I do find that our Iraqi friends enjoy living a closer to normal life with an increased sense of hope and therein lay our own hope that all sacrifice has not been in vain. We know the heavy price that was paid to get us to this point and we must be prepared to follow through. Recently, a close Iraqi friend remarked that reconciliation was not needed between Sunni and Shia but between the people of Iraq and their government.
For the past few days we have hosted media embeds from the New York Times and the USA Today. We also brought down Iraqi television recently to show them the progress we have made in Doura. When I met the Iraqi reporter in the Green Zone he was visibly nervous and asked if we had any active snipers in the neighborhoods where we planned to travel. Not surprisingly, he was by himself as his partner failed to show likely out of fear. We reassured him as he admitted that he had not been to Doura since before the war. Once we arrived he saw the streets full of families, vegetable markets, new sidewalks, remodeled schools, parks, and some very nice murals on the walls. As it turned out, we could hardly keep up with him as he interviewed over twenty people on the street and in their cars about the situation. This is important in our current strategy as we spread the news even within the city of Baghdad about real progress. In the past, the Iraqi Government has used security as an excuse for inactivity so the media can help remove that misconception.
I spent an entire day with our American reporters and photographers who are genuinely interested in what is really happening here. Their assignment was to write about several topics to include the new MRAP vehicle, breaking up IED cells, and our concerned local citizens groups. By the end of the day, I think they really felt like a story on our progress was needed. We will see what happens but here are some things they saw.
They did see concerned local citizens taking an increased role in the security of their neighborhood under our supervision and in coordination with the Iraqi Security Forces. These men stand unafraid and most hope to become part of the Iraqi Police one day soon. We walked through a game room full of young people playing one another in a networked Play Station game. Across the way we then came upon some men putting together some pool tables in a new game room. They saw children gathered around every American Soldier speaking broken English and coaching our guys through some broken Arabic.
At the end of the day, though, we really witnessed a local milestone event. The National Police played a team of local citizens in a game of soccer. If you recall, when we arrived in Doura the National Police (a largely Shia dominated organization) and the citizens of Doura exchanged gunfire on a daily basis. We literally had to remove the National Police from the neighborhoods and enforce a cease fire, if you will, until we could begin to help both groups build a relationship. On the afternoon of December 8th, I sat with the NP Brigade commander and other neighborhood leaders as we all watched a friendly, competitive soccer match and most importantly we took one step closer to not going back to the way things were. After the game, both teams posed for pictures and spontaneous applause broke out. Oh, the game ended in a 2-2 tie.
We continue to adjust to the changes in our area that come along with increased security like more traffic. It takes us longer to travel and we now drive along with the traffic much more than in the past. We also see a significant amount of resettlement where original home owners are returning to their homes often to find another family living there. By and large this is an issue we allow the Iraqis to work out. Fortunately, the real estate offices keep pretty good records and we have had good cooperation so far. We are seeing more involvement by the Iraqi Red Crescent Society as well as the Life Makers Association for Widows and Orphans which is an Iraqi charitable organization supported by Iraqis living in other countries. It is undeniable that things are heading in the right direction but we certainly have work to do. We do spend a great deal of time as mediators as well as catalysts for change and forward movement.
We all greatly appreciate your support especially as the holiday season approaches. Please remember our recovering soldiers at Brook Army Medical Center in San Antonio. I took the opportunity to visit them recently while on my way home for leave and it was inspirational. Merry Christmas and Happy New year!