One thing that continues to stun me about Iraq is the sheer poverty of the place. Yet amidst all the poverty, there are riches and hope. We are doing good here and it is demonstrated by our willingness to try to help these people improve their lives.
As Saddam fell into madness he began to ignore the problems of Iraq and instead spent lavishly on his military and his palatial estates. In some Arab countries that have far less oil wealth, the infrastructure is very new and the people are able to share in the excess of the nation's oil wealth. Through sanctions, wars, and Saddam's megalomania the Iraqi people did not have the same opportunity.
The sheer poverty of the place came into full effect on a combat patrol the TAC made up in the northern reaches of our AO. It is a desolate place as opposed to the green fields and canals of other parts of our AO Legion. I think it is that desolation of endless desert that highlights the sheer poverty experienced by the Iraqi people in this region. They are farmers, but there is so little water, there aren't a lot of fields that can grow crops. They live in mud brick homes and compounds, many of which have been abandoned to time and the desert as people move up and out of the region to go to Baqubah or Baghdad or some other city. As one of the locals said, "It's too hard to make a living out here". He happened to be doing pretty well, since just about every green field we saw was his, but what about all the other families?
The majority of the homes we saw were abandoned as locals decided that the harsh unforgiving land was too much. If you've seen those movies of the Wild West featuring those Western Boom Towns in the middle of nothing, you have a small glimpse of what this area is like up in the north. At the same time there is an exotic beauty to the terrain which makes you think of Lawrence of Arabia (one of the greatest movies ever made if you haven't seen it).
Yet despite this glaring poverty, there is quite a bit of love and joy in the area. There were so many children who see the Strykers coming and begin asking for soccer balls. If every kid in Iraq had a soccer ball they would still want them. No Stryker leaves the wire without a complement of Soccer Balls to throw out if the situation merits it. The kids wave their hands back and forth pretending to conduct a thrown-in, the international sign for “give me a soccer ball!” We were mobbed and a few soccer balls were tossed out to the group. You could see twenty kids chasing after one thrown ball. Yes, there was a little fighting until one child emerged with the ball.
You realize that they are so innocent, but that they are above all children and the hope of Iraq. The families are obviously rich in love and kids. One might figure that the number of children was inversely proportional to the availability of work, but I will leave that to the social statisticians to fully determine. It takes a hardy soul to remain in that region, but for many it is home. They will cling to it as long as they can, seeking to have the earth bear fruit while raising a family.
I think during this season it is certainly a time to recognize how blessed one is. I recognize the enormous blessings that God has given me. I also recognize that we have an obligation to assist others in what small ways we can. In many ways, that is what we are doing in Iraq. We overthrew a ruthless tyrant and are attempting to help the Iraqis establish a government that is answerable to the people and will work for the people. We are working to provide and assist the Iraqis with building up their infrastructure so they can be self-sufficient due to the purposeful neglect of Saddam Hussein. We are trying to change a people into thinking about the country as opposed to their tribe, clan, or sect. Some have said it is a Sisyphean task. Maybe it is, but what would it say about us if we didn't try?
Iraq could be one example of where the interests of National Security and the Moral Choice co-exist.