US Troops Eye Iraq's Future with Realism, Philosophy ; Many of the Americans with the Closest View of Iraq Believe It Could Be a Long Road to Democracy

By Warren Richey writer of The Christian Science Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, May 21, 2003 | Go to article overview

US Troops Eye Iraq's Future with Realism, Philosophy ; Many of the Americans with the Closest View of Iraq Believe It Could Be a Long Road to Democracy


Warren Richey writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


American soldiers in Iraq are learning firsthand that sometimes the hardest part of writing history is not knowing how it will end.

There are few places in this war-torn country where the final outcome of Operation Iraqi Freedom is more uncertain than in the heavily Shiite Muslim neighborhoods of eastern Baghdad.

In Thawra, also called Sadr City by many of its Shiite residents, US commanders are maneuvering their way through an ever-changing political landscape.

Various Shiite clerics are sending conflicting signals to US officials, telling military officers one thing and then acting and saying something completely different to others. US troops also face an ever-present threat from remnants of the Saddam Fedayeen, Baath Party stalwarts, and a large group of armed criminals.

On the other side, the US government's Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance (ORHA) in Iraq seems to have adopted a go-slow posture - perhaps, analysts say, to allow Iraqi infighting to sort itself out before identifying appropriate local leaders.

Caught in the middle of this swirl of posturing and jockeying are US soldiers - America's sons and daughters, mothers and fathers - patrolling the front lines of the second phase of the war in Iraq.

Many are beginning to form opinions about what will likely be written in the final chapter of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

The soldiers quoted here from the US Army's 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment are not Middle East experts, learned political scientists, or foreign-policy specialists. They are simply a cross section of the US, ordinary Americans who have had the benefit of two months on the ground in Iraq seeing the situation for themselves.

Many of them have had to dodge bullets. All of them face the prospect of a dangerous and uncertain stay in what to them is a very foreign land.

Most see much painstaking work ahead - work that will hardly be completed in a few months' time.

"As long as we are here, everything will be stable, but as soon as we leave, another Saddam will pop up, and it is this thing all over again," says Sgt. Eric Fitzgerald of Baltimore. "It will turn out like another Bosnia or Kosovo."

Pvt. John Hecht of Merrill, Iowa, wants to know where the next generation of Iraqi leaders are - the Iraqi version of America's James Madison, Thomas Jefferson, and Alexander Hamilton. …

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