Joe Roche has a message for anyone gloomy about election prospects in Iraq:
Our country is fortunate to have the orderly and time-honored traditions of elections and transfers of power. These are the most important events in democracy.
I spent fifteen months in Baghdad, Iraq, deployed as a soldier in the U.S. Army. My fellow soldiers all knew that the enemies we faced there could never defeat us militarily in Iraq. It was clear to us, therefore, that what they were really aiming at was to terrorize freedom-loving Iraqis and their supporters worldwide. We need to be careful to protect from letting our political freedom become a license for self-inflicted injury to be exploited by our enemies abroad.
Iraq today is a place where the Arab people are fighting for the very future and survival of their civilization. Issues of freedom and democracy have long been alien concepts, talked of only to justify the repression of unpopular causes and people. We have planted the roots of real freedom and democracy there and this is causing a huge region-wide transformation to occur. We should be proud and remain committed to seeing its success.
My unit, the 16th Engineer Battalion of the 1st Armored Division, had a big role in liberating and empowering the people of Baghdad. When we arrived, it was full of chaos and anarchy. Saddam's regime had been such a total tyranny that when it was removed, everything broke down. We rolled in to bring order.
We did this by building up much of Baghdad in ways that benefit the people for their future. This was no easy task. Often our missions were conducted in dangerous environments right in the face of terrorism and insurgency and frequent ambushes. Nonetheless, we were relentless in our projects, always facing down the enemies of freedom with our resolve and determination. Yes, we were afraid, but we knew that freedom is not free, and that this is a cause worth fighting for.
The Arab people appreciated this greatly. Not only did we have Baghdadis emboldened and empowered by what we did, but Arabs from other parts of the region came to help and to learn.
My battalion cleared a massive amount of weaponry left by Saddam's forces that included tens of thousands of explosives spread over several hundred sights in Baghdad and among hundreds of military vehicles. We completed several dozen major infrastructure projects that covered countless miles of roads, 224 neighborhood projects, and also extensive sanitation and irrigation enterprises. The most important were the major power stations such as Taji and Al Mansour, including over two-dozen sub-stations scattered throughout the city. Not only did we restore them, but we also improved them.
Many people make the mistake of calling this "rebuilding.” For the vast majority of the people, this was all new stuff that they had never enjoyed. For example, near the base that my unit was operating from there was a vast trash waste sight. It was heavily populated, and some of the people had never left it their whole lives. One boy I met there was 17.
We went on to repair and build 28 primary and secondary schools, as well as 67 projects to improve Baghdad University and Mustansariyah University, which included seven colleges, dormitories and building many internet and computer labs. We also filled them full with books from all of the seven liberal arts that distinguish American colleges.
To sustain these missions, my battalion had to conduct constant missions that involved clearing 96 roadside bombs and confronting dangerous elements, including conducting raids on enemy locations. It was all worth it.
Take note that the primary targets of all the terrorism and violence in Iraq are the Iraqi people and Arabs from Iraq's neighbors. Even the top anti-US and anti-United Nations terrorist, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, before bombing the UN building in 2003, first hit the Jordanian Embassy. He did this because he knows that the biggest enemy he faces is not the US or the UN, but other Arabs benefiting and learning from what we have brought to Baghdad.
The Iraqi people are an extremely traumatized people. They suffered terribly from the 8-year Iran-Iraq War, and had to survive under the tyranny of Saddam. That is all they knew for much of their lives, and now suddenly they have this new freedom.
They are flocking to the information superhighway of radios, TV and internet to learn about the world they never knew before we came, and they are seeking to empower themselves as no Arab regime has allowed it's people to do as of yet. This is a very inspiring time. As such, it is also the most serious and threatening challenge to those who would keep the Arab people under tyrants and who would deprive Arab civilization of its full potential.
I remember the missions we conducted to restore and improve the Museum of Natural History in Baghdad. Baghdadis poured out to thank us and support us. All the time, however, from just thousands of enemies hell-bent to reverse these virtues for the 6 million people of Baghdad, we faced attacks. Well, we did our mission and now the millions who support us are benefiting.
This is no easy job, and the enemies we face have some advantages over us. That is why my battalion secured and turned over many major government buildings, hotels and banks to the new leaders of Iraq, and built 13 police stations in some of the most dangerous areas of Baghdad, such as in Sadr City.
When foreign jihadists and regime-holdovers ignited uprisings, my battalion along with my whole division was extended three more months after a year of service in Baghdad. We went right into the most dangerous areas of Baghdad, and down to Karbala and Najaf, to hold police stations, government buildings and other critical sights. It was very difficult facing a second hot summer in Iraq, and our loved ones back home grieved, but we did it and, over time, our enemies fell back because of our resolve.
The Iraqis are now in the front line in defending and advancing their new freedoms. The elections are just a step, but a giant step for Iraqis and the Arab world. Women are becoming empowered as never before, while minority groups all over the Arab world are finally getting a chance to make their cause for respect and liberation felt. Religious freedom and intellectual freedom are putting up a great struggle to succeed against some of the most vile and desperate forms of terrorist actions.
These are noble causes that we must support. They are opposed by all those elements in the Arab world that feel threatened by freedom and democracy. If we value our democracy and our own political freedom, however, we must not betray the Iraqi people, and from them the Arab people as a whole, by letting down on our commitment to see them succeed. Don't lose your confidence in America's mission in Iraq, and don't let the enemies of freedom deny Iraqis the dignity and respect that is a part of democracy.
As a soldier who saw the sacrifice and cost of this conflict with my own eyes, I am telling you it is a noble cause and one in which we should be supremely proud. Stay determined to see it through.