Jan 2 at 12:12pm by David Tate
The picture above was taken from deep inside the citadel in Arbil, Iraq in February, 2003 – a month before US forces invaded that country. At that time, I had just changed my blog from “Adventure travels…” to “A Battlefield Tourist” (ABT) and had made my way across the border, from southern Turkey, looking for a front seat view of an American-led invasion.
I didn’t realize it at the time, but my self-funded trip into one war zone (southern Turkey) and a second, soon-to-be war zone, would arguably become the official launching of a journalistic phenomenon now know as “milblogging”. Since those days, milblogging has become big business for many – not including myself, and I think that is great. It was really inevitable; I just happened to roll dice early in the game.
All said and done between 2003 and 2009 I would make the trip to Iraq twice and Afghanistan three times. I was on the ground for nearly a year total, embedding a few dozen times with all sorts of units from at least five different countries. It truly was a great gift and even more rewarding that I was able to accomplish this on my own. The stories, the pictures, the insight – it has all benefitted many people in many different ways over the years.
I am writing this just days after the US rolled up the flag and departed Iraq; heads held high, mission accomplished. I say this because Iraq has certainly been, and will continue to be, a very interesting situation. The fact is, regardless of how flawed the data was, no matter how much people lied and embellished, no matter if President Bush was truly acting out his own sense of closure for his father – the Iraqis, overwhelmingly, wanted world intervention in their country for many years, and on the eve of war, they were overwhelming in their desire for change.
So, with that said, the US can hold their heads high. Is the situation perfect? No. I am very concerned about Iran and its influence on Iraq, first and foremost. However, the Iraqis had decided enough was enough. They voted to not allow legal protection for US troops. That decision would put our citizens in the arena with the Iraqi legal system. That is unacceptable. To force our way into a position that defied the agreed on time for departure would have then put the US truly in the position of occupiers. The resistance that would follow would once again suck us into a precarious spot which we can ill afford in money or blood.
By leaving, as promised, we have left the table with some winnings… just not the best it could be. I have to admit, I am very surprised that we did not work out an airbase in Kurdistan. That greatly surprises me, actually. I don’t know the reasons for this, but if it wasn’t worked hard on achieving, the ball was certainly dropped. Kurdistan would have been the IDEAL spot for a permanent presence – surrounded by a people who support us.
I learned that very well on my inaugural trip to Iraq. On the day the above picture was taken, I remember walking up into the citadel where hundreds of Kurdish refugees lived. Many of them displaced by Iraq’s Anfal campaign against the Kurds that began in 1988 and continued, in varying degrees, for several years. Others were victims of Iraq’s “arabization” of Kirkuk (don’t forget that name… Kirkuk will be a well known name before this is all over. That’s another story, though).
I remember walking up through the narrow alleys of this place, which is built on centuries and centuries of buildings that has now become a mesa in the flat plain of northern Iraq. If I recall correctly, it is one of the oldest constantly inhabited spots in the world. As I walk, people would come out to see who the crazy white guy is. It was hard to communicate, but with some pigeon english, arabic and hand gestures, we would get by fine. It was a great day and I learned a lot. Even got a nice picture with the kids. It’s one of my favorite pictures – not only for what it means to my past, but for what it makes me think of in regards to Iraq’s future. So I’m writing this for the people of Iraq:
Don’t take my country’s sacrifice for granted. Use this opportunity that you asked for and received. It is a great gift that has cost my neighbors a great deal of blood and hardship. I realize you have also paid with blood equity; as you should because freedom is not free. I hope your people find the wisdom and courage to forge bonds that put your country before your sect. The world is waiting and watching. In fact, I suspect many, many people want you to fail just so they can laugh at America. Prove them all wrong. Many of my neighbors died to give you this chance. Now it is up to you.
You can follow that journey here: http://dgtate.blogspot.com/2003_01_01_archive.html