Success and setbacks…

Imagine having lived in Iraq for the last five years. Car bombs have been such a common method of terrorizing the local population that I’m sure every Iraqi sees vehicles differently than we do in the states. I know that yesterday when we were out walking around a town east of Baghdad, every large truck that lumbered by made my stomach tighten a notch.

“We’re not dancing in the end zone yet. The enemy is still out there, and they have a vote as to how this goes.” Major General Rick Lynch said today to a luncheon of media elites in the Green Zone. Just hours earlier, I’d been with him in the small chapel near his headquarters as communion was served. Prominent in the prayers during the service were petitions for the Iraqi people. It’s clear that MG Lynch is serious about his desire to make things work here – at a private dinner the other night, Colonel North and I sat with him and his sergeant Major as we discussed the difficulties he’s facing. “I wasn’t trained to be a politician,” he said. “At West Point they taught us to fight wars – this is something else entirely. But we’re learning as we go. Things have gone exceptionally well in recent months, but we still have work to do.”

One of the things that frustrates is that progress has happened so fast that the success has become difficult to manage. Yesterday in northern Iraq, over four thousand men showed up to apply for 1300 jobs with the Iraqi police. On one hand, that’s great news, but on the other, chaos broke out when it was found that some officials were taking bribes along with the job applications.

Corruption is definitely a problem. When an iraqi police chief named Qais al-Mamouri began arresting shiite bad guys, though he is himself a shiite, it looked like good news for the country – here is an Iraqi two-star general who is putting the rule of law ahead of sectarian divisions. But the chief’s bosses in the government, who are also shia, didn’t see it that way, and tried twice to fire general Qais. But the U.S. vetoed the idea both times and the general kept his job.

Now it appears that the government may have resorted to other means to be rid of the good General. As if to underscore the General’s point that the enemy is still around, less than two hours after the speech to reporters, during which General Qais was repeatedly praised, a car bomb exploded under his car and killed him. Nobody knows if the government had anything to do with it, or if the blame lies with the Al Qaeda Iraq. But either way, the promising general is just as dead.

Nobody is sure at the moment what effect this tragic news will have on the process. But General Lynch and his commanders are determined to keep moving forward.

During the press luncheon, LTC Tom James spoke about General Quais only moments before the man was killed, saying, “[he] is a very good police chief for that province and he is committed to securing Iraq for the people.” Let’s hope that the people he was working for use the tragedy of his death to redouble their efforts to bring about a place where cars are instruments of commerce, not instruments of terror.

Chuck Holton

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