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From comments on part one:
I just returned from my second embed in Iraq, this time with the 25th Infantry north of Baghdad, and I agree completely with Michael Yon - the war in Iraq is over.I left out a significant part of the comment raising several issues somewhat off the topic immediately at hand here, but I urge one and all to read it in full on the post.
It will probably be a Northern Ireland-style sectarian fight for some time, with high casualty attacks drawing attention, but not really reflecting the country as a whole.
The difference between this summer and last summer is vast. Granted, I was in two different places, but both were awful in 2007 - Bayji, and now Tarmiyah. Last year, attacks were every day. This year, IEDs were very rare and small arms were unheard of.
Michael Yon's right, and he's got a hell of a lot more knowledge than me...there's no reason for an independent journalist to go back to Iraq, though I might follow up with the same unit before they redeploy - The story of the Sons Of Iraq isn't "action-filled," but it's so interesting it deserves a much closer look than I was able to give it.
Afghanistan is where the war is now; it's where it always was...
The comment was from Nathan Webster, whose latest entry at the Long War Journal can be found here. Nathan's work has also appeared (as has much good reporting from Iraq) in local coverage of the units in which he has embedded and the troops therein.
I believe Nathan Webster shares Mike Yon's POV: from the perspective of the combat reporter, the war in Iraq is over. There will still be combat, but the odds of being embedded with the right unit at the right time have dropped from slim (as it was at best outside the early surge ops or the major city battles - unless you were willing to spend a significant amount of time with one unit) to none - or at least prohibitively long.
As for Afghanistan, one aspect of realizing the Iraq war was won last fall when it happened is that by February you could point out that the conversation needed a bit more focus on that front. (Though even my February questions might be outdated now.)
You've represented my POV accurately, though for me to be mentioned in the same sentence as Michael Yon is a complete joke...haha...
Your point in your previous comment about the combination of extra troops/money coming in at the same time making the big difference is well taken...there needed to be a complete rethink of how the US approached the entire country, which the extra troops enabled...so I was making my original point too literally.
Moreover, the extra troops are what enabled the US to start up the JSS program, where we actually maintained a presence in the cities and were able to talk face-to-face with the local leaders who now run the Sons of Iraq.
For instance, in Bayji in 2007, the company commander would drive out and talk with a few local tribal leaders and basically harangue them into getting on board with the promise of money, support and peace and quiet. There were rare joint patrols, and the soldiers were absolutely bitter, angry and disgusted that they had to sit and pull security for four to six hours while the CO talked to a sheikh who had previously been detained - for hiding Saddam Hussein in that very house!
But, a year later and I can see the results of meetings like that, although in Tarmiyah and not in Bayji. But, I also haven't seen Bayji in the news for a long time...so hopefully, it's equally quiet there.
For instance, the US relationship with Sheikh Imad and his father Jassim seemed very genuine. The Iraqi pair wants this to work - but they also want their own version of security within the Shiite-dominated government, which is the next big challenge.
I expect to have a few more posts on Long War Journal that will hopefully explain a little more about the Sons of Iraq. I felt like my last few days I started to understand it.
I don't want to come across as saying there is no need for reporters in Iraq. Since vast amounts of US taxpayers money is being spent on this program, there is more, not less reasons for coverage. If/When I go back (but Afghanistan beckons), that SoI story would be my focus.Posted by NS Webster at July 17, 2008 12:40 AM
"I don't want to come across as saying there is no need for reporters in Iraq."
Again I agree with you 100%. I'm glad to have the chance to re-emphasize the word "combat" in "combat reporters" - there will be plenty of newsworthy events in Iraq, to include death and destruction.
But while guys like you and Yon and Totten and Roggio and others re-wrote the book on war reporting, few non-traditional journalists will go to Iraq to report on the non-combat developments. While understanding Mike Yon's focus, I honestly think he's missing an opportunity to "finish the story" on Iraq.
By the way, I'm not sure the bad guys in Afghanistan can sustain their recent ops tempo.Posted by Greyhawk at July 17, 2008 01:50 AM
Hey...thanks for the plug.
Here is a link to one of my other stories that I liked a little better.
I appreciated your comment about non-traditional reporters rewriting the book on war reporting. I think guys like Yon and Totten (and Doug Grindle and John McHugh and many others) showed guys like me that it's feasible (and props to the military embed program, which is what makes it possible) to actually return to what Ernie Pyle tried to do, which is tell the story at the soldier level, in their hometown newspapers. But, the newspaper business being what it is, I'm not sure that's a long term plan, either...You're right that Roggio's site is the way of the future.
You are correct about trying to cover actual 'combat' as being completely blind 'luck.' While the first trip had it's share of danger, there were no true 'combat operations.' This time, the operational tempo was certainly primed for combat at any moment, but there was never the same sense of dread. There were IEDs, but they were targeting the SoIs. There seemed to be a deliberate attempt to not target the US (but they had a mortar attack right after I left, so the summer might change things).
Like I think you meant, it's a big story - how we won the war - and with reporters leaving, or not returning, it might never really get told. There's plenty to be cynical about, and I am, but throwing around boxes of $100 bills got people to stop shooting at us, and that counts for a lot.
It's worth noting that we used that strategy in Afghanistan from day one in 2001, when we had no problems paying off heroin-dealing Northern Alliance warlords so...it's obviously too bad that Baathist/Republican Guard captains and lieutenants couldn't have recieved the same courtesy back in 2003, since we're paying them now anyway.
I am leaning toward a winter trip to Iraq with the same unit for the main purpose of really studying and writing about the SoI program and our relationship with the Iraqis, at least in this one city. I think that's a more untold, and very interesting story.Posted by NS Webster at July 18, 2008 04:08 PM Hide Comments | Show/Add Comments in Popup Window(3) | (Note: You must refresh main page to view newly posted comments here)