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Richard Engel's book "War Journal" gives us the Big Picture on Iraq & may help us predict what will happen there next...

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Message Jane Stillwater
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I haven't written any articles recently. Why? Because I've been comparing some of the stuff that I've been writing with some of the stuff that I've been reading by other journalists and it's giving me an inferiority complex!

There is some excellent stuff being written these days, by some of the great minds of our times. Not only do they express their views better than I do, they have a lot more spot-on ideas than me as well. It's almost embarrassing. And one of those hot-spit writer guys who I find so intimidating is Richard Engel, an NBC correspondent in Iraq. Not only can that man write up a storm, but he sees the Big Picture over there too.

Being able to see the Big Picture in Iraq is not a talent possessed by just anybody. For example, Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld lack it entirely -- and apparently on some levels even Engels agrees about that. After an hour-and-a-half long interview with George W. Bush, Engel stated in his book, "The President [sic] had done a lot of reading. Since he'd invaded Iraq, he'd earned two Ph.Ds' worth of information about the country and the Middle East. He'd met all the players and had access to information that only a president could have. But he still had no idea how to deal with Arabs."

In "War Journal: My Five Years In Iraq," Engel describes the beginning phases of the war -- where everyone, even the Iraqis, was all hopeful and thought that things would turn out okay. Then came the next phase, where all hell broke loose, apparently due to Bush's tactless efforts to shut the Sunnis out of power and humiliate them. After the American military arrived in 2003, "The [Sunni] officers were unceremoniously given a few hundred dollars and told to buzz off. It was humiliating. It would have been more dignified from an Iraqi perspective to lock the officers in jail. There is no shame in Iraq for being punished, even unjustly. It can be a source of pride. Insulting a man's honor and rank, however, demands retribution." So the Sunnis, humiliated and rejected by the Americans, started to turn into insurgents instead.

In addition, the Shia started to flex their muscles and to not only shut the Sunnis out of power but to torture and kill them as well. And the Sunnis weren't exactly innocent either. They too were busy torturing and killing Shiittes. And of course the Kurds were busy grinding their own axe as well. The result? Civil war!

Engels then describes the current phase of the "war" in Iraq. He appears to present the case that at some point our soldiers stopped being occupiers and turned into referees in the new bloody and cruel civil war instead. "By the spring of 2006 America's mission in Iraq had changed yet again. First, U.S. troops were told they were 'liberators' ....The troops then became 'warriors for democracy'.... The third mission was to defend Iraqis from terrorists." And the people who Bush was describing as "terrorists" were merely highly-enthusiastic participants in the new Iraq civil war between the Sunni, Shia and Kurds.

From my take on what Engel has written, it seems that at this point in time American troops have become about the only thing holding Iraq together and keeping it from going into "self-destruct" mode.


After reading some of Engel's gory descriptions of the mutilated and desecrated bodies turning up on Baghdad's "Killing Fields," it appears that many Iraqis seem to take great joy in torturing each other and blowing each other up -- and, as a result, our troops have now become the premier source of law and order in Iraq. And Petraeus' policy of de-emphasizing the large U.S. mega-bases and having many smaller command outposts spread throughout the country instead seems to be actually working to bring about the rule of law.

Engel quoted one Army captain in his book as saying, "The American troops are now popular here. It has changed 100 percent."

And one Baghdad resident stated that he didn't trust even the Iraqi police because in many cases they too had become just another cover for more civil war militia activity. "When the [Iraqi police] come with the Americans, we don't have a problem. But when they come by themselves, we don't trust them and don't know if it is a real mission or not."

And HAVE things finally settling down in Iraq these days -- now that American troops under Petraeus' direction have left the large bases and are out patrolling the streets like cops on a beat? Engels makes it sound like they have. And I am actually glad that he might be right. Hey, we may have dodged a bullet here. Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld blew it completely but our soldiers on the ground seem to be actually pulling the Bush-Cheney mafia's chestnuts out of the fire. Good.

But what will happen next?

Engels writes movingly about the plight of the Iraqi professional class, many of which have been forced to flee the country. Doctors and lawyers and engineers have been forced to become refugees in Syria -- and to turn a blind eye while their daughters work as pole dancers in Damascus strip joints and prostitutes on the streets in order for their families to survive. "They were young girls -- most looked around fifteen -- parading on an elevated stage as a fat singer with acne scars wearing a shiny suit wailed out songs into speakers turned up so loud they crackled and hissed.... Some of the girls looked six or seven years old.... Some of the other girls held the little girls' hands so they wouldn't fall down in their high heels." Just think of it. If the rule of law is finally established in Iraq, these families would be able to come home.

If America had the money and the soldiers to stay over in Iraq and continue to help sort things out, then, if I understand Engels correctly, there might finally be some sort of peace over there. BUT AMERICA DOESN'T. We don't have that luxury. We don't have the soldiers. And we don't have the money. Period. End of discussion.

American soldiers are doing a great job of keeping the peace in Iraq. But -- in my opinion -- no matter how good a job that they do, the truth still remains. America can no longer afford to keep up this pace. We simply cannot. Or as Engels himself states, "Where does this go? How much longer does this war go on? This strategy of U.S. troops trying to keep the two sides apart, pushing them back, you could do this for years. You could do this for decades even. What we need is a solution to end this war."

I highly recommend Engel's book. His strong grasp of the Big Picture in Iraq is so impressive that it makes me afraid to write anything else ever again. But even I have a basic grasp of elementary-school math -- and even I understand that Americans simply cannot afford to pay for Iraq any more. Which brings up that same question again. "What WILL happen next?" Between the coming U.S. elections, the coming economic depression here and the current volatile situation in Iraq, we are about to find out.

"But, Jane," you might say, "if America does step out of Iraq, then Iran will rush in to fill up the gap. And Saudi Arabia." Well, hey. Good for them. Go for it, I say. Maybe they, unlike Bush, will know how to "deal with Arabs".
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Stillwater is a freelance writer who hates injustice and corruption in any form but especially injustice and corruption paid for by American taxpayers. She has recently published a book entitled, "Bring Your Own Flak Jacket: Helpful Tips For Touring (more...)
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