The New Iraq

(Third in a series)

Hillah, Iraq — The slogan “de oppresso liber” is Latin for “free the oppressed.” It’s the motto of the U.S. Special Forces, but it has also been adopted by several of the Iraqi military and police units our FOX News War Stories team has been covering here in the land between the rivers. These Special Operations troops — Americans and their Iraqi counterparts — have become the tip of the spear in the war against radical Islamic terror.

U.S. military forces have started phasing down from the “surge” that began last summer. The 3rd Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division whose departure from Iraq was announced in November and which is currently taking place, will not be replaced by an American unit. In the months ahead, four more brigade-sized units are scheduled to rotate home. If all goes as planned, they will all be replaced by Iraqi security forces. This is just some of the good news that somehow just doesn’t make its way into the mainstream media. But wait, there’s more.

The Iraqi military and police that we have seen on this, our 9th trip to Iraq since 2003, are now remarkably well trained and equipped. Though many of the personnel in these units have been on “active duty” for less than a year, they are, according to what we have seen and documented, ready, willing and able to fight for their country. Their motives for “signing on” are also important. In the town of Maderiya, east of Bagdad toward the Iranian border, I asked Captain Fawaz Nazzir, why he joined the new Iraqi Army eleven months ago. His reply was a testament to American resolve in prosecuting this campaign: “I waited,” replied Captain Nazzir, “to see which side was going to win.”

To some Americans that may sound like a cynical response — but not to those who have spent years campaigning in Mesopotamia. “What would you expect given how uncertain our commitment was at home?” commented one U.S. officer on his third tour of duty here. He continued: “Until ‘the surge’ nobody in Iraq knew whether we were going to finish this fight.

AQI (Al Qaeda in Iraq) and the Shiite militias were all telling their followers that we were going to cut and run. ‘The surge’ proved that we weren’t going to abandon them.”

Not only did we not abandon them — we upped the ante; increasing the number of U.S. combat units in country and significantly expanding training and support for Iraq’s fledgling security forces. Much of the enhanced instruction, arming and “know how” has come via U.S. Special Operations Command — soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines uniquely prepared and equipped to carry out unconventional operations. The result has been a dramatic reduction in terror attacks against Iraqi civilians and Coalition personnel. While the mainstream media and U.S. politicians were harping about the “lack of political progress in Baghdad” — the Iraqi Army, police and Special Operations Forces were being rebuilt from the ground up. 

That’s not to say that Iraq is no longer dangerous. It can still be lethal — particularly for Iraqis. The day we arrived in Hillah, an improvised explosive device killed Lieutenant General Qais Hamza al-Mamouri, the Babil Province Chief of Police and the architect of the Reconciliation Movement in southeastern Iraq.  

A vigorous opponent of Iranian influence in Iraq, Qais was also the author of an agreement among tribal and community leaders pledging to “provide security for all citizens without regard to sect, ethnicity or political party affiliation.” Though Babil province is predominantly Shiite, Qais had insisted that his police enforce the law impartially “for all Sunnis, Shiites, Kurds and Christians.” His death was described by some of the Iraqi press as an “assassination.”

Less than 24 hours after General Qais was killed, our FOX News team went to the Headquarters of the Hillah SWAT Police to meet with their commander, Brigadier General Mohammad Abbas al-Jubori, a Qais protégé. 

The two men had once served together in the Iraqi Air Force. According to a U.S. Special Operations officer who has worked with him for more than two years, “General Abbas has built Hillah SWAT into one of the finest police departments in the country. He’s cut from the same bolt of cloth as Qais. Both men have been committed to a free and independent Iraq – where every man and woman is treated equally.” 

As we left the Hillah SWAT Headquarters, General Abbas took the wheel of his unmarked SUV and said, “Sit beside me, I’ll show FOX News a safe Iraqi city.” He did. For more than two hours we walked streets where Iranian-supported Shiite militia gangs once held sway over 500,000 Iraqis. As he waded through throngs of citizens grieving the loss of General Qais, Abbas promised that, “We will never forget General Qais. We will continue his legacy of giving every Iraqi equal protection from all criminals.” 

That may prove to be a major challenge in a neighborhood where Iraq’s neighbors are less than enthusiastic about a democracy next door. Four days after General Qais was killed, three car bombs detonated in Al Amarah — less than twenty miles from the Iranian border — killing more than 30 and wounding nearly 125 Iraqi civilians.