Rebuilding Iraq

IBy Specialist Joseph Roche, U.S. Army I am writing from Baghdad as a soldier in the U.S. Army. The war against terrorism has taken me on a journey from tragedy and frustration, to victory and pride. I’d like to share with The Minnesota Daily readers a little about being here in Baghdad, the new “Front Line.”

General Lucius Clay led reconstruction efforts in war-devastated Germany after World War II. In a country that had no legacy of liberal democracy, Clay ignored the pessimists and remade the western half of Germany into a prosperous country that would eventually help the United States topple the Soviet Union. General Douglas MacArthur did much the same in an even more war-traumatized Japan. Against great challenges, the U.S. Army made impoverished, desperate and sick societies into peaceful and modern nations.

Ignoring the pessimists again, we have much the same challenge in Iraq. Americans should be proud of the work the U.S. Army is doing here in Baghdad. Several times each day my unit travels through the worst parts of central Baghdad. My unit, the Combat Engineers, is building new infrastructure for the people of Baghdad. An Iraqi translator who accompanies us says the people are warming to us more and more each day. From Saddam Hussein, they had heard we were monsters. Instead they see us busting our butts to provide power, clean water, traffic control and to maintain social harmony. It is a monumental task; the impact of decades of Stalinist-type rule has destroyed everything in Baghdad. The desperation of poverty in the city is shockingly pervasive. Yet my commanders, like those commanders who served under Clay and MacArthur, are working very hard to make this city function.

As my division deployed to Baghdad via Germany, we passed Hillah, Iraq; the site of a mass grave of 3,000 Iraqi torture victims. This is something we encounter each day: the horrible brutality of the regime we defeated earlier this year. All over Baghdad we see evidence of similar crimes. This is depressing.

L. Paul Bremmer, the head of reconstruction efforts in Iraq, is on the case. When Clay began reconstruction in Germany, 75,000 former Nazi party members had to be banned from political positions, 3 million Germans were charged with crimes, 2 million put on trial, 1 million punished and 15,000 were made to clean streets. Our task is not that extensive. Bremmer has us on the trail of 30,000 Iraqi Baath party members. Inspiringly, the Iraqi people not only welcome this pursuit, but even stick their necks out to assist. I saw this happen two nights ago when a brother of a Baathist fugitive led us on a raid to find him; we also seized some weapons on the raid. It is very dangerous work, but we are doing it with gusto.

Most amazing is the painful emotional sacrifice all the U.S. soldiers are making by being here. We are completely cut off from contact with our loved ones, spouses and children, except for mail, which can take a month to travel between sender and receiver. We miss our homes greatly; we ache for the ability to party and enjoy normal life. We can go days without showers, and we can get fearfully dirty. We are constantly risking our lives to execute our missions.

I know we don’t measure up to the greatness of the U.S. soldiers in Clay’s time, but I believe U.S. citizens have every right to be very proud and supportive of the soldiers I am with. I saw our country failing in the face of terrorism two years ago. Then I made a pilgrimage to the Sept. 11, 2001, attack sites. And now, showing that the United States is strong and determined to win the war against terrorism, I’m in Baghdad with the greatest and noblest military force in the history of the world: the U.S. Army. Be proud! I am!

Specialist Joseph Roche, U.S. Army, is a University alumnus.

Send letters to the editor to [email protected]