A Soldier Left Behind

A Soldier Left Behind
You might not have paid much attention to the story in the news about the US troops pulling up their checkpoints from the streets of Baghdad in response to a demand by Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki. But I have a son currently serving in Iraq, so I do notice these things. You may not recall that the checkpoints were set up after a soldier was abducted from a central Baghdad neighborhood on Oct. 23rd. Andrew Sullivan, in his blog, The Daily Dish, notices what probably wasn’t missed by any military family. The soldier is still missing. Andrew rightly notes that, “The military does not have a tradition of abandoning its own soldiers to foreign militias, or of taking orders from foreign governments. No commander-in-chief who actually walks the walk, rather than swaggering the swagger, would acquiesce to such a thing.”

Did we leave a soldier behind? According to the Washington Post, US Military spokesperson Lt Col. Jonathan Withington said that the lifting of the blockade “does not stop our search for the soldier. We’re dead serious about getting him back, and that won’t stop because of the checkpoints.” But the reality is that it is will be more difficult to find the soldier with out the checkpoints.

The soldier, forty one year old, Ahmed Quasi al-Taai, had left the Green Zone for an unauthorized visit with his wife, an Iraqi college student. Al-Taai had married his Iraqi wife prior to being deployed to Iraq. He was serving as translator for the military. During the visit with his wife, hooded gunmen handcuffed and kidnapped him. Maj. Gen. William Caldwell said the military has intelligence on who might have the soldier. After the soldier went missing the military used concertina wire and sandbags to close off all bridges and other routes into Sadr City, a Shiite Suburb of Baghdad. This enabled the US military along with Iraqi soldiers to search each vehicle entering or leaving the area. During the search 32 suspects had been detained, one US soldier killed, and eight wounded. The checkpoints had resulted in traffic jams and delays and the residents cheered when the US military pulled out.

Maj. Gen Caldwell said there is a lot of “political activity” going on to secure the release of al-Taai. And yet one has to wonder how much control our military has over Baghdad if Prime Minister al-Maliki can order American troops out and we leave, without the soldier we were searching for. Iraqi Vice President, Tariq al-Hashimi, a Sunni leader, said that the security situation in Baghdad is deteriorating. That death squads began attacks on Sunnis soon after the checkpoints were removed. “Now that the iron fist has loosened, (the terrorist) can move around as you please and shake the stability in Baghdad again.”

Every military family knows, as does every soldier, that when you choose to serve your country in the military you may loose your life. But we expect our military to do everything within their power to keep them safe and return them home to us. We expect leadership and competence from the people deciding what mission to send our soldiers on; to not send them on unnecessary missions. Not to send them in to battles that cannot be won. The New York times recently revealed a slide, prepared by United States Central Command, for an Oct 18, 2006 meeting for a classified briefing, titled ‘Iraq: Indications and Warnings of Civil Conflict.” The slide showed a bar graph labeled on the left, “peace” and on the right, “chaos.” The slide was not labeled one through ten; however, if you were to place a number line below the slide where one was on the left and ten was on the right, then the arrows for last week would be at about 8 and this week at about 8.5. According to the graph we are progressing steadily towards chaos in Iraq. Civilian contractors have already begun to pull out. Security Company Kroll withdrew its teams of bodyguards. Michael Cherkasky, president and chief officer of Kroll said the business in the country wasn’t worth risking the lives of their employees. Also pulling out was reconstruction contractor Bechtel. Cliff Mumm, Bechtel’s president for infrastructure asked, “Did Iraq come out the way you hoped it would? I would have to say, emphatically, no. And it’s heartbreaking.”

I don’t pretend to know what the answers are for Iraq. Bush has made it clear that we will keep Rumsfeld on for the remainder of his term. Despite the call from many retired general to replace him. According to Republican House majority Leader, John Boehner, the problems in Iraq are the responsibility of the generals on the ground in Iraq. I really am not interested in placing blame. What I want in a change in direction. I want to see real leadership. A real plan to stabilize Iraq and bring our soldiers home. I want our soldiers to have a clear mission and a clear plan for succeeding. I want to know that they will not remain in Iraq for the next thirty years caught in the crossfire of a civil war. I want to know that the military will not be forced to leave a soldier behind. I need to know we have the kind of leadership that will not leave my son behind. Because I do not see that leadership, I will be voting for change.

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