It has been over a year since I have been in Baghdad. I never thought that I would be back, especially for a third time. Things appear to be different. Streets are now filled with cars and people going through their daily routines. U.S. soldiers are no longer filling fuel tanks or directing traffic. The Iraqis have begun the long path of rebuilding their country. U.S. and coalition forces work together with the Iraqis to repair the infrastructure, but the common Iraqi wants to see immediate results and improvements. Unfortunately, hard work and sheer determination are the most important ingredients. Success is visible and genuine in those neighborhoods where the coalition forces and Iraqis sweat together to build a new Iraq.
The terrorist threat is real and is in the air. Journalists and coalition contractors are protected by elite private security forces. Iraq has indeed developed the structure for building an effective police force, but their security forces continue to need improvement in order to “stand up to the plate” and end the current insurgency. Their day will come.
In the meantime, when I close my eyes and listen to the sounds of the city I sense a thriving metropolis. The sounds, smells and tastes of the city have emerged and the patterns of life, though embryonic, have formed. Someday the common citizen of this war torn zone, one that continues to build and move toward normalcy, will come to realize they are better off than in the past. The hearts and minds may never be won, but the road to success will be determined by fulfilling their wants and desires: safety and education for their children, a good job, a secure home, a future. I feel confident as I sit in the former palace of Saddam Hussein that we are on the right course. We must be patient and encourage the Iraqis to be patient. We must not give up. Making them part of the solution is the only road to success. Giving them ownership in their future is the only way to persevere through this historic period of change and upheaval. Their day is now.