This week saw yet another car (this time tanker) bombing and a mortar attack directed toward Iraqi police stations here in Baghdad. I continue to think that this strategy by the terrorists of attacking expressly Iraqi targets is a losing one. The Iraqi people are backing increasingly strong measures to root out the foreign fighters and extreme elements in their midst, and attacks like this only strengthen that impulse. Furthermore, the attacks do not seem to be having a substantial effect on recruitment in the security forces, which continues at a brisk clip. In an interview I conducted over the weekend with Deputy Commanding General Brigadier Nigel Aylwin-Foster, a British General who is the second in command of the Multi-National Force’s efforts to train the Iraqi security forces, he noted that "[t]he Iraqi people are extraordinarily resilient and the American people should understand this. On a daily basis, there are more Iraqis dying than Coalition and they just keep going." This brought to mind a press release I received from Multi-National Forces Public Affairs, written by U.S. Army Sgt. Jared Zabaldo, which describes the courage and resilience of one particular Iraqi soldier. It is worth quoting at length:
April 9, 2003," [Iraqi Army Lt. Col. Ahmed Lutfi] Ahmed [Raheem] said. "I don’t forget this day."
"I was on my way home to Baghdad after my brigadier boss had told me the war was over and to go home," Ahmed said, describing his last moments as a major in the old Iraqi Army air defense unit he had been with for nine years. "He said it was an order," he added.
"So I walked home from our station in Al Hillah, south of Baghdad, but I didn’t change my clothes," Ahmed said, "And I came to a Marine checkpoint on a bridge in Baghdad. And I still had my uniform on and the Marine sergeant stopped me ..."
"’Where are you going?’ he asked me," Ahmed said in his accented but surprisingly good English.
"And I tell him, ’I am a major in the Iraqi Army and I was ordered to go to my house’" Ahmed said, finishing the backdrop to a life-defining moment he had not seen coming; and on what was supposed to be just a long 50-plus mile walk home to his wife and five children.
The encounter would prove to be a pivotal one for the military veteran because for the next two anxious minutes, Ahmed went through what must be emotions impossible to describe to someone who has never known he was about to die. It was more the result of the 33-year-old’s lifetime of experience with the ways of Saddam Hussein.
Ahmed, though, was actually two minutes away from a rebirth of sorts.
"He looked at me for a while and I thought he was going to kill me," Ahmed said. "But he didn’t kill me," he added. "Instead he came to the position of attention and saluted me as an officer," Ahmed said, "And said, ’Sir you can go.’"
"I took a few steps and began to cry," he said, "Because I think, ’Why do I fight these people for ten years?[’”]
"This moment changed me from the inside," Ahmed said. "What he did was kill me without pistol. He killed the old major in the Iraqi Army who fought America from 1993 to 2003.”
Ahmed was advised by a U.S. Army officer to apply at the recruiting center in Baghdad and was ushered into the army a short time later as an "officer candidate." After training, he was commissioned a lieutenant colonel in the new army having made the cut for promotion from his former rank in the old army.
Ahmed’s story, though, doesn’t end there. The now 34-year-old engineering graduate from the University of Baghdad and career Iraqi Army officer has since endured great personal tests in his first year of service in the new Iraqi Army that have reaffirmed his commitment to serving his country. In February 2004, Ahmed, a Soldier whose face belies his real age with the tell-tale signs of a man who has lived a hard life, was at the Baghdad Recruiting Center when a blast killed more than 47 earlier in the year. The psychological toll was great, but he came back. Several weeks ago, he saw the aftermath of the latest blast at the center only minutes after the attack that left another 35 dead. The wounds were re-opened, but he came back.
And a little more than a month-and-a-half ago on May 15, he was kidnapped by members of the Shiite Muslim Cleric, Moqtada al-Sadr’s Mehdi army on a bridge in Baghdad when a vehicle filled with five armed men forced his truck to the side of the road before forcing him into the front seat of their car for transport to a hidden safe-house. Ahmed was beaten and pistol-whipped before being knocked unconscious only to be interrogated later by the insurgent terrorists for his association with the new Iraqi Army and the Coalition. Ultimately he was told not to work with the Coalition anymore and released by the militiamen, but not before they stripped him of his uniform, weapon, cell phone and the vehicle that had been issued to him by the Coalition.
"I said, ’Sir I lost my pistol, my mobile, my uniform and my vehicle,’" Ahmed said, describing the humiliating moment he faced upon returning to the OST headquarters later that day to report the catastrophe. He had begged the militiamen to kill him thinking the loss of equipment was the end of his military career. But when the Coalition officer Ahmed worked with found out that everything he had been issued had been lost that morning, the officer’s response surprised Ahmed. "And when he saw me crying," Ahmed said, "He stood up and gave me another key to a vehicle. And gave me another pistol and another mobile phone."
"’Don’t worry, we trust you,’ he said," Ahmed said. "I really love America for this," Ahmed said. "This is what I wish I could tell every Iraqi."
Ahmed, like so many others in the Iraqi Security Forces that show up for work everyday, knows that security and protection from the individuals bent on denying Iraq its chance at freedom is paramount to his country’s future. "I want to provide security to my country," Ahmed said. "Saddam Hussein didn’t just destroy the buildings and the streets," Ahmed said. "He destroyed something inside of all Iraqis. He destroyed the truth and something inside us. "You know what Saddam Hussein did inside us from 1979 to 2003?" asks Ahmed. "He was president of Iraq for 25 years. In this period of time what did he teach Iraq? What did Saddam teach Iraq? Fight. Take your rifle. Take your pistol and fight. Fight, fight. Fight for what? Eight years with Iran - fight for nothing. And he told us to go to Kuwait and steal. And he laughed. He taught the people how to steal. He made people forget Islam and the Al Koran. "So now inside of all Iraqis it is just to ’fight,’" Ahmed said. "And now we’re fighting between us.
"I do my best, though," Ahmed said. "I do my best to protect my country and to give my country its security." And he does one more thing that doesn’t earn medals in any army on earth: he continues to show up for work. And in the face of suicide bombings, targetings, and abductions and beatings, in Iraq, this is just the typical story common to all the 230,000-plus Iraqi Army Soldiers and police service officers choosing to serve their country. It’s not a story of the courageous actions of Soldiers storming enemy machinegun positions. And there are no medals awarded for the simple act. But it’s a typical story of valor in this country. And a standard that courage never met.