The two Black Hawk helicopters thundered along at almost 200 miles per hour fifty feet above dusty palm groves and fertile irrigated fields. We were ten miles south of the center of Baghdad, heading for an outlying suburb called Jurf a’ Sukhr.
I gazed out the plexiglass window of the helicopter, watching homes and farms flash past, each one as different from the farm that I call home as my language is from theirs. Yet there was a strange similarity at the same time. Women were tending their gardens while their children played nearby. Young men sat on their haunches watching herds of sheep and goats graze among stubbly fields. Cultivated fields formed perfect grids of green and tan, and trucks could be seen loaded down with white sacks of grain, headed to market.
Despite the differences the women clad in black burquas, the homes made of dried mud brick and the absolute pancake-flatness of the terrain it all seemed so, well, normal. And that is what struck me. From two hundred feet in the air, this didn’t look like a nation at war. It looked like people working hard to bring in the harvest before the worst of winter sets in.
There’s another harvest here, also being collected it’s a harvest of peace. Americans planted the seeds of it five years ago by bringing liberty breathing new life into a desolate land. It was fertilized by the blood of thousands of our young men and women, and watered by that of the Iraqis, in their tens of thousands. The enemy hoped to ruin the crop by sowing discontent and division among the rows, and at times all of the time and treasure we expended to rip out the weeds seemed to be more trouble than it was worth, both to America and to the Iraqis we had pledged to help.
But now, the fields are looking healthier, and it’s clear that a bountiful harvest is there for the taking. It looks so good, in fact, that many who had sworn to be our enemies are starting to see that we’ve done a good thing. And they are now lining up to join us, in some places nearly en-masse.
Sheikh Sabbah lives in Jurf a’ Sukhr, and until recently, he was one of those working against the coalition. But when Al Qaeda came to his town and murdered many of his friends and neighbors, including five of his family members, he decided he’d had enough. He came to the Americans for help in driving out Al Qaeda.
LTC Timothy Newsome is the Battalion Commander of 3/7 Infantry at Patrol Base Jurf a’ Sukhr, a tiny fortress of reinforced concrete walls and hastily constructed towers situated right on the edge of town. Until recently, it was rare when a day went by without the base being attacked. But Sheikh Sabbah is a very influential man, and when he decided to “bury the hatchet” with the Americans, many other local Sheiks and their people followed suit. With them, over five thousand people have realigned their thinking and become our friends, almost overnight. It’s almost like the light finally went on for them when AQ and their ilk were around, bad things happened. When the Americans arrived, good things happened and the bad people were driven out. So the quickest way to improve their situation was to join forces with us.
Yesterday I was comparing the enemy in Iraq to coyotes merciless predators who pray on the weak and defenseless. One way to keep coyotes at bay is to bring in a guard animal who will protect your young livestock until they get big enough to hold their own. Dogs are often trained to this task, and they perform it well.
It’s worth noting, then, that in the 3rd Infantry division headquarters there is a statue of “Rocky” a mean-looking six-foot bulldog. And while bulldogs might not normally be the first choice for a guard dog, when it comes to guarding the fragile peace that is growing in southern Baghdad, I’d say the “Dog-faced Soldiers” of the 3 rd ID are the perfect choice.
I looked down on these villages as they slipped beneath the helicopter, and saw a group of teenagers waving frantically at our aircraft. Even from 200 feet in the air, I could see that they were smiling. It is too big a thing for me to grasp how God could intimately know everyone of them just as well as he knows me. I wonder about the families I see as they pass beneath the helicopter – do any of them know Him?
Hatred reigned for so long in this desolate place – scorching it with an evil many times worse than the hottest summer sun. But love conquers all. And love is winning in Iraq. Pray that the peace that is blooming here will lead these people to something even better -The peace that only Christ can give.