To the Iraqi People:
Monday, April 9, 2007 will mark the 4th anniversary of the liberation of Iraq from Saddam Hussein’s regime. For many in Iraq and around the world, it will be a time for reflection on the early days after liberation in 2003 and on what has transpired since then.
As one of those who was part of the "fight to Baghdad,” I remember well the hopes and dreams of the Iraqi people when coalition soldiers pulled down Saddam’s statue in Firdos Square in April 2003. Looking back, I recall a sense of enormous promise — promise that, in many respects and for a variety of reasons, has yet to be fully realized. If we are honest with each other, in fact, we will acknowledge that while there have been substantial accomplishments in Iraq since 2003, the past four years have also been disappointing, frustrating, and increasingly dangerous in many parts of Iraq for those who have been involved in helping to build a new state in this ancient land.
On this April 9th, some Iraqis reportedly may demonstrate against the coalition force presence in Iraq. That is their right in the new Iraq. It would only be fair, however, to note that they will be able to exercise that right because coalition forces liberated them from a tyrannical, barbaric regime that never would have permitted such freedom of expression.
Those who take to the streets should recall, moreover, that were it not for the actions of coalition forces in 2003 (and, to be sure, actions by Iraqi, as well as coalition, forces since then), they also would not have been able to celebrate the recent religious holidays as they did in such massive numbers. Nor would they have been able to select their leaders by free and democratic elections, vote on their constitution, or take at least the initial steps toward establishment of a government that is representative of, and responsive to, all Iraqis.
It is particularly important to me that "Najafis,” the citizens of Najaf, recall these facts, for in 2003 I was privileged to command the 101st Airborne Division, the unit that liberated the holy city of Najaf and its sister city, Kufa. The battle of Najaf was, in fact, our first significant combat action in Iraq. Following its conclusion, we went on to defeat the elements of Saddam’s army and the Saddam Fedayeen that fought us in Kifl, Karbala, and Al Hillah, before securing and stabilizing southern Baghdad, Haditha, and, eventually, Mosul and Ninevah Province. Our soldiers sacrificed greatly to give the Najafis and millions of other Iraqis the freedoms, however imperfect they may be, that they enjoy today.
While the establishment of the new Iraq has included a number of noteworthy achievements, it has also had its share of setbacks. Indeed, the coalition’s efforts have not been without mistakes. I acknowledged a number of them during my appearance before the Senate Armed Services Committee in January.
I would add, however, that the coalition has, at the least, consistently sought to learn from its mistakes. And, when those mistakes have involved unacceptable conduct, coalition authorities have taken administrative and legal action against those responsible. The coalition has, despite its occasional missteps, worked hard to serve all Iraqis and to bolster those who support a new Iraq founded on the principles now enshrined in the Iraqi Constitution.
Iraq, four years after liberation, faces serious challenges. The sectarian violence that escalated after the Samarra mosque bombing in 2006 was an enormous setback. Indeed, it tore the very fabric of Iraqi society. The damage done is still readily apparent in various neighborhoods of Baghdad and in many areas outside the capital.
Now Iraqi and coalition security forces are engaged in a renewed effort to improve security for the Iraqi people and to provide Iraq’s leaders an opportunity to come to grips with the tough issues that must be dealt with to help foster reconciliation among the people of Iraq and to enable achievement of conditions that permit the withdrawal of coalition forces.
As the commander of the coalition forces in Iraq, and having given some 2-1/2 years of my life to this endeavor, I would like to take this opportunity to call for support of the new security plan. I ask all Iraqis to reject violence and the foreigners who fuel it with their money, arms, ammunition, training, and misguided young men. Beyond that, I ask, as well, for all Iraqis to notify Iraqi or coalition forces when those who would perpetrate violence on their fellow citizens or security forces enter their neighborhoods.
Coalition soldiers liberated Iraq from Saddam’s "Republic of Fear." Now Iraqis must reject those who seek to drive wedges between people who have, in the past, lived in harmony in the Land of the Two Rivers. This is a time for Iraqis to demonstrate to the world their innate goodness, their desire to respect those of other sects and ethnic groups, and their wish to stitch back together the fabric of Iraqi society. Only in this way can Iraqis make the most of the opportunity that Iraqi and coalition security forces are striving to give them. And only in this way can the dreams of those who live in a country so rich in blessings and promise be fully realized.
David H. Petraeus
General, United States Army
Commander, Multi-National Force-Iraq