Veterans, experts worry over U.S. pullout from Iraq
Published: Wednesday, September 1, 2010 at 9:17 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, September 1, 2010 at 9:17 p.m.
As President Barack Obama kept a campaign promise Tuesday and pulled out the last U.S. battle troops from Iraq, former soldiers and experts say they are hoping the country can hang onto the thread of democracy the U.S. invasion brought 7 1/2 years ago.
"My hope is that we wold help them to rebuild," said University of Florida political science professor Patricia Woods, co-coordinator of the university's Near and Middle East Working Group. "We really can look to the experience of Afghanistan to know what will happen if we don't rebuild what we've destroyed."
Woods was referring to the Afghan-Soviet conflict of the 1980s and '90s, when America helped to arm the Mujahadeen but then left the country to its own devices when the Soviets pulled out. Afghanistan eventually dissolved into civil war and then became a totalitarian state run by the religiously fundamentalist Taliban.
Woods noted that before the war, Iraq had a highly developed infrastructure, including well-maintained highway systems and bridges, an electrical grid, sewage system and clean water. In addition, it also had an educated population, with a high number of people earning graduate and doctoral degrees, she said.
"If we don't do this sort of cleanup game, we may be there again 20 years later," Woods said.
Mark Hillard is a veterans counselor with the Alachua County Veterans Service Office. He joined the U.S. Army in December 1983 and retired in October 2005.
He served a tour of duty in Iraq in 2004 as an Army team master sergeant for special forces, leading a group of 10 soldiers on reconnaissance intelligence missions to capture "high-value targets" and to train Iraqis for special operations.
"Hopefully, it won't tear apart what we've done," Hillard said of the pullout.
During his first week in Iraq, Hillard's convoy was hit by an improvised explosive device, one of the hidden bombs that have come to terrorize U.S. troops on patrol and Iraqi civilians alike.
"I remember passing an Iraqi on the right, just walking along the road with a stick in his hand," Hillard said. "I was thinking about what he was wearing and where he was going when all of a sudden, it exploded on the left about 25 yards away, hitting the side of the vehicle in front of me, but not killing anyone," Hillard said. "We were very lucky."
Hillard said those types of incidents might get worse before they get better.
"In the near future, I think it's going to intensify a little bit in the suicide bombings against American forces, contractors and whoever is left behind," he said.
IEDs are to blame for many of the 4,427 American service members killed, 34,268 wounded or injured and tens of thousands of Iraqis killed.
Hillard said the 50,000 troops that will remain behind are going to help the Iraqis by training them. "I don't think we're going to leave them out there, hanging out to dry."
George Esper, an Associated Press reporter who spent 10 years in Vietnam and remained in Saigon in 1975 when it fell to the North Vietnamese, said America is pulling out its combat forces at the right time.
Esper compared the Iraq war to the Vietnam War, saying the mood following each has been similar.
"As the war keeps on, troops get restless and morale starts to decline," Esper said from his office at West Virginia University, where he teaches journalism. "The mood is the same for the same reason -- it's a stalemate, regardless of what the administration says."
On Tuesday night, President Obama said U.S. troops have accomplished the goal of ridding Iraq of a regime that had terrorized Iraq's people, but he didn't call the war a success.
"Operation Iraqi Freedom is over, and the Iraqi people now have lead responsibility for the security of their country," he said.
Contact Kimberly Moore at 352-374-5036 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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