The Iraqis America has forgotten

Among opponents of the war in Iraq there remains a considerable amount of bitterness that none of the authors of the war were held accountable for their actions.

The past cannot be so easily swept aside, many reasonably argue.

But alongside this righteous insistence that the past must not be forgotten, there seems to be a simultaneous eagerness to forget Iraq itself.

America, like a hit-and-run driver, must keep facing forward — no point looking back to a scene of carnage if one lacks the skill to help… Or so the sentiment seems to go.

President Obama might have just been serving his own interests — anticipating a similar need in the future to be excused by his own successors for authorizing extrajudicial killings — when he enunciated his belief that “we need to look forward as opposed to looking backwards” and not hold torturers accountable. But he was also expressing the spirit of a nation that has so often preferred to bury and forget its crimes and mistakes, seeming to regard amnesia as an aid to progress.

The Wall Street Journal reports: The battles to control Fallujah were the most devastating of the Iraq war. To rebuild after the fighting subsided, the Americans needed local Iraqi partners. Gaining their trust was Mr.[John Kael] Weston’s mission.

For most of three years, Mr. Weston was the only [U.S.] diplomat embedded with more than 30,000 Marines and soldiers in Fallujah and Anbar province.

Mr. Weston met Capt. Saad in early 2005 during a long lunch of meat over rice. The American was curious about domestic life in Fallujah. Capt. Saad, a Sunni, told Mr. Weston about his family and talked to Mr. Weston about American politics and policy.

The two men saw eye-to-eye about the need to stamp out al Qaeda and reduce sectarian tensions. They swapped intelligence about Hollywood blockbusters for sale in Fallujah’s black market and stories about their mutual love of German shepherds.

Mr. Weston’s local ties surprised some of his American colleagues, who preferred to keep their Iraqi partners at greater distance. Maj. Gen. Nicholson, then a colonel, recalls a meeting attended by the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad, where Mr. Weston was introduced by Fallujah’s city-council chairman as “Kael al-Falluji,” using the middle name by which Mr. Weston is known to his friends. The nickname stuck.

Almost every week, a city council leader in Fallujah was assassinated. Capt. Saad’s family also paid a steep price. His younger brother was shot and killed while visiting a mosque.

By 2007, Mr. Weston felt burned out. He said goodbye without fanfare and started a new assignment in Afghanistan.

The two men last saw each other when Mr. Weston returned to Fallujah for Iraq’s elections in 2009. Security and stability had improved, and he saw the grinning Capt. Saad on the street.

“Look, no masks!” the policeman said, referring to facemasks long worn to shield officials’ identities from insurgents.

As the U.S. pulled out its troops from Iraq, Mr. Weston and Capt. Saad used email for updates on work and family. “I often wish I was closer so that we could visit in person,” Mr. Weston wrote in October 2011.

Capt. Saad soon resigned from the police force, tired of corruption in the ranks and eager to pursue his dream of teaching physics. He found a job at a boys’ high school and wrote excitedly to Mr. Weston about having a quieter life.

Mr. Weston quit the State Department and started writing a book about his wartime experiences. Iraq was never far from his mind. The sound of explosives used by the ski patrol at Utah’s Solitude Mountain to reduce avalanche risk reminded him of 155mm howitzers.

Islamic State seized Fallujah in January. On New Year’s Day, Mr. Weston got a harrowing email in broken English from a Fallujah highway-patrol officer with whom he had also kept in touch.

“Al Qaeda flags is over all the goverment buildings…..all the citizens of fallujah start to leave,” wrote the officer. “We are looking for help.”

The frantic messages stopped as suddenly as they had started. The silence left Mr. Weston with no idea if his Fallujah friends were still alive. [Continue reading…]

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