Soldier's Diary: Zarqawi is Just One Obstacle Removed in Iraq

Editor's note: U.S. Army Capt. Dan Sukman is serving a one-year deployment to Iraq. For previous entries and his bio, see the Soldier's Diary archives.

9 June 2006

AMZ [Abu Musab al-Zarqawi] was killed yesterday. I cannot claim to know the effects on higher levels, but here are the effects on the soldiers I see here.

This morning, like the day before, and the day before that we all came to work. Soldiers are out on patrol, manning checkpoints and turning wrenches in the same manner they were yesterday. Tomorrow will be no different.

One of the many points I have tried to convey over the course of this diary is that we have so many soldiers here that each have their specific role and job. Victories like this on the strategic level have no effect on how my company supply soldiers do their job. My military police soldiers still have their missions to run today and tomorrow, and the infantry will still have patrols to conduct, and no one is ignorant enough to believe the threat to them has disappeared overnight.

I have said before that this war is a marathon, and not a sprint. Other than a "wow, we killed him," the effects on the solders here seem to be minimal. They are minimal because there is no real time to celebrate. When these things happen, we do not go out to a bar to talk about the great work that has been done. We don't let our guard down, we don't stop working. When the FBI captures the most wanted criminal, the FBI does not shutdown, they go after the next guy, and we do the same.

I am not arguing that this is not a great success. It sure is, and the long term effects will be profound. What I want to convey is that we still have many more missions to accomplish. The big picture of securing the Iraqi government and successfully training the police and army so they can secure their own country is still not complete.

Tomorrow will be different in some ways; we are another day closer to the accomplishment of our long-term goals. On the road to mission completion, a large obstacle has been removed

It is not just current missions we are looking at. Our replacement unit sent over some of their leaders to assess the mission they will be taking over. It is important for us to ensure they have all the information needed to plan how they will conduct operations. So over the past few days, we have been giving PowerPoint briefs and escorting them around our AO (area of operations). We have been planning the turnover of our AO for a couple of months now, and the event is still nearly four months away. It just shows the hard work and dedication of the soldiers involved to ensure operations run smoothly. If this war goes on for 10 years, having a successful relief in place with a follow-on unit will prevent this from being a one-year war fought 10 consecutive times.

10 June 2006

Last night we continued our ethics training. I received a lot of e-mails asking why we conduct the training, and a number of e-mails explaining how the terrorists do not play by any rules.

As far as why we conduct the training, here is my best attempt to put it into words. I have no doubt that all my soldiers have the knowledge and integrity to always do the right thing. The training was not teaching something new, but rather it was refresher training. Just as we continually train on our weapons, first-aid skills and fitness, the theory is we need to keep our ethics in the forefront. Our job is a profession, like lawyers and doctors; we have to read up on the latest tactics and techniques through professional journals. Like doctors and lawyers, we have specific codes of conduct and ethics to live by, and like medical school or law school, we have to train and teach our ethics to our newest soldiers.

The second point was made that the terrorists are not playing by the rules and whether that should effect our actions. My answer is that it should not. I can only say that if my actions are ever based on how terrorists act, then we are losing this battle. This comes up in each one of our ethics discussions, and each time everyone agrees that as representatives of America, we maintain the moral high ground.

My thought is that the War on Terror is conducted so that we can maintain our standards of living, and our standards of conduct. The fact that terrorists don't play by the rules is never an excuse to lower our standards and our ethics. Our oath is not to go out and kill in any way necessary; rather our oath is to the Constitution, and to uphold its values. We swear to support and defend the Constitution. We vowed to defend our country not just against kinetic attacks and violence, but against attacks on our national values, as well. Of these values, self-sacrifice and honor are the two that most completely define America. America's soldiers must always be the example of those two ideals.

Part of the ethics training also involves discussing the cultural differences between us and the Iraqis. There are a lot of differences, some of which I touched on in my last column. I mentioned how the family is held in the highest regard here in Iraq, whereas we hold the law and the individual in the highest regard.

What I meant by this is that in America, individuals are held accountable for their own actions. What you see on the news concerning Iraqis is more often than not the violence between Shia and Sunnis. Looking at Iraq as only Shia and Sunni is the amateur view of this society. The Iraqis are broken into tribes; Baghdad alone has over 20 tribes. When something happens, not only is an individual held responsible for the action, the family and the tribe will be held accountable, as well.

The second difference is how we view honor. Again, how Iraqis view the family and tribe above the individual plays a role in their actions. Honor and honesty are two totally separate entities. Our view is that you can't have honor without honesty. The view here is that you can be dishonest and lie if it means you are protecting the honor of your family or tribe. When Ted Kazinsky (the Unabomber) was caught, it was due to his brother recognizing his work and notifying the authorities. That will never happen in this society.

When dealing with individual Iraqis, at times they will tell you what you want to hear, even if is not the truth. They do so to maintain their honor. It's a difficult concept to grasp, but once you do, you see the world here in a completely different way.

E-mail Captain Dan at Click here to read his bio.