Military Drawdown in Iraq May Complicate Tribal Outreach and Humanitarian Engagement

U.S. Civilians Must Continue to Work, Live and Succeed in Iraq

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Dr. Derrin Smith (far left) meets with Sheikh Ahmed abu Risha, head of the Anbar Awakening movement.
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Dr. Derrin Smith (far left) meets with Sheikh Ahmed abu Risha, head of the Anbar Awakening movement.

Yahoo! News asked service members and their families for their perspective on Obama's decision to withdraw U.S. troops from Iraq. Below is a story from a reader.

FIRST PERSON | When I worked at the Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) in Anbar Province in 2007 and 2008 as a Provincial Action Officer for the U.S. government, we were just coming out of the bloodiest period of the Iraq war. Through aggressive tribal outreach and humanitarian engagement, in remote and dangerous corners of Anbar, the PRT and U.S. military (Marines, Army and special operations forces in particular) were able to enlist the support of tribal and religious leaders.

For example, we met frequently with Sheikh Ahmed abu Risha, who became leader of the Sahwah movement to drive al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) out of Anbar when his brother Sheikh Sattar--the founder of the Sahwah--was assassinated in autumn 2007. Using heavily armored military convoys, Marine Corps V-22 Osprey aircraft, Sea Knight CH46 helicopters, and relying heavily on our military personnel, our civilian teams engaged every corner of Anbar Province. The impact of these meetings was enormous and the influence of these remote missions by U.S. diplomats, civilian subject matter experts, and military personnel cannot be underestimated. Meetings such as these cannot be as effectively and safely managed in the absence of U.S. military experts who are about to be withdrawn.

The complete withdrawal of U.S. troops in Iraq by the end of 2011, a date originally established by President Bush in 2008, is welcome news to all military families. The Iraqi government refused to provide immunity for any U.S. military advisors that would remain in Iraq beyond the Bush end-date.

Although the Iraqi government sought to keep some U.S. troops there to bolster security training of the Iraqi forces against stubborn terrorist groups, agreement could not be reached. So, our U.S. security engagement in Iraq ends in a whimper, not a bang. As with all political acts, President Obama's decision to adhere to the Bush withdrawal guidelines has unintended consequences. Civilians, diplomats, aid workers and a variety of contractors from the United States will continue to work on tough missions across the country. But, they must now succeed without the aid, support, logistics and security provided by U.S. military personnel.

I sat across from Sheikh Ahmed abu Risha and looked in his eyes as he spoke, reading whether he was a man of honor. I walked the Syrian border where a special economic development zone was planned, to give jobs and purpose to the lives of restive young men. I delivered cash and advice to remote businessmen working to create a future in their shattered villages.

I met with a revered religious leader, who was also the uncle of a young Iraqi man killed in a special operations raid, to explain what happened and prevent messages of hate from infecting the Friday sermons across Anbar. All missions were accomplished thanks to the professionalism and constant presence of our men and women in uniform. I couldn't have done it without them and wonder: what next, Iraq?

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