“We had been hopelessly labouring to plough waste lands; to make nationality grow in a place full of he certainty of God…among the tribes our creed could be only like the desert grass – a beautiful swift seeming of spring, which, after a day’s heat, fell dusty.” T.E. Lawrence
Tonight I write about Ramadi, a place where I spent some of the best worst days of my life. A place where like T.E. Lawrence I gave of myself to help the Arabs, in my case the Iraqi tribes, in his those of the Arabian Peninsula.
I am not writing tonight to talk a bunch of military-political analysis, God knows that I do enough of that as it is. As my own life settles down I probably will do this, but with just a couple of observations will avoid that tonight. It will suffice to say that Ramadi, the capital of Al Anbar Province fell to the Islamic State over the weekend. The city has been besieged for months by ISIL forces and fell to them, surviving military and police units fled the onslaught accompanied by thousands of residents. The Iraqi Governmnet claims that it will retake Ramadi and the local Sunni government officials are now reluctantly supporting the introduction of the Iranian backed Shia militias which recently recaptured Tikrit. The significance of this cannot be overstated, the people of Ramadi are caught between the Sunni fanatics of ISIL and the the Shia dominated central government in Bahgdad who they neither love or trust and with good reason.
I have no doubt that eventually the Iraq government supported by the Shia militias will re-take Ramadi for the city is far too important to be allowed to remain until ISIL control. But it will not happen overnight and the battle will be fought to the death between the radical Sunni and the radical Shia whose bloodlust and hatred of each other will create an even more catastrophic situation for those who cannot escape the city or who have been forced into refugee camps or into the open desert.
When I think of the appalling decision of the Bush administration to overthrow Saddam Hussein, his Ba’ath Party and military, which is the major reason this is now happening I get very angry. I think of the thousands of American Soldiers, Marines, Sailors and Airmen, as well as those of our coalition allies and the Iraqis who lost everything by supporting us and I weep. I still see the carnage, devastation inflicted by us on Iraq, as well as that done by the Al Qaida Iraq insurgents and the suffering of the people of Anbar whenever I close my eyes and try to sleep.
We did hope for better days, especially after the Anbar Sunnis rose up against AQI and helped us drive them out. However, that hope was like the desert grass, squandered by the inept, corrupt and insanely treacherous Maliki regime which as soon as it could turned on the Anbar Sunni in 2010 and 2011 and planted the seeds of another, even more viscious insurgency.
Iraq is now ground zero in the war being waged between Sunni and Shia Islam, a war which will devastate the Middle East much as the Thirty Years War waged by warring factions of Catholic and Protestant Christians did to Europe. Like that war it is a war which will go on until the borders are sealed by the blood of hundreds of thousands and maybe even millions of Arabs, sadly including the best and brightest of this and maybe the next generation, the very people who like men like me dreamed dreams.
Today the places that were often my home away from home, places that we Americans new as Ramadi Main, Blue Diamond, the Shark’s Tooth, and so many others are under ISIL control. Places like Hit, Haditha, Ar Rutbah. Al Qaim, Waleed, Korean Village, Fallujah, Habbinyah are either under the control of ISIL or besieged. I travelled thousands of miles across Anbar working with our advisors and Iraqis, it is so much a part of me, and so tonight my heart breaks for the people of Ramadi and Al Anbar.