Two Years in Iraq: Former Commander Reflects on Advance to Baghdad
By Samantha L. Quigley
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Mar. 28, 2005 Iraq now as opposed to Iraq two years ago is like night and day, the former commander of one of the units that liberated Baghdad said here today.
"It's almost two different worlds," said Col. David Perkins, currently the executive assistant to the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs and who commanded the 2nd Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division, in Iraq.
"When we obviously were first there and attacked into Baghdad, the streets were lined with Special Republican Guard, Fedayeen soldiers engaging us literally every foot of the way," he said in an interview with American Forces Press Service and the Pentagon Channel. "Now when you go over there, it's kind of a hustling, bustling city. And recently the streets were lined with people lining up to vote versus people lining up to engage the Americans as they went into their capital."
The changes that have taken place in Iraq would not have occurred if it were not for the events set in motion two years ago.
On March 19, 2003, when President Bush set Operation Iraqi Freedom into motion, the 2nd Brigade was listening on short-wave radios from an attack position in the Kuwait desert, Perkins said. That speech sealed the deal for the brigade. The troops, Perkins recalled, felt rather sure they were headed into Iraq.
"Everyone ... -- not that we weren't focused before that -- made the final preparations for the attack," Perkins said. He added that he thought the troops felt they were very well-prepared for the mission that lay ahead. "If we were going to attack and go into Iraq," he said, "this was the time to do it just because all the forces were in place and they were well-trained and they were completely ready to do that."
They did, however, figure they had a couple of days before they moved their equipment over the border and headed toward Baghdad.
An Iraqi missile speeded up the timeline, Perkins said.
"There were a series of missiles ... launched from Iraq," he said. "In fact, one impacted in my brigade area. When that occurred, our timeline to move up became hours. We thought we had a couple of days ahead of us."
The trek from Kuwait to Baghdad was a long one as far as logistics was concerned, he said. The mechanized brigade was moving its heavy equipment very quickly. The brigade's first movement was about 22 hours nonstop, and covered 300 kilometers.
"It was quite an operation just to get that many forces that deep that quickly," Perkins said.
As the brigade crossed the border on the night of March 19 local time, it encountered light resistance from the regular and irregular forces, resulting in firefights.
"After that there was a very large expanse of desert and open area, and most of the people that we would run into were the Bedouins," Perkins said. "And my brigade was an armor brigade, a tank brigade, and so you're very large armored combat formations moving across the desert at very high rates of speed in attack formation.
"Generally we would just wave to the (Bedouins) and they would look up at us," he recalled, "... kind of wondering what was going on around them."
It was at the Euphrates River that the brigade ran into a stiff challenge from Saddam's Fedayeen and Special Republican Guards.
The general civilian population was at worst indifferent to the military, he said. But in many instances right after the brigade entered Baghdad, Iraqis thanked the soldiers. While the people were appreciative for their freedom, he noted, they were simply not used to it and had no idea what to do next.
By the time Perkins left in July 2003, Iraqis were beginning to figure out what to do with that newly acquired freedom.
"I was a little reserved, because I wasn't quite sure that the Iraqis were going to be able to take hold of the potential that was there and make something out of it," Perkins said. "When I left there, I still had concerns about that, just because they had lived for so long under such a tyrannical regime that a lot of their initiative had just been taken away from them, and anybody that showed any initiative was severely punished."
Now, he said, most Iraqis are busy hammering out the way for Iraq's future. He's hopeful that in the future Iraq will see more of the same type of progress that it's achieved in the first two years since the liberation.
"I'm extremely optimistic that the vast majority (of Iraqis) know exactly where they want to go," he said. "They've had a taste of freedom, they voted, they like it, ... and they're moving forth with a democratic government of their choosing, not of our imposition.
"I think 50 years from now it will be in that part of the world, both economically and from a governance point of view, we will look back and see this as the beginning, hopefully, of the democratization of that part of the world that does not know democracy as part of its heritage."