Monday, August 14, 2006

Success and Sacrifice

There was even one instant where an Iraqi man spotted a suicide bomber approaching a polling station. He tackled him before he got close. The bomber detonated his explosives. Both were killed but at least the station stayed open. That is true heroism! Even more people showed up when the story got around.
Strangely enough, some of the events that Christian Isely noted in his Baghdad dispatch series during Iraq's first elections seem to failed to make it in the mainstream media. Strangely enough…

Baghdad Despatch # 24
Baghdad — January 31, 2005

The Election

The elections have now passed and the mood around the Green Zone is distinctly upbeat. Although the votes will take some time to be counted, the high turnout of about 60% is very encouraging. Clearly, the majority of Iraqis are participating in the continued development of a legitimate government. 60% is really quite amazing when one thinks of the open threats and violence committed against some of the unfortunate victims yesterday.

Most vehicle transportation was prohibited over the weekend. The idea was to prevent the use of car bombs to close polling stations. The insurgents resorted to suicide bombers instead who turned out to be very ineffective in throwing off the election. There was even one instant where an Iraqi man spotted a suicide bomber approaching a polling station. He tackled him before he got close. The bomber detonated his explosives. Both were killed but at least the station stayed open. That is true heroism! Even more people showed up when the story got around.

So what does this mean for us over here? First off, it reaffirms our sense of purpose and reminds us that we are actually achieving something despite all the negative reporting in the media. Our hard work is paying off. Our sacrifices have not been made in vain. This is proof that the majority of Iraqis do not side with the insurgency and that they see the peaceful development of their own legitimate government as the way to address their needs. We still need to wait for the official tally and then it will become clear how much of the Sunni population voted. We will then get a better idea of yesterday's success.

This success does not mean however that there is not more work to be done. The insurgency will continue although it has been dealt a serious blow. One can now say that the insurgents are not just fighting a foreign occupier but will now be fighting an Iraqi government chosen by the Iraqi people.

This success also does not mean that US can now start bringing troops home but it is a milestone in that direction. US troops must stay as long as is needed to safeguard the development of this nascent democracy.

This success also does not mean that Iraq, like Afghanistan, should stop receiving US reconstruction aid. Even after the majority of our troops come home, we should continue to provide funding for infrastructure projects and economic development . Let us also not forget that $18.4 billion spent in Iraq does not just go into Halliburton's pockets but also provides jobs for Americans and stimulates the Iraqi economy. It should not be looked on as just aid but as an investment our country is making in this part of the world, an investment in our own security.

Already, some of these investments have come to fruition. For instance, in my particular sector of the reconstruction effort, we have completed almost 200 km of rural village roads that are now enabling local commerce and access to schools and health clinics. This is despite the fact that most of these roads were located in Al Anbar province where the insurgency is still causing trouble.

I heard another piece of good news regarding sewer projects in the Shia slum of Sadr City. During the early half of 2004, this was a particularly dangerous area for Coalition forces. Basic services were non-existent. The sewer system had ceased to function and raw sewage flooded the streets. That is now changed. 75% of this massive sewer project is now complete and the majority of households now have a functioning sewer system and their streets are no longer flooded. Interestingly enough, this has been made possible by the hiring of contractors who were formerly affiliated with the Shia insurrection. By giving them work in their own neighborhoods, these former fighters have become active and productive members of the community. This is a clear success story. We don't see this in the news, do we?

Of course, it is hard not to let the bad news overwhelm us. I must say that despite the historic elections occurring yesterday, my thoughts were dominated by some bad news close to home.

Death at the Palace

On Saturday night, a rocket struck the US Embassy and killed two people. I knew one of the fallen for I had worked with him on some of our projects. I didn't know him well but I knew him well enough to be left thinking about his loss. My last memory of him was just three hours before he was killed. I had just come from the mail room where I had picked up my recently purchased Johnny Cash albums, Solitary Man and The Man Comes Around. I was excited to get back to my trailer to listen to them and as I sped through the office I ran into Keith. I told him about my CDs and how their arrival made my day. He laughed and simply said, "That's great Chris! See you later!" Those were his last words to me.

Despite the two deaths, we were relatively fortunate. One of my coworkers was sitting at a desk that a piece of the rocket hit. He survived without a scratch albeit with high blood pressure. (The rocket did not explode.) Another two of my coworkers were having a meeting in the very spot that was hit just 5-10 minutes before.

The most bizarre aspect of this tragedy is how random it was. These rockets cannot be aimed at a particular target. They can only be fired in a general direction. The man I knew was sitting at his desk when it happened. It was like he was struck by lightening. When you travel into the Red Zone, you expect danger. When you are sitting at your desk inside a building, danger never crosses your mind.

Yesterday I was saddened by this loss but now that the elections have successfully occurred, at least I am comforted by the fact that this man's death did not occur in vain for he took the risk of coming here so that millions of Iraqis got the opportunity to have a say in their future.

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