Because yesterday marked the 10th anniversary of Baghdad’s fall, it is useful to revisit some of the first news reports to emerge from that city, if for no other reason than to remind people that sometimes Washington spin is not accurate. People disparage many supporters of Iraq’s liberation for predicting that Iraqis would greet Americans as liberators, with flowers and candy. That did happen, however. Here, for example, is the Daily Record, from April 10, 2003:
Even the regime’s mouthpiece-in-chief, the cool and cocksure information minister, was nowhere to be seen or heard. Ten days ago, when the war still looked like a contest, Iraq’s deputy premier poured scorn on claims that civilians would greet Allied troops with flowers. Baghdad’s people rammed Tariq Aziz’s sneers down his throat. Hundreds threw bouquets at US tanks as they rumbled through the city. Mothers held up babies for soldiers to kiss. Kids reached out to touch the tanks. The fact of their freedom was hard for many Iraqis to accept. Millions have lived their whole lives under a regime where it was a crime to throw away a newspaper, because Saddam’s face was always on the front page. Some stayed in their homes, astounded and still afraid. But others poured on to the streets to celebrate.
And here is The Boston Globe, from the same day:
“We have control of Baghdad,” declared Colonel Daniel Allyn, commander of Third Brigade, Third Infantry Division. Lieutenant Colonel John Charlton, who commands a tank and infantry task force, advanced yesterday morning into a neighborhood near the Mother of All Battles mosque, where he had expected to find stiff resistance. Instead, Charlton said, his troops found hundreds of smiling, cheering Baghdad residents. “We came in ready to attack with a tank company and an infantry company,” Charlton said. “Instead, it was a celebration. “The civilians all came out and were overjoyed to see us,” said Charlton, 43, of Spokane, Wash. “I was surprised that a lot of them spoke English and had relatives in the United States. They were thanking us for our help and denouncing Saddam and the regime.” Residents, Charlton said, were helping the troops locate ammunition caches and hideouts. Still, for some US soldiers in Baghdad, the continuing dangers remained more vivid than any celebration. Rocket-propelled grenades, mortars, and small-arms fire continued to bedevil some US forces, and Allyn predicted that Ba’ath Party and Fedayeen guerrillas would remain a problem for an indefinite period. “People are giving Cokes and candy to soldiers, but only 100 meters away, someone is taking a pot-shot at them,” Allyn said.
As Allyn says, the situation was nuanced. But to suggest that Iraqis did not cheer their liberation was nonsense.
Likewise, many revisionists suggest that the United States got it flat-out wrong when it came to Saddam Hussein hosting terror training camps. Take, for example, Salman Pak, a town 15 miles south of Baghdad which reportedly housed an airplane in which terrorists would practice. Many revisionists dismissed the claims in the wake of Iraq’s liberation. Here is the account of The Australian on April 7, 2003 from a battle at Salman Pak:
“Some of these fighters come from Sudan, Egypt, other places, and we have killed a number of them and captured a number of them,” Brigadier-General Vincent Brooks told a briefing at US Central Command in Qatar last night. There was evidence of military “training activities” inside Iraq that “show the links between Iraq and external terrorist groups”. Brigadier-General Brooks said a raid was carried out on Saturday night on facilities at Salman Pak “in response to information gained from foreign fighters, not Iraqis”. “We believe this complex was used to train foreign fighters,” he said. “It is now destroyed. The nature of the work being done by some of those we captured … gives us the impression there was training going on at Salman Pak.” Egyptians, Jordanians, Saudis and Syrians were fighting alongside Iraqi troops against US forces moving on Baghdad, using tactics including suicide bombings that left two Marines dead, other US officers said earlier yesterday. One with the 1st Marine Division said US troops fought a 10-hour battle with hundreds of such fighters southeast of Baghdad on Friday. “We were ambushed twice and there were four suicide car bombings against tanks,” the officer said. “There were nine casualties, including two Marines killed.” The officer said initial contact was with 150 black-clad fighters but by the end of the battle, about midnight, 300 to 400 of the enemy had been killed. “They kept bringing them in by the busload,” he said. “It’s a whole conglomerate of Islamic freedom fighters.”
Perhaps, however, those black-clad Syrians, Saudis, and other jihadis were just conducting counter-terrorism training on the mock-up airplane fuselage, as some Senate Democrats suggested. Occam’s Razor would suggest otherwise.
The problem in Iraq was not liberation—no one should ever apologize for liberating 20 million-plus Iraqis, nor should they apologize for not restoring dictatorship. Iraqis have had their chance and—more than 10 years on—they appear to be progressing, the whining from some of those former Baathists now dispossessed of national power notwithstanding. Rather, it was the ill-considered decision to occupy the country and expend billions of dollars on ineffective development. Projects may sound grand on paper, but they merely fed a plague of corruption from which Iraq has yet to emerge. Historians must be honest, however. Perhaps as the initial reports suggest, the problem was not freedom but rather the subsequent decision to feed the Washington bureaucratic beast on the backs of Iraqis.