Officers Cite Overwhelming Iraqi Support for U.S. Forces
By John D. Banusiewicz
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Sep. 9, 2004 More than 90 percent of the Iraqi people support the efforts of U.S. forces in their war-torn country, a panel of Army and Marine field commanders told the House Armed Services Committee here Sept. 8.
All five officers based their estimates on personal observation.
Army Col. Michael Linnington, who commanded a 101st Airborne Division brigade in Iraq before assuming his current duties on the Joint Staff, told the committee he found the Iraqi people to be committed to the same objectives as his soldiers.
"I spent a great deal of time my last eight months in Iraq meeting daily with Iraqi governmental and ministerial leaders, tribal elders and border, customs and security officials," he said. "We used all of these opportunities to work together to identify issues, come up with joint solutions, and work together for the betterment of the people of Iraq.
"In all of these interactions I had, 99 percent of the Iraqis I met with were happy for American presence, concerned with improving the quality of life for their citizens, and dedicated to the future prosperity of their country."
Linnington acknowledged the difference between Iraqis he worked with and those he didn't, but said he still believes U.S. forces do enjoy overwhelming support in the country.
"I'd say from my contacts, being up north in Nineveh province, it was about 99 percent looking at us as liberators vs. occupiers," he said. "Of course, those that saw us as occupiers were usually trying to kill us, so I didn't see very much of them. I would say if you took the Iraqi people in whole, it had to be greater than 90 percent saw us as liberators. And they were routinely happy for our presence."
Maryland Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett asked the other officers to provide their views on Linnington's estimate of Iraqi support, based on their own experiences.
"I would say well above 95 percent," said Marine Corps Capt. Morgan Savage, who served two tours in Iraq as a company commander with the 3rd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment. "And if ever there was a perceived indifference from the Iraqi people, that can be (attributed) to a spike in anti-coalition and anti-Iraqi force activity essentially, an element of coercion perhaps changing the perception of the Iraqi people. But they understood why we were there, and it was to help them, and it was as liberators, not conquerors."
Savage said that since he returned from Iraq on July 12, media coverage he has seen has depicted an Iraq quite unlike the one he saw firsthand. "I haven't seen any good news stories about what soldiers, Marines, airmen and sailors are doing," he said.
Army Capt. Patrick Costello, who commanded an air defense artillery battery in Iraq, agreed. "In the six months that I've been back from Iraq, I find it very difficult to watch the news, because I think it's a complete misrepresentation of what is actually going on there on a day-day-day basis," he said. Having told the committee he believes about 90 percent of Iraqis sees U.S. forces as liberators, he noted his belief that media coverage in the United States paints the opposite picture. "It makes it seem like it's 90 percent of the Iraqi people don't appreciate what has happened for them, and see us as occupiers," he said. "Every experience that I had in Iraq was completely to the contrary."
Army Lt. Col. Jeffrey Springman, who commanded the 3rd Battalion in support of the 4th Infantry Division in Iraq, served in an area notorious for attacks against U.S. forces. "I served in the Sunni Triangle," he said, "and even there I would agree with the 90 percent figure seeing us as liberators and as the best hope for the future, working with us."
He concurred that the good news from Iraq wasn't being reported. "I also agree that while I served there, I don't think the good news was being put out," he told Bartlett and the committee. "There was a lot more good news than bad news, that's all. And I wish, you know, the news media could have seen the towns that we went into as we went into them, and then a year later when we left to see how active business was and how secure they were compared to the time we moved in, sir."
Marine Corps Lt. Col. Bryan P. McCoy commanded the 3rd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, and served on two Iraq deployments. He acknowledged that the Iraqi people, as any people would, wanted their country back, but said they understood that U.S. forces were trying to make that happen.
"I would say in excess of 90 percent saw us as liberators, not occupiers," he said. "They very well saw what we were providing for them and were happy to have us."
Savage recalled the Iraqi people's reaction when they were first liberated from Saddam Hussein's regime. "At that time, the Iraqi people, regardless of what they had suffered for many years, were in a state of euphoria," he said. "This is demonstrated by the fact that as we patrolled the streets of Baghdad, we would constantly be met by Iraqis, be it vendors or families coming out of their homes, to offer us fresh-baked bread, sodas or artifacts from their personal life things from their personal life that told us a story.
"And sometimes they didn't even have to offer us anything; we could look at them and see perhaps that either through service to their country or through torture what some of their experiences had been," Savage continued. "As we operated in Baghdad, the Iraqi people were also willing to help us locate enemy forces, which demonstrated the fact that they understood our intent and what we were trying to do, and for the common Iraqi person, we were there to help them."