12 May 2004 A New E-Mail from the Front in Iraq: “I Ask That the American People Be Brave”
I have just received an e-mail from Army Spc. Joe Roche, who was briefly able to take a break from the thick of the fighting against Al-Sadr’s forces in Iraq to tell us what he is seeing and experiencing.
Because I am fearful that I will alter the immediacy of his piece if I edit it, I am presenting it here intact (except I removed from the text the name of an injured soldier).
The next time you see one of those photos from the prison abuse scandal story, remember that the soldiers in those photos are aberrant. This is what an American soldier is really like.
Amy, I wrote this super fast, and I have no idea if you can or would want to use it. I have little time on the ‘net, so from notes I’ve made while on missions talking to the guys, I rammed this out. Don’t feel committed to using it, but just in case… I wanted to write to the American people about why our fight w/ Sadr is going so well and why they should not be seduced by the media/press image that this is somehow a disaster.Take Care.
The fighting we are engaged in against the uprising of Muqtada Al-Sadr is one that is extremely sensitive and risks catastrophe. Had we entered this previously, it would not have been possible for us to win. Over the months, we have been involved in preparations and much planning. Thus, 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 weak and timid amongst you that are portraying this battle as a disaster. Such people are always looking for our failure to justify and rescue their constant pessimism. They are raising false flags of defeat in the press and media. It just isn’t true.
Last year in April while the main war was still going on to defeat Saddam Hussein’s military, I myself gave a class to my company of the 16th Engineers about the threat posed by Sadr and the prospects for conflict with his militias. Though my fellow soldiers didn’t appreciate having to attend a class at 8am on one of our last days before deploying to Baghdad, they can tell you that what is happening now is no surprise. I used open and general information that my superiors were already aware of.
The basis of 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 challenged us by making a show of force in defiance of the effort to open up Iraq society to the new freedoms. Sadr clearly demonstrated that he would deny Iraqis democracy and freedom in his quest for power. By the fall, he had most of Iraq’s Shia leaders and the community at large intimidated and kowtowing to his bully tactics. In January through March, his arrogance and thuggery led him to pursue two further attacks upon the hopes for Iraqi freedom.
He vigorously pursued courting and forming alliances with Iranian hard-liners. Upon returning to Iraq, he then welcomed many foreign fighters to train and assist his militia in terrorist tactics and guerrilla warfare.
In fact, we almost went into full conflict with him back then, months ago!
So our leaders, Paul Bremmer, Gen. Abizaid, and countless other US and Coalition leaders all over the land, acted w/ caution and care to secure for the US ever stronger cards against Sadr while simultaneously working to achieve four main goals.
Now we today are in a climactic battle against him and his militia. When the remnants of Saddam’s regime were in full uprising in Fallujah, Sadr thought his time had come to make his bid for total power and to oust the US from Baghdad. He was very wrong.
It has been subtle and very well done by our leaders. You should be proud. It would have seemed impossible to have achieved our four main goals against Sadr even just a few months ago. Now today, despite the message of the pessimists who are misleading you into despair, we are have scored all the victories needed to bring this battle to a close. First goal was to isolate Sadr. Second was to exile him from his power-base in Baghdad. Third was to contain his uprising from spreading beyond his militias. And the last goal was to get both his hard-line supporters to abandon him, and to do encourage moderates to break from him. This has been done brilliantly, and now we are on the march in a way that just months ago seemed impossible to do. Sadr is losing everything.
Goal one: His so-called Mahdi Army militia is fighting alone. We are out defeating them day and night, and all the time we find them exposed and vulnerable. 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 from there, and we have him on the run. He is trying to cloak his presence and activities in Najaf and Kut as planned, but that is damage control on his part. Yes we confront pockets of his followers. Just a couple days ago, I had to maneuver around such a crowd of 300 in Sadr City. The point is, though, we operate in Sadr City, and his followers are merely trying to raise the lost cause of his. It is perhaps better to understand why he is able to mobilize groups like this by seeing him as a mafia leader who is just sacrificing his own people in a mad last plunge to grab onto power. He is no different from any other thug in the world who manipulates and betrays his followers for his own lost cause. The critical thing to see, however, is that in Baghdad, Sadr is gone. He has been effectively exiled and we are destroying his one-time properties of power and abuse there.
Goal three: Other Shia leaders are breaking from him now in large numbers. The overall Shia leader of Iraq, Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, has left Sadr’s call for jihad and uprising to flounder on deaf ears. Bremmer and Gen. Abizaid stunned the overall Shia community by negotiating a calm in Fallujah. That has tail-spinned Sadr and his efforts to intimidate Iraq’s Shia leaders. They see the US hand is strong, and that therefore they are making a mistake in kowtowing to Sadr’s terror and violence.
Sadr is now running scared in Najaf. This is great. The Iraqi people of Najaf are offended by this Baghdad thug coming to their city and trying to hijack them into conflict with us. His militias have moved into Karbala too, and the same sentiment is being expressed by the people there. Sadr and his Mahdi Army militia are occupiers of those cities, and are insulting the most sacred sites of Shia Islam daily in their actions. Sadr’s forces have stockpiled weapons in mosques and schools, and he continuously is going into the Imam Ali Mosque to call for jihad against us. This is offending Iraq’s Shia leaders very much, and the Shia people are not following.
Our units, in fact, are operating w/in 500 meters of the most sacred Shia religious sites in these cities, and you should notice that the local people are not resisting. This is what the pessimists amongst 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 occupying the religious sites; we are there to liberate them from this would-be tyrant who is trying to hijack them. His uprising has been contained, despite Sadr’s desperate efforts to expand.
Goal four: Now Sadr’s patrons and mentor in Iran are breaking from him. Grand Ayatollah Hossain Kazzam Haeri in Qom, Iran, is no longer backing him and has instead made it clear that Sadr’s uprising is not sanctioned. Haeri is his mentor, and was a close intimate to Sadr’s respectable father. The Teheran Times has run stories that are largely exaggerated, but still are making clear that Sadr’s uprising is counter to Iranian interests and does not have the support of even one of Iran’s grand statesman, Hashemi Rafsanjani.
In lieu of this, Sadr has exploded increasingly desperate and offensive. On Friday, he offended perhaps the whole Muslim world when he issued a fatwa (a religious edict) that if his forces in Basra capture a female British soldier, they can keep her as a slave. And as I pointed out already, his militia thugs in Najaf and Karbala are keeping weapons in mosques and schools.
In this, quite frankly, Sadr has done it to himself. He has compelled his would-be supporters amongst Iran’s hard-liners to break from him and to put distance between Iran’s interests and Sadr’s uprising. Along with this, Shiites all over Iraq are breaking from Sadr and ignoring his frantic calls for jihad and slave-taking. Sadr has been abandoned.
I’m not writing you blind to the casualties this is causing us. My battalion, the 16th Armored Engineers, should be home reunited w/ family and friends after serving a full year here. Instead, we are still here where the temp is reaching 115-125 degrees. And some of my fellow soldiers have fallen. Units of my battalion are right in the front of the fighting. Your prayers are needed. [A soldier] lost his eyes and a hand last week. The surgeons are trying to salvage his hand now by re-attaching it. This tragedy is a real nightmare. Another suffered shrapnel wounds in his abdomen. Others have been cut badly. Miracle of miracles, however, Sgt. Morales on Friday was shot in the CVC (helmet) — the bullet ricocheted around his head and fired into the back of his seat, never cutting his skin!!!
I’m telling you this because you need to know that your soldiers are working their hardest. My unit is just one of many in this fight. What you need to do is be strong and persistent in your faith with us. Sadr’s militia is in panic and desperate, so they are dangerous, but you need to keep this all in perspective. The pessimists would have you believe this is a disaster. Don’t listen to them. I think some of them feel that their reputations require our failure because they have been so negative all along, so they are jumping at every opportunity to sensationalize what is happening here as a disaster. Eliminating Sadr’s threat is part of the overall mission and 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.”