and able to carry out the day-to-day functions of law enforcement and community service, they will not be able to sustain industry and their national economy. If we leave prior to that goal being realized, then they will sink back to anarchy and civil war. The terrorists and/or Islamic fundamentalist regime elements will take over, filling the void of power, and all the money and blood we have spent thus far will be for naught.

I know I have rambled a bit, but I guess I want to express my belief that difficult and costly as it is, I think we have no choice but to finish the job over here, no matter how long it takes.

Believe me, no one over here wants to be away from their family and friends. Even with many comforts and conveniences of home, it is still a dusty, dirty and desolate place to live. For me, the day-to-day routine keeps me busy, but every day I think of my family, and miss them terribly. I miss all our wonderful friends and neighbors, our fun parties, the laughter of the children as they play. I count myself fortunate to have a healthy family, a wonderful, strong, and independent wife, and many loving and dependable friends and neighbors for her to lean on if and when she needs them.

There are many people over here that don’t have that luxury. I am reminded constantly of how lucky I am. Many of our young troops have no one to call, no one to miss them or send them letters. Many of our Marines have less than enviable family situations, and are burdened by events and circumstances back home that they cannot fix or influence from out here. Those are some of the tough things about being out here. Of course, the most difficult is when we lose a service member to hostile fire or even an accident. There is a palpable sorrow in the air when we have someone KIA. I don’t think that is something you can ever get used to.

I do want to assure you that; luckily, I am relatively very safe here on the airbase. It is huge (over 18 mile perimeter) and we guard the perimeter very tightly. Access to the base is tightly controlled. The food is decent, and we have plenty of drinking water. After my first couple of weeks of living literally in a storage closet, I moved to a barracks room with running water, a working water heater, and a real bed. I count myself lucky! The first hot shower I took was a memorable experience! How spoiled I am now!

I will close with a heartfelt thank-you to each of you for your prayers and friendship. I am still humbled and thankful for your generous outpouring of love and friendship at my going away party. I am truly blessed to have such wonderful friends.

Please keep our brave young men and women in your prayers, as they stand watch thousands of miles from home. Kiss and hug your kids tonight, and give them a hug for me if you would. I hope you are all healthy and well, and look forward to seeing you when I get home.

About the Author

Ralph Smith has several decades of experience working with federal human resources issues. He has written extensively on a full range of human resources topics in books and newsletters and is a co-founder of two companies and several newsletters on federal human resources. Follow Ralph on Twitter: @RalphSmith47