Report from Baghdad

Iraq today is complex

August 31, 2010 

There has been a lot of hype surrounding the decrease in troop levels in Iraq, but I can assure you that the soldiers who are still here are working diligently to assist and train the Iraqis, as we move from combat operations to stability operations.

Rachel Maddow, from MSNBC, came to Baghdad to interview top Army leadership (including my boss) as the last “combat troops” were moving into Kuwait. It was interesting to see how the situation on the ground was presented in the western media, especially since my only exposure to Iraq (before last month) was the news back home.

There is an almost accusatory angle to every news piece. The standard line is that violence is increasing because we are leaving. It is an oversimplified storyline, but this western viewpoint is understandable, as many people have never experienced the shifting mosaic of our operations in Iraq.

It is a situation that cannot be described in a five second sound bite or a one column news article. It is a situation that cannot be fully described in 100 books, because every day, every month, every year, and every stage of this war has been different. I have talked to veterans who rolled up to Baghdad behind the 3rd Infantry in 2003, and I have talked to veterans who served as some of the last “combat troops” in Iraq. All of their experiences were different, some violent, some peaceful, some boring. Yet, all spoke of the small signs of progress that they witnessed during their tours.

The story here is not always presented accurately in the western news. A more accurate news story would focus on the small, but telling, details. The story is in the glaring looks that Iraqis give as they watch our convoys roll past. It is in the smile of a gracious host at an Iftar celebration, as the daily fast of Ramadan is broken. It is in the way an Iraqi languidly holds a cigarette, and glances away while his words are translated.

It is in the contradictions and paradoxes that exist in clear contrast on every street corner and in every building in Baghdad.

Just like the United States, there are people here who are working hard to make their community and their country a better place. There are people who don’t care. There are people who are living in the past. There are people who are content with their consumer goods and television shows. There are people who murder other people.

The difference between our two sovereign nations is the fact that the Iraqis are still trying to figure out who is going to run the country, how to provide basic services, and how to integrate their people. After these difficult barriers are cleared, it will be up to the leadership and the people of this country to decide how they will proceed.

We are here to ensure that this fledgling democracy has a chance to move forward, regardless of the tangle of geopolitical and cultural issues that have plagued our nation and theirs in the past. The future is ultimately up to the Iraqis.

I would ask that as you see the news, which now berates us 24 hours a day, that you observe it with some skepticism right before opening a book, or an encyclopedia, or a journal on foreign affairs. Take the next step and delve a bit deeper than the conveniently packaged product that most Americans are happy to live with. By gathering more information than what is presented in our western news outlets, a clearer understanding can be had by those who truly seek it (without visiting sunny Baghdad, of course).

I hope all is well back home. Take care, y’all.

Capt. Zach Horan is a Fort Mill High School graduate. He will continue writing “Report from Baghdad” for the duration of his deployment. E-mail him at zachary.horan @us.army.mil.

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