01 May 2004 Are We Succeeding in Iraq? A Soldier’s Perspective on Uprising of Muqtada Al-Sadr, by Joe Roche
I am a soldier with the 16th Engineering Battalion of the 1st Armored Division. Our unit is presently in combat against the uprising of Muqtada Al-Sadr.
This situation is extremely sensitive. Had we entered this prematurely, victory would not have been possible. We have been involved in preparations and much planning. Today we are scoring amazing successes against this would-be tyrant.
I ask that the American people be brave. Don’t fall for the spin by the timid among you who are portraying this as a disaster. It just isn’t true.
Last April, while the main war was still going on, I gave a class to my company about the threat posed by Sadr. Though my fellow soldiers didn’t appreciate having to attend a class at 8 am, they can tell you that what is happening now is no surprise.
Our evaluation over a year ago was that Sadr presented a formidable and possibly impossible threat. Last summer, as my unit covered Sadr City – the sprawling part of Baghdad that Sadr controlled then – his militias made a show of force in defiance of the effort to open Iraq to new freedoms. Sadr intimidated most of Iraq’s Shia leaders and the community at large. He welcomed many foreign fighters to train and assist his militia in terrorist tactics and guerrilla warfare.
Our leaders acted with caution and care to secure ever-stronger cards against Sadr while working to achieve four main goals.
The first goal was to isolate Sadr. Second was to exile him from his power base in Baghdad. Third was to contain his uprising. And the last was to get his hardline supporters to abandon him and to encourage moderates to break from him.
This has been done brilliantly. Sadr is losing everything.
Goal one: Sadr’s so-called Mahdi Army militia is fighting alone. The people of Baghdad, Karbala and Najaf are not supporting him. His forces are isolated.
Goal two: His one-time powerbase, Sadr City in Baghdad, has been lost. Sadr has been exiled. We have him on the run.
Goal three: Other Shia leaders are breaking from him. Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani has left Sadr’s call for jihad and uprising to flounder on deaf ears. Bremmer and General Abizaid stunned the Shia community by negotiating a calm in Fallujah. That tail-spinned Sadr’s ability to intimidate Iraq’s Shia leaders. The Iraqi people of Najaf and Karbala are offended by this Baghdad thug coming to their cities and trying to hijack them into conflict with us.
Sadr and his Mahdi Army militia are insulting the most sacred sites of Shia Islam daily. This is offending Iraq’s Shia leaders very much.
Our units, in fact, are operating within 500 meters of the most sacred Shia religious sites, and the local people are not resisting. This is what the pessimists among you are preventing you from understanding. Something like this would have been impossible before Sadr and his militia thugs went into there to hijack Iraqi Shia Islam. The people of Najaf and Karbala know we are not there to conquer and occupy the religious sites; we are there to liberate them from this would-be tyrant.
Goal four: Now Sadr’s patrons and mentor in Iran are breaking from him. Grand Ayatollah Kazim al-Haeri in Qom, Iran, is no longer backing him. Haeri was a close intimate to Sadr’s respectable father. Sadr has been abandoned.
I’m not blind to the casualties this is causing us. My battalion should be home reunited with family and friends after serving a full year here. Instead, we are still here where the temperature is reaching 115-125 degrees. And some of my fellow soldiers have fallen.
Your soldiers are working their hardest. Be strong and persistent in your faith with us. Sadr’s militia is desperate, so they are dangerous, but keep this in perspective. The pessimists would have you believe this is a disaster. Don’t listen. I think some of them believe their reputations require our failure because they have been so negative. Eliminating Sadr’s threat is part of the mission. We are further ensuring the liberation of the Iraqi people. This has to be done, and we are doing it.
Don’t be seduced by those who would rather that we sit back and just enjoy the freedoms past generations of Americans have sacrificed to gain for us. This is our time to earn it. I remember President Bush saying after the September 11th attacks: “The commitment of our Fathers is now the calling of our time.”
U.S. Army Specialist Joe Roche, an adjunct fellow of The National Center for Public Policy Research is on active duty in Iraq, serving with the 16th Engineering Battalion of the 1st Armored Division. This essay is taken from a longer letter written by the author based on notes he made while on combat missions against Sadr’s forces. The entire letter is available online at http://www.nationalcenter.org/2004/05/new-e-mail-from-front-in-iraq-i-ask.html.