From: Wagner, John (O-6)
Sent: May 19, 2004
Subject: Baghdad Rag, Final Letter
Dear Family and Friends,
Over the past three weeks, we have had a lot of activity. As you have seen in the news, we have been fighting an insurgency in southern Iraq. Fighting has been particularly heavy in the Shiite cities of Najaf, Al Hillah, and Nassiriyah. Sadr's militia has been conducting attacks on our forces and conveys. The Marines have been able to keep his forces contained in these cities but they are well entrenched. However, his militia consists of thugs and bullies versus professional soldiers. Any time they have tried a pitched battle with our forces, we clobber them. And the people in the cities are getting tired of the fighting. Support for Sadr within the Shiite community is starting to fade. His militia has terrorized the very people they claim to be fighting for. It is turning the tide of support away from him. This is partly why we have not engaged his forces within Najaf in a house-to-house battle. Sadr may be his own worse enemy and we are giving him that opportunity. And we are attempting to not damage or destroy any religious buildings. It is a delicate strategy our leaders are following and has a good chance to succeed. It just takes time.
The other flashpoint, Fallujah, has been somewhat quiet the past couple of weeks. Having an Iraqi battalion assume security duties seems to be working for the moment. This was a controversial decision. The original Iraqi Defense Corp consisted of people with minimal military training. When they were inserted into combat, they needed a lot of support from US forces. This battalion consists of soldiers from the former Iraqi army. Unfortunately, a number of them were members of Saddam's Baathist party. Most officers had to have party membership if they were to be promoted. So bringing them back is making some people uncomfortable. This is similar to what we did in Germany after World War II where we had to use former Nazi party members to help run the country because they were the only ones trained to do so. This Iraqi battalion has been screened carefully to select soldiers who were not hard core Saddam loyalists. These soldiers are doing a good job of keeping the peace in Fallujah so far. We will continue to watch this situation.
The Green Zone has received sporadic rocket attacks. The latest one occurred yesterday in which two individuals were wounded. But we have not let this stop us from making progress toward the 1 July transition date. We are still on track and plans are taking shape to standup the new Iraqi government. Several new Iraqi ministries have been formally established in preparation for the formation of the new government. A United Nations team election team is here that is starting the process of conducting free elections within Iraq by the end of the calendar year. They have been soliciting nominations for Iraqi election monitors and officials. Once the nomination is closed, which will be this week, the UN will select qualified individuals who will oversee election of a new government. Details are still being worked but the UN wants to conduct these elections by the end of the year, with an elected government taking office in early 2005. In spite of the security situation, we are making a lot of progress.
Today we had a setback. A suicide car bomb killed the President of the Governing Council at a Green Zone checkpoint. He was a Shiite and one of the moderate voices on the 25-person Council. His loss will definitely be felt but the GC is already making plans to elect a new President. This highlights that the Iraqi people are just as much a target as the Coalition Forces. The news does not report the many Iraqi people working for the Coalition are killed, threatened, and targeted. Nearly every week, one of our Iraqi workers is killed somewhere in the country. Numerous others are threatened. Periodically, some of the more prominent Iraqis are brought into the Green Zone for protection. These people are unsung heroes to their country. They recognize the risks but also understand that it is in their country's best interests to help us rebuild Iraq, stabilize the security situation, and then allow the Coalition Forces to leave peacefully. I have a lot of admiration for our Iraqi friends who are trying to do the right thing at their own peril.
This will be my last Rag as I depart in two days to return home. It has been a long 160-day deployment but a worthwhile one. I have no regrets in coming here - I had the opportunity to be part of history. I also have had the opportunity to work with some of the finest people to serve our country. Everyone here is dedicated to the mission of rebuilding a new Iraq and forming a democratic government. We have shared hardships, dangers, austere working and living conditions, and still accomplish the mission. My father served in World War II and he always remembered his "war buddies" with great fondness. I now understand this bond he had with these men. The people I had the honor to serve with are my war buddies. And I will never forget this Band of Brothers/Sisters. They are heroes.
Finally, I want to thank all the people who sent e-mails and care packages to us these past five months. I never realized until now how important it is to receive something, anything, from home. Because it shows that the people support what we are doing and care about our safety. Your care packages brought a little bit of home for us and we deeply appreciate your efforts and prayers. You helped us endure this war.
I want to leave you with this last thought. What we are doing here is the right thing to do. I have been told many times by common Iraqi people how happy they are that we came to rid them of Saddam Hussein and his cronies. They know that the future for their children will be bright, even if it is going to take some time. We have accomplished a lot here. Everywhere there are new schools, hospitals, electrical plants, highways, and many other construction efforts that will help Iraq become an economic powerhouse. I tried to find some statistics on what we have done so far. The news media doesn't list these accomplishments, but they are real. Our military has accomplished a lot, along with our civilian partners, and the American people can take pride in these accomplishments. I certainly do. We still have a long way to go, and the Bad Guys are trying to stop or slow us down. In the short-term, they have some success. But the vast majority of the Iraqi people want to see their country rebuilt and that vision will help us prevail.
Again, thanks to everyone for your support and prayers. I will see you back in the States. Baghdad out!
JOHN F. WAGNER, Colonel, USAF
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