Even as al-Qaida continues their last-ditch efforts at thwarting the ongoing progress in Iraq, and the election fiasco continues, our military involvement is slowly winding up. The U.S. military says that by Sept. 1, 50,000 U.S. Soldiers will remain at 96 bases throughout Iraq. “Operation New Dawn” will commence.
There is also speculation that the top U.S. commander in Iraq, Gen. Ray Odierno, will leave at that time. He has lead the military effort in Iraq since September of 2008 and “will stay here as long as the president wants me to stay. It’s an honor to serve with these young men and women here in Iraq every day,” Gen. Odierno recently told Fox News. Lt. Gen. Lloyd Austin, the staff director for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, is most talked about as his replacement.
Even amid the sporadic attacks that Iraq now experiences, good things are happening. Gen. Odierno called the deaths of two top al-Qaida leaders killed in a raid in Iraq last week “the most significant blow to Al-Qaeda in Iraq since the beginning of the insurgency.” On Sunday, for the first time in two decades, Iraqi Airways flew between Baghdad and London. As The Guardian Newspaper (UK) reported on Saturday, “who would have believed in 2006, at the height of Iraq’s civil unrest, when 3,000 of its citizens were dying each month, that we would soon see Iraqi tailfins dip over London’s skyline?”
As he delivered English-Arabic books to Iraqi schools this week, Sgt. Alexander Hudson could see the changes taking place. “I was here when the war started and for the first elections. We used to have improvised explosive devices popping off all the time … you really don’t see that stuff as much here in Baghdad.” Sgt. Jason Vangundy told Stars and Stripes that “to know that my friends didn’t die in vain, that’s a satisfying turning point for me. That’s what we fought for — to get to this bridge and cross it.”
There are those desperately trying to re-ignite old wounds in the recent attacks that have occurred but for the most part, Iraqis aren’t buying it this time. They are looking to the future with hope and they are waiting … waiting on a new government, seven weeks after the elections.
Scott Sadler is an experienced communicator with an in-depth expertise with crisis communications who has served in senior level positions in the federal government, Capitol Hill, and in a military theater of operation.