Greetings from Baghdad.
The 3rd Infantry Division headquarters, based at Fort Stewart, recently deployed thousands of soldiers to Iraq as part of a new strategy to bring security to Baghdad. Today, I lead a task force that is responsible for a large sector in and around Baghdad.
Our task is great but so are our soldiers. They are your sons and daughters and I am proud to lead them. Given the weight of my responsibility, I feel that it is absolutely essential that I provide you, my fellow citizens, a periodic report on how things are going here. So, about every two weeks I will write a column so that you have a better understanding of what is really going on.
Like you I watch TV, read newspapers, listen to radio and surf the internet. Too often only the bad news gets reported and I think this is a disservice to our military families, our soldiers and even the people of Iraq.
In the last few days, I’ve traveled to Ramadi, Yusifiyah and Sadr City, among other places. These are communities that get a lot of media coverage when things go badly. But when shops are open, when children go to school and when people of all sects are seen worshiping together peacefully, the cameras and microphones are elsewhere.
Like many of the troops I command, this is a return trip to Iraq for me. I just left Iraq 10 months ago. Between then and now I see real progress. Baghdad has more lights in the night and electrical power seems to be more abundant. In fact, a citywide curfew was recently reduced by two hours. And that is progress that makes life more pleasant.
There are more stores open. Traffic is returning to the streets. Commercial airplanes are flying in and out of Baghdad International Airport. These are signs that the economy is improving.
There are newspapers and television stations, radio stations and Internet cafes. Iraqis are, for the first time in generations, exposed to the outside world.
Saddam Hussein kept his nation in a virtual prison for decades. The infrastructure suffered as he built palaces and monuments to himself. And now the people of Iraq are enjoying freedom for the first time.
There are more Iraqi police and Iraqi soldiers. They are better equipped and trained than 10 months ago. They have courageous young leaders. Many of these Iraqi Security Forces are teamed with our 3rd Infantry Division soldiers and a large portion of their security forces are actually operating independently under the control of their government. These are signs of progress.
This is a very young government and it has a tremendous challenge but you don’t hear a lack of confidence in the halls of government here. I’ve met with both Iraqi government leaders as well as Iraqi military leaders and they tell me that they are seeing a difference, that the surge of troops to Baghdad is necessary.
These leaders are people, representative of their nation. You know, there are more than 20 million people in Iraq and most are good people who are trying to raise children in safety, worship freely and share the joy of life with their families.
Their task is great. As they are trying to build, dangerous people are trying to destroy hope. Part of the terrorists’ effort is to discredit the coalition with spectacular attacks.
Recently, a U.S. helicopter was downed near here. Al Qaeda claimed a rare and hollow victory. The real victory was the courageous and safe recovery of the crew and all passengers by fellow soldiers. Their heroism received little coverage.
The insurgency is not popular here in spite of what you may have seen on TV. The criminal elements here battle every day with Iraqi security forces and they are recognized as extremists with outside sponsors.
Al Qaeda in particular is feared and despised. It is trying to undermine the government and they want the world to believe that they are winning. But the opposite is true.
More and more they are rejected. Iraqis from the al Anbar Province in western Iraq to Baghdad are joining the Iraqi government security forces and turning on these vicious people. Their ideology is foreign to the Iraqi people and with our help, will be defeated.
Recently I visited Ramadi which is in the al Anbar Province. Our 1st Brigade Combat Team is there working with the United States Marine Corps. I saw Sunnis who were joining the Iraqi army and Iraqi police in high numbers. I heard stories of cooperation and I was given proof that there were reduced attacks by terrorists.
Yes, there is a long way to go. But I have learned that patience and optimism are absolutely essential.
The insurgents will continue to launch spectacular attacks. Their goal is as much about destroying hope at home in America as it is about killing Iraqis.
We have lost some precious members of our division — our prayers are with their loved ones left behind. May God bless you and give you strength. We reflect on our fallen heroes every day and they will not be forgotten.
I remain tremendously proud of all our Dog Face Soldiers.
Our 3rd Brigade from Fort Benning recently arrived and will take up positions to help secure Baghdad. Their living conditions are austere but its men and women are as tough as they come.
Others are still preparing for deployment to Iraq. We eagerly await the arrival of our 2nd Brigade Combat and our Combat Aviation Brigade in May and finally our 4th Brigade Combat Team in July. We appreciate the sacrifices their families are making.
Again, I want to thank your newspaper’s editor for allowing me to contribute so you can know the reality of what’s going on over here. Rock of the Marne!
Major General Rick Lynch
Maj. Gen. Lynch is the commanding general of the 3rd Infantry Division. This column was reproduced with the permission of the 3rd Infantry Division and Fort Stewart Public Affairs Office.