I came to Iraq a darkening pessimist about the war, due in large part to my doubts about the compatibility of Islam and Western-style democracy, but also as a result of the steady, sensational diet of "grim milestone" and "daily IED count" media coverage that aids the insurgency.
I left Iraq with unexpected hope and resolve.
The everyday bravery and consummate professionalism of the troops I embedded with have strengthened my faith in the U.S. military. These soldiers are well aware of the history, culture and sectarian strife that have wracked the Muslim world for more than a millennium. "They love death," one gunner muttered as we heard explosions in the distance while parked in al Adil. Nevertheless, these troops are willing to put their lives on the line to bring security to Iraq, one neighborhood at a time.
They have teamed with Sunni and Shia, Iraqi civilian and soldier alike to establish local government structures and security framework districts. "We are not here to build the Iraqi Security Forces," Lt. Col. Steven Miska, deputy commander for the Dagger Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division, said. "We're here to grow them. You can't just plant and walk away." Capt. Aaron Kaufman of Task Force Justice added: "It's not a six-month or year-long process, especially when you're talking about training the Iraqi forces."
The troops I met scoff at peace activists' efforts to "bring them home now." But they are just as critical of the Bush administration and Pentagon's missteps -- from holding Iraqi elections too early, to senselessly breaking up their brigade combat team, to drawing down forces and withdrawing last year in Baghdad and Fallujah, to failing to hold cities after clearing them of insurgents. They speak candidly and critically of Shiite militia infiltration of some Iraqi police and Iraqi Army units and corruption in government ministries, but they want you to know about the unheralded good news, too.
Every day, Iraqi Army trainees risk their lives and their family's lives to come to work at FOB Justice. Residents of Khadamiyah approach the base with tips. Schools are re-opening; neighborhood councils are sharing intelligence. "All those things are coming together," Capt. Stacy Bare, civil affairs officer, said emphatically.
Winning the counterinsurgency battle is not just about keeping Iraqis safe. It's about keeping Americans safe -- by sending a message that the mightiest military in the world cannot and will not be outwitted and outlasted by the fleas. On the emblem of the Dagger Brigade are two imperatives: "Continue mission!" and "Duty first." These troops are committed to their mission. They deserve our commitment to them.
Michelle's embed tour in Iraq, with her HotAir.com colleague Bryan Preston, was sponsored by the New York Post. Video reports of their Iraq journey can be viewed at HotAir.com.
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