Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Review: CAN'T GIVE THIS WAR AWAY: Three Iraqi Summers of Change and Conflict

bookcover of CAN'T GIVE THIS WAR AWAY: Three Iraqi Summers of Change and Conflict by Nathan Webster To this date, there are 474 books about the Iraq War. I have read many of them, starting with Nathaniel Fick 's 'ONE BULLET AWAY, The Making Of A Marine Officer'. I heard him speak, and then continued to read more books during and after we left Iraq. It seems appropriate now, as we await the final days of our presence in Afghanistan, to look back at our presence in Iraq. Did we make a grave mistake in leaving no US presence in Iraq, did we open the door for a more horrific terrorist group, ISIL? You can make that judgement, but it is always best to have some facts and some knowledge behind your decision making.

The author, Nathan Webster, a photo journalist, and a US Army Veteran, from the 2003, Desert Storm, Operation Iraqi Freedom, has provided us with his day to day presence during three summers in Iraq, from 2007-2009. In 2009, he embedded with the same Charlie Company from 2007, and shares their experiences during the winding down of the war. I found his particular experience, talking and living with the troops as the days wore them down, a much more personal story. He provides photos within the stories, and they add to the scope and feel of his experience.

In 2007, Charlie Company, was assigned to smaller posts within the Iraqi cities. No longer behind large compounds, where Iraqi citizens had no contact with them, Charlie Company now worked side by side with Iraqis. Their job to convince the Iraqis to side with the US against the Al Qaeda. They patrol with Iraqi security or cops in 125 degree heat. The heat is overwhelming and 4 liter bottles of water a day keeps dehydration at bay. The company all wear their armor, and the pounds add up, just another inconvenience in this day to day existence. They meet with Iraqi tribes which was another strategy of that year. Charlie Company has become cynical, it is the Iraqis turn to fight the Al Qaeda, and for Charlie to go home. The failing war has taken it's toll.

In the summer of 2008, Nathan embeds with the 25th Infantry soldiers, who worked with the Iraqi tribal leaders. Riding in an 8 wheeled personnel carrier, called The Stryker, he rides with other soldiers to their destinations. They get out quickly, once security says it is clear. The Stryker could be a prime target for insurgents. Personal communication with the Iraqi soldiers is done in broken English that the Iraqis know. Few soldiers know Arabic except for key phrases they pick up. 'Shaku-maku' in Arabic means 'what's up', a favorite phrase some of the soldiers learn. That and 'shuckan- thanks', means you care, and that kind of interaction gets a better response from the Iraqis. Sons of Iraq, local Iraqi soldiers who provide security for their area, are paid $300 a month. The money is US, but it is the local SOI council who pay the soldiers. Most of the soldiers think this is payment so that the Iraqi soldiers work with the US and don't play with the other side.

In 2009, Webster rejoins Charlie Company at Combat OutPost Cahill. Many of the company remember him. They tell him of their newer, bigger quarters with two chefs, even though they are subpar. Everyone has their own computers,so the camaraderie is less apparent. Life is better on this tour. They are teaching the Iraqi soldiers to shoot at target practice. They work with the Iraqis, telling them, the US will be leaving soon, and you need to own up and lead. "This is the last slog. Mission Accomplished". The security is split 50:50, US: Iraqis. No longer can the Iraqis defer to the US. The Iraqis have a huge test coming. Several times, training would be scheduled and the Iraqis would not show up. The soldiers reflected their previous difficult experiences in 2007, and their experiences this time in 2009. The Iraq War as summed up by Nathan Webster, " Iraq since 1991, 2003 and forward, shining through all the enthusiastic cynicism and gleeful bitterness, biting fears and star crossed hopes."

Nathan Webster shares his experiences with the men, and some women, he talked with and photographed during these three years in Iraq. Their stories and their day to day existence is what makes this book so telling. I liked the discussions with the officers. Reading about their interactions with their troops and the Iraqis gives us an insight to their leadership style. Most were well liked and respected by their companies. We already know the big picture of Iraq, the missing WMD, the war that failed, and we left the Iraqis to cope on their own. Now, I have a better understanding of the last surge, the primary thinking of the soldiers who were put to the test to try and salvage the Iraq mess. The frustrations of teaching and training Iraqi soldiers to carry on to defeat the Al Qaeda with no US support. What were we thinking? We sent these men and women home from the horrors of this war to find their own way. Most make it, some don't. What have we learned, and what do we have now with our broken policies? These men and women can tell us, and it is important that we listen.

Nathan Webster hopes to write another book, catch up with the soldiers he met from 2007-2009, see where they are and how they are doing. They are the real story.

Three Iraqi Summers of Change and Conflict
by Nathan Webster
Pub: April 10, 2012

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