All of the armchair quarterbacks are out in force this week, mostly criticizing the second war against Saddam Hussein, of course, most are calling it “the Iraq War” as if we were fighting against the people of Iraq, but, it wasn’t that at all. Most are saying that it was a war we should have avoided, but anyone who is saying that doesn’t remember the circumstances.
COB6 and I spent Easter, 1991 on the outskirts of Baghdad, we drove for two days unopposed from recently liberated Kuwait. At the moment of the enforced ceasefire at 8am (local time) February 28th, we had been engaged with a dismounted element of Iraqis. And suddenly we were given the order to end the engagement and turn right to drive from the battlefield with enemy bullets still pinging off our turrets.
We spent the next few weeks clearing ammunition from bunkers, destroying abandoned equipment and weapons until we were tasked to return to Iraq and screen for the Shi’ites escaping the wrath of Hussein. That’s when we went to Baghdad. Busloads of Shi’ites streamed through our hastily erected line of demarcation. We tended to the wounded and shared our food with the refugees.
In the distance we could hear the remnants of Hussein’s Republican guards having their way with the unarmed civilians. Some in our battalion set up a refugee camp tent village for the Shi’ites. Anyone who didn’t think that we’d be back to finish Hussein from our perspective was seriously deluded.
No fewer than three times in the next ten years, Hussein sent his troops to the Kuwait border again, and each time the US deployed thousands of troops to the pre-positioned equipment in Kuwait and prepared to be a speed-bump for the next annexation of the Nineteenth Provence. While our air forces patrolled the skies over the “no-fly zone”, they daily ducked and dodged the surface-to-air missiles.
Even if you disregard the weapons of mass destruction, which we all knew existed at some point before the invasion of Hussein’s Iraq, Saddam Hussein was not a stabilizing force in the region. He was paying the families of suicide bombers in Israel in order to continue the practice. There were al Qaeda training areas in Iraq, whether they operated with the permission of Hussein or not is not relevant, they existed and would continue to exist and train our enemies had we not shut down the dictator’s government.
You can argue for weeks about whether the war was fought as well as it could be fought or not, but whether it was a war we should have fought should not be in dispute. I’ll grant you that my generation should have been the force that toppled Saddam Hussein – we were the largest army in Iraq on Easter Day in 1991 and poised on the outskirts of the capital and it should have been accomplished then rather than ten years later, but there is no doubt in my mind that the war should have been fought regardless of when it was fought. My only regret was that it was my son’s generation which shouldered the task.