Iraq: After the Dust Washes Off

Posted by John Matel
October 9, 2008
Iraq Boot

About the Author: John Matel is a U.S. Foreign Service Officer who served as Team Leader of the Al Asad Embedded Provincial Reconstruction Team in Iraq.

It is always like this when I come back from an overseas post. One day you are in the midst of a place, its events, culture and environment. It seems like the whole world. Then you are not. Iraq is like that, only more so, because being in Iraq is so unusual and so intense. You work long hours every day of the week, and you are immersed in it always. It gives you a special feeling of uniqueness, insulation and security. When I think back on the experience, it almost seems like I am remembering the events and details of somebody else’s life. But I know it was me, because I still have Iraqi dust on my boots.

For a year I was surrounded by Marines and team members who knew me or at least knew about me. We were all members of one team, working together to accomplish a worthy goal. We thought about how to overcome obstacles and achieve our purposes. It never occurred to anybody to ask if we could do it. I miss the sense of purpose and the honor of being part of something big. Back home people all have their own different problems. Iraq has dropped off most of their radar screens.

I never expected people to pay attention to all my stories. I understand that I can talk longer than most people can listen. But I am surprised at the general lack of interest in Iraq, which used to be and still is a big deal. At first most people approach me sympathetically. They thank me for my service and commiserate about the hardship of my ordeal. They are a little disappointed when I explain that it was less exciting and not as bad as they have heard. And some seem almost offended when I tell them about the transformation that has taken place and the success we have achieved. They really don’t want to hear about it. I don’t think they believe me.

Many Americans formed their impressions of Iraq based on the dicey and hard conditions on the ground in late 2006. Rethinking their opinions in light of the vastly improved situation in Iraq hurts their brains. They just want Iraq to go away, and the possibility of success smacks of continued effort. I am an intrusion into a comfortably settled belief pattern, as unwelcome as the skunk at a barbeque.

It will take a while before the significance of our success in Iraq sinks in and even longer for us to indentify and explore all the options it opens and the challenges it creates. Iraq will be difficult and dangerous for a long time to come. Changing long established conditions is hard and takes time, but the trends are definitely positive. Real change creeps up on little cats’ feet, and we are often surprised to look around and see that things are not what we thought.

Editor's Note: Read John Matel's previous entries about his time in Iraq.



Virginia, USA
October 9, 2008

Bill in Virginia writes:

@ John -- I do thank you for your service and understand that because of your team's contribution, along with all the others in Iraq that conditions have greatly improved.

All the best.

Tennessee, USA
October 10, 2008

Joe in Tennessee writes:

QUOTE: Real change creeps up on little cats' feet, and we are often surprised to look around and see that things are not what we thought. END QUOTE...

That goes for some Major Intel long ago....and the people involved. It is a shame it took so long....

"To make straight all that was made crooked..." A firm prayer to be answered....

Wisconsin, USA
October 10, 2008

Dennis in Wisconsin writes:

What a frank presentation by John Matel! Thank you. While I still believe it was a grievous error to invade Iraq, we Americans will have to acknowledge all the human effort that goes in to make things right.

New Mexico, USA
October 12, 2008

Eric in New Mexico writes:

Welcome back John,

I gotta say from an observational point that Iraq isn't off most regular folk's radar screens, they're just tired of talking about it and many of them critical of the surge have had to put a real "sock in it" thanks to your hard work and those of the coalition in general.

And on that note Dennis in Wisconsin,

If you think it was a "grievious error" to base the invasion of Iraq on Liberation as policy based upon the belief that a people released from tyrany will choose freedom, then let history be your guide to enlightenment.

It was a very safe bet, based upon sound precedent.

Little multiple choice test here...just for the record.
A "lemon test" for "regime change" if one could call it that.

Of these following things found in Iraq, which of them would you say was an illegitimate reason to remove Saddam from power?

a)-basic structural and scientific components of a WMD program, and ballistic missile program.
b)-State run torture chambers
c)-Mass graves
d)-All of the above
c)-None of the above

Of these following internationally recognized crimes against humanity that Saddam was found guilty of and hanged for...which do believe justified leaving him in power?

a)-Ethnic cleansing
b)-Use of WMD on civilian populations
c)-Forced migration of indigiounous peoples
d)-Sponsoring terrorist acts against civilians
e)-All of the above
f)-None of the above

Looking in 20/20 hindsight back to 1991 and Gulf War-1, and knowing what we know now about the oil for food scandle within the UN, do you believe;

a)-Santions were effective
b)-More sanctions would be effective
c)-The international community was effective
d)-Leaving Saddam in power after the first Gulf War was a good thing.
e)-All of the above
f)-None of the above


When I think of Iraq , the following helps put it all in context. Because I doubt if the RTP would have happened had not nations in the UNSC ultimately viewed Saddam's removal as neccessary without full compliance with 17 resolutions and a cease-fire agreement..thus the wording "serious concequences" in the last one.

October 12, 2008

John in Greece writes:

As always Eric's intelligence inspired a new idea -- "in the air". Why guys don't you add a weekly "multiple choice test" (in the form of a gallop) at the front page..."just for the record".

Whoever wants takes it. If someone doesn't want, No prob! I think it will be very catchy.

Eric's post also inspired me to think of a probable column title: "Lemon Squeeze?" (with a question mark!) (And I am sure that Mr. McCormack would agree that we have started "creating" our "DipNote" jargon) (Chuckle)

Maybe "my" idea is useless, but I thought like saying so! Keep up the great work guys in the Blog!

Florida, USA
October 15, 2008

Susan in Florida writes:

@ John Matel -- "Rethinking their opinions in light of the vastly improved situation in Iraq hurts their brains. They just want Iraq to go away...." John, rereading your posting brought some thoughts to mind. May I first say that your brave efforts in Iraq are very much appreciated. Your time there could not have been easy. However, as an "average" American who was not included in the original decision to go to Iraq in the first place, I find your conclusions about us to be a bit condescending. I don't think there is a single American who would not like to learn and believe that Iraq has been worth the death of so many soldiers, as well as, the maiming of so many others. Yes, we would like Iraq to go away. Just as we would like the financial crisis we are facing to go away. We are struggling and at this point, if you are losing your home, your job, your lifetime savings, than that is your primary concern. We, too, are just trying to survive.

California, USA
October 16, 2008

Andrew in California writes:

@ John Matel -- I understand what you're saying... as much as an outsider can, anyways. My roommate fought in the Army in Iraq and recently showed me his photo album. It is very strange to actually see the piles of leaves hiding bombs, the rancid marketplaces, the bodies, and the weapons. I couldn't think about it for very long, because it stretched my mind beyond my normal world. I can't think about Sept. 11 for very long either, because my empathetic nature starts to wonder what it was like for someone in the plane... or in the towers... and it's confusing, foreign, and frightening. Much easier to move on, and appreciate the hard work of those who are fighting the good fight.

So, thank you! I hope to join your ranks one day and really stretch my world past its current scope.

New Mexico, USA
October 17, 2008

Eric in New Mexico writes:

Well Susan if it makes you feel any better, some would suggest that public opinion produced great changes in the way the war was conducted that brought success.

Because for everyone that thought it was lost, there was at least one that stood up and said losing is not an option.

If John is being condecending, it is only towards those that cannot admit they threw in the towel a bit early.

What? We the American public expected this to be over and done with in a one-hour episode of "24"???

Darn we're spoiled....

How soon we forget why we risk life and treasure...

Because the fellow that made the decision to give Saddam 48 hours to pack bags had a pretty fair understanding of the number of folks in America that would continue to be at inevitable risk if he stayed in power.

By comparison, was it worth losing half a million KIA to win WW2????

We don't even question it today....

Was it worth the price of 5000 to free 55 million from tyrany in Afghanistan and Iraq combined over 7 years?

We lost more in one day liberating France.

Folks at home in WW2 not only had to endure those personal losses, they had to contend with rationing of staples and gas, "victory gardens" sprang up so people could supplement their diets, for many out of work, the war employed them via the draft, and we think we have it bad today?

Susan, it's not my place to "correct" your thinking, on Einstien or other opinions you may express, I just have a certain perspective that might prove helpful to you when looking at the problems we face today.

Virginia, USA
October 21, 2008

Donald in Virginia writes:

October 20th 2008


This story reminds me of my tour in Iraq. I only served 120 days in Baghdad. It was back in 2004. A fire fighter at Camp Liberty.

I would like this opportunity to Commend all the Warriors of the United States a well done!!!

I can still remember it like yesterday the 2nd day on the ground. How a car suicide bomber had blown up 37 kids right outside the gate. Felt like a 500 pound explosive device going off under your feet. The ground shook and trembled like an earthquake.

Iraq was very dangerous!!!

Our men and women were awesome!

If you have never been to's very hard to explain.... however to just paint a small picture... the sirens were always late going off. The sounds of war were present everyday!!!

It was spontanous more than anything. Rounds of gunfire would go off for periods of time. Motar rounds would be fired by the enemy.

I met some of the best people on the planet. They served the United States Military Proud!!! The young men and women who put their lives on the line for freedom!!! They did it very well!!!

My heart goes out to all of our losses!!! I had prayed many times day and night for our troops!!! I had good reason to pray! They saved my life! It was a honor to serve with the BEST in the world!!! We all should bow our heads, give thanks to the men and women who served our country, answered the call of duty and made many sacrafices for our Flag...The United States of America Flag!!! I salute all the veterans who went to Afghanistan and Iraq. I also thank each and everyone! (Brave, Honor and Dedication to duty!) Thank-God!!! and may God bless all the family members who had losses in these wars! We will always remember the fallen!!!



Latest Stories