At the end of 2011, President Obama announced that the war in Iraq was officially over. CYInterview now brings you a retrospective on the eight year conflagration, reviewing key points of the war.
Steve Russell, a now retired U.S. Army lieutenant colonel, in his recently released book We Got Him! A Memoir of the Hunt and Capture of Saddam Hussein, delivers over 400 pages drawn from his journals, as well as research on his time in Iraq. Having served 21 years in the military, he gives us an up close view of the war and what the American military went through to find Iraq’s former dictator, Saddam Hussein. Lt. Col. Russell commanded the 1st Battalion, 22nd Infantry Regiment, 4th Infantry Division, comprising 1000 soldiers, in the first year of the Iraq war.
Aside from the search for the former Iraqi dictator, Mr. Russell gives answers to many important questions about the Iraq war.
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Mr. Russell writes in his book that in May of 2003, “No one in the entire command from generals to soldiers knew how the Iraqi people would react following the overthrow of Saddam Hussein and the defeat of his army in the field it was assumed we would simply transition to better times. Neither Colonel Jim Hickey who would soon be my commander, nor I believed the theory of better times.” Steve Russell discusses the unknown part of the Iraq war:
“I think the unknown was how the Iraqi people would react to us once we occupied their country. That was the big unknown as I started in the book. We did feel that with his regime gone, if Saddam himself were captured that that would take the wind out of the sails of a lot of the resistance because as we know now, Saddam was fully intending to develop an insurgency to cause us to lose national will and to pull out and he could restore himself to power.
The odd twist in it was when al-Qaeda came in the 2004 timeframe, 2005 and they began co opt the failing insurgency under Saddam. I mean, that’s all for the historic record now…There was an insurgent effort planned even before we had fully defeated Saddam’s army. They knew that they could not keep the American forces out of the country and they planned to resist us once we occupied it…Were it not for the Iraqi people, Saddam would never have been captured and Iraq would never have been put in its path toward progress that we see today.”
With the December 2011 announcement by President Obama declaring the war was over, Lt. Col. Russell reacts to the end of the war. In 2008, Mr. Russell went back to Iraq to do research for the book. He gives us his thoughts, based on experience, about the future of Iraq.
“As we get to the pullout, it’s kind of mixed emotion. On the one hand and I’m speaking for myself as a solider who served there, I’m thrilled to see the future that Iraq has and I’m also thrilled that we go home having accomplished the mission. That’s very rewarding. To have that robbed from us from our own nation would’ve left a huge hole in us that could never be healed. So very grateful that we left Iraq on favorable terms and having had every mission that we were asked to do accomplished…
I was stunned even in 2008 at how much security had improved, how much the Iraqis already were in control of their own country and was hardened by that and that was three years ago. So I have no doubt and I have many friends in Iraq and stay in touch with them. These people are far better off than they were at any time under Saddam…We drove from Baghdad [in 2008] to Tikrit 160 miles, went there and back. You want to test security and see what it’s like? Go do that. And I was able to do that and I’m talking to you here today and I was struck by how much Iraq was in charge of their own security and in charge of their own country.”
In the last few years of the Iraq war there was less and less media coverage of the ongoing events of the conflict. Besides death announcements of fallen American soldiers there wasn’t much else. The retired military man discusses the media coverage of the war:
“You had some very good field reporters and I learned a lot about their trade, but most were not and the only news that they seemed to want to portray was another soldier killed in Iraq today. We have to get beyond this as a country. It’s like we only celebrate the antihero, the victim, the downcast, the downtrodden who’s the victim of the man somewhere. I just, I don’t understand this mentality that we are migrating through as Americans.
And I think that that’s largely responsible in how things are viewed through the lens of the camera or the printed matter as it comes. Many reporters and you’ll see in this book were very frustrated that the stories that they filed would be bumped for some latest celebrity’s shenanigans or they would be bumped because the editors didn’t feel it fit in with their political viewpoint. The reporters were very frustrated by that, the field reporters.”
To the average American, it was never truly clear what exactly the mission was in Iraq toward the end of the conflict. As the commander of 1000 men in the first year of the war, Lt. Colonel Russell lays out the mission:
“Same it was when we went in. And here’s the thing, when we were ordered to go to Iraq, we were given very clear objectives. You have to remember, I was a task force commander of 1000 soldiers so I would’ve been given at leas the operational level of what the mission was and it was pretty clear. It was defeat Saddam’s army, remove Saddam’s regime from power, kill or capture Saddam and bring him to justice, provide stability to the point where they could rebuild and restructure their own institutions and that would set the conditions for independence and we could leave. That was the objective, those five things. I remember them clear as a bell. Well, guess what? That takes a little time and the remarkable thing is that we were able to do it in just eight years.”
What about the biggest misconceptions about the Iraq War?
“Well, I think that people refused to look at the war beyond a singular president and that’s the biggest mistake. You cannot look at this war through the lens of a single president. You have to look at this war through the lens of 30 years in the past. And what I mean by that, well, the very national policy that launched us into Iraq was called the Iraqi Liberation Act and it was signed by President Clinton in 1998. It was very good policy in 1998 when it was signed and it was good when we implemented it in 2003. It called for regime removal…
He [Saddam Hussein] was trying to develop mass destructive weapons to include nuclear weapons. The record is there. We found evidence of it even in Iraq. That’s a big misconception. Oh, there was no WMD, there was no nuclear program. That is false… They were clearly on a path to develop destructive weapons. Was that the only basis for going in? No. It never was. It was never about WMD. It was about what right does one man have to defy the entire world and put it in a kilter. Every western country’s national policy and every Middle Eastern country’s national policy revolved around him and his irritation to the world. He had to be brought to account and I’m very proud to have been a part of bringing him to justice.”
To those people who believe the American military didn’t find any weapons of mass destruction, the former military commander tells this story:
“Let me share a story with you. A good buddy of mine Chuck Sexton commanded Task Force 136 in Baghdad and he went on a raid. They were able to capture Dr. Mahdi Obeidi with a special operations forces team, Saddam’s nuclear physicist. When they got there he said, ‘Well, what you’re looking for is in the garden under the rose bushes.’ They began to dig and they found a western manufactured zippe centrifuge. And if you know anything about nuclear technology, you know that a zippe centrifuge is crucial to the development of nuclear weapons. Only a handful of countries have ever been able to acquire one. Let me name them, Israel, India, Pakistan, North Korea, what do they all have in common? They all have nuclear weapons.
So to say that Saddam was never on the path to develop nuclear weapons is categorically false. The evidence is there. The facts are there. And if you read Dr. Madhi Obedi’s book, wasn’t a best selling title, it was called The Bomb in My Garden, but he lays it out and he states in that book that he was convinced that the processed the technology to develop a nuclear weapon, but what they had the problem was gaining certain key elements of raw materials, but by playing the game they would be able to smuggle in the different materials over time with the inspections and all of that and he felt that if Saddam ever got his hands on a nuclear weapon, he would actually have used it because he used every other destructive weapon he ever possessed.”
In posing the question to the retired military veteran about why American soldiers are in over 100 countries worldwide, instead of bringing them home to spend money in America, Mr. Russell provided this response:
“The Posse Comitatus Act prohibits US Military from serving in a police capacity. You don’t want US soldiers serving as policeman. That makes us a dictatorship. Let’s get back to what our republic is here and to defend our economic interests and to defend our national security interests, it necessarily requires involvement in other places in the world. Let’s wake up here. In terms of do we need the soldiers in all of these different countries, well, do we need embassies?
Do you need business transaction and people in all of these different countries? When people quote things like that, they’re counting ever soldier that stands guarding an embassy, they’re counting every soldier that is on a mission of training or partnership….I look at those statistics and I kind of laugh because they’re only intended to skew a certain viewpoint. If we have our global commitments in the world, we necessarily have global interaction with people in the world. That’s just the reality.”
There is no denying the United States military should protect the country, but it begs the question particularly in challenging economic times and with the government running massive deficits, should the military really be protecting economic and financial interests around the world? Should that be the role of America’s military? This is the retired lieutenant colonel’s response:
“They always have. Name a time they have not. From the Shores of Tripoli to the Barbary Pirates and Thomas Jefferson, go back and read your history. The military is the arm of our political government. It always has been and we don’t make and set the policy. We defend it. But with regard to defending within the borders, we never want to be viewed as a police state. Our founding fathers formed this country with a great suspicion of standing armies.
They believe the citizen soldier and the militia would be more than adequate to defend the country in time of crisis. So our own national history requires a separation between soldiers being on guard in the borders our country. I don’t think we want to constitutionally broach that. But in terms of defending different things in the world, well, should we not? Should we become isolationists? Should we pretend that we don’t have all of these economic enterprises? Do we want to shut down the entire economy, what’s left of it in our country by not being engaged in partnerships around the world? “
In closing, Steve Russell tells us what he believes the future of the American military is:
“Well, I think what we’ll see after every drawdown in a national crisis or war time is that we will see budgets slashed, we will see the troop numbers decline and necessarily so in some areas. So we’ll see a much streamline, smaller military. We’ll see contracts disappear. We’ll see civilian workers grow smaller in number and then, you know, we will reach a critical point where we just say, ‘No. We have to have this much even to defend our modest obligations.’
So there’s gonna be a lot of trials going forth in the future. One thing I do hope is that we will not get an overreliance on the technical means of fighting and absent the boots on the ground. I think one thing we’ve clearly learned in Iraq and Afghanistan is while the technical things are great enhancers to fighting, they’re not replacement. You have to have people on the ground that are willing to pull dictators out of holes and are willing to go into the mountains of Afghanistan to find bad guys in caves.”
You can purchase a copy and find more information about We Hot Him! A Memoir of the Hunt and Capture of Saddam Hussein clicking here
The We Got Him! official Facebook page is here.
You can email Chris Yandek at ChrisYandek@CYInterview.com Chris is available for interviews to comment on anything featured on CYInterview.
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