They Say It's Over-

Article excerpt

Byline: Michael Ware

The Iraq War is finished. But for soldiers who fought there, and for journalists who covered the bloodiest battles, closure is yet to come.

I'm told the Iraq War is coming to an end.

From what I read and from what I hear it seems the war that began in 2003 will be over within two short weeks. Once the last few thousand troops are finally home. And once midnight strikes on this New Year's Eve, for that's the preordained moment when America's right under international law to be in Iraq will expire.

And yet, somehow, I'm still confused. For somewhere within, from my heart of hearts, I just know for some of us the war in Iraq will probably never end. On New Year's I know where I'll be. I'll have a drink in hand, overlooking one of my favorite Australian beaches, listening to revelers in the sand cheer as the clock strikes midnight. Yet, I gravely suspect, I will also be very much in Baghdad. And in Fallujah. And Ramadi. Tal Afar. Halabja. Amarah. And many, many other places.

Then, perhaps, I will see in the year with Capt. Sean Sims, a proud young father, and with Lt. Edward Iwan. Maybe Omar, my old translator. Abu Abdulraheman too, a good friend and an insurgent commander. I would play with his baby son for hours, realizing the boy was precisely the same age as the son I'd left at home. That insurgent leader once saved my life. And with Paul Moran, an Australian television cameraman who had a deep love for Kurdistan. Possibly even with the earnest-looking young boy I once saw out the back of a besieged Sadr City hospital. I'm sure there will be others. For these are but a few of my Iraq dead. Some I knew dearly. Others I only met in death.

If anything, I often think, perhaps we should grieve for the living. Those left behind, without a father or a mother. Those who must now face the rest of their days living a war without end. Like a young man the late Rep. John Murtha once spoke of at a D.C. press conference after he'd visited a military hospital. The kid had been blinded and lost both his hands taking care of U.S. bomblets. His mother kept vigil by his bedside. "Is there anything I can do for you?" Murtha says he asked. "Get him a Purple Heart," was the mother's reply. Because they were "friendly" bomblets, the boy so badly maimed had been denied the honor. "I told the commandant," said Murtha, choking up before the cameras. "If you don't give him a Purple Heart I'll give him one of mine ... They gave him a Purple Heart." Sometimes, when I let my mind wander, I wonder what it's now like for that young veteran, the bulk of his life still waiting ahead of him. Without hands to touch. Or eyes to see.

In odd little ways that story steels me for what I must face. That boy's bravery, and the testament of that mother's love, inspire me. On some of my bad days, thoughts of them spur me to just take one more step forward, not to just let it all go, even when that's all it is I want to do.

A great, dear friend of mine to whom I was bonded forever one horrific night in the Battle of Fallujah in 2004 was wounded. But only after he returned to the United States. I have footage of him, caked in filth and wired from our days and days without sleep, on the flanks of the battle using my satellite phone to call home. "I love you," I recorded him telling his wife, and the mother of his children. Their marriage did not survive the war. And once home, the parents on one of his kids' sporting teams expressed concern about whether my friend might curse, or be aggressive, because he'd been in Iraq. I think that floored him. He couldn't believe it. After all he'd survived, after all he'd done for his country. …