I have been in Iraq the past few days, along with three other writers, visiting with Iraqi and American soldiers on the front-lines of the increasingly successful battle against Shiite and Sunni extremists. But along with tales of success we have also heard repeated cautions about how fragile and easily reversible the gains of the past 18 months remain. One of the questions that my colleagues and I have asked is what would happen if the next U.S. administration were to decide on a precipitous pullout–perhaps even, let us say for the sake of argument, on a 16-month timetable? What would be the consequence?
I wish those who favor such a pullout–in particular a certain junior senator from Illinois–would visit the Besmaya army training range east of Baghdad to hear the answer offered by its commander, Colonel Abbas Fadhil. I first met Colonel Abbas, as he is universally known, in January and learned his extraordinary personal story: A soldier under Saddam’s army, he refused to fight the Americans in 2003 and was one of the first volunteers for the new Iraqi army. He paid a price for his courage when Moqtada al Sadr’s thugs attacked his home and killed his daughter, but he remains undaunted in his determination to get Iraq back on its feet.
In my description of my first meeting with Colonel Abbas, I had quoted his gratitude to American soldiers (whom he always calls his “brothers”) and to their commander in chief, President Bush (“the hero man of the world”), for liberating his country from a monstrous tyrant who had killed two members of his family. Today I’d like to quote his response to suggestions that Iraq would be better off if U.S. troops withdraw soon–a suggestion made not only by many American politicians but also by some of their Iraqi counterparts, at least in public:
Anyone who asks American soldiers to leave Iraq is an agent of Al Qaeda, Iran, or the militias. His agenda is not a pro-Iraq agenda. It is some other country’s agenda. Anyone who supports this plan wants Iran to control Iraq and the Persian Gulf. . . . It will be a big mistake if your soldiers leave Iraq. We will be like Lebanon. American troops should be here a long time.
If Americans leave Iraq I will have to leave with my entire family. I will be killed. I can’t stay here. . . . We need you to stay here at least 20 years before we can protect ourselves against Iran and other countries.
He ended with a message for Senator Obama: “I want to meet Obama and give him a reality picture. If he takes American forces out of Iraq, he will be supporting Al Qaeda. If he wants to support freedom for the world he should keep American forces here. My message to Obama is to continue what George Bush started–complete his mission.”
Colonel Abbas mentioned that he had never been to America–a land he greatly admires. (He and his officers have even passed the hat to raise funds which they have sent to the United States to help victims of hurricanes and other natural disasters.) Perhaps some generous individual or foundation can arrange a visit. His English may be imperfect, but there is no more eloquent spokesman to alert Americans and their leaders to the stakes involved in Iraq and the willingness of Iraqis to stand alongside us to fight our mutual enemies.