Having spent a few weeks in Baghdad this year means I am a bit like a reformed smoker – paying close attention to as many related issues as I can and probably driving people crazy with my newfound interest in the place. But it does mean that occasionally you find articles which provide interesting and useful insight into the situation. When I was there Baghdad bombs were still rattling our windows and people were dying but it was at the time the US generals were daring to suggest things were on the mend, casualties were dropping and local cooperation improving. The latter point was the key and will remain so. During my time there I was struck by the number of incidents of local militia, bomb makers and other insurgents approaching US forces and volunteering information about their or related activities. Any meaningful communication between any or all of the factions (tribes) can only be helped by the immersion of the Army into the fabric of the community until such time as the community can look after itself. That of course will create its own challenge – it is easier to see when to step in than it is to understand when it is time to leave.
But an article by Lawrence F. Kaplan (reported from Iraq for the New Republic from 2004-2006) nicely sums up the immersion of the US Army into the Iraqi community fabric which, if handled correctly helps give some hope for the future of the place. The grass roots management of issues, the care and constructive support soldiers can provide can go a long way towards mending a situation. And, as the article highlights, can help temper the divisions between the various tribes, clans and other factions in this deeply divided country. Its not a role we always associate with the Army but if on-the-ground compassion and empathy can be exercised along with strong administrative and logistical support soldiers can have a powerful diplomatic part to play. Here is hoping their efforts on behalf of the local Iraqi are not compromised or cut short by politicians in D.C. or elsewhere.