Thursday, December 15, 2011

Declare victory, then depart

Troops of Charlie Co., 1st Battalion, 7th Marines, prepare to enter one of Saddam Hussein's Baghdad palaces on April 9, 2003.

Josh Knowles
The United States declared victory early today in Baghdad, rolled up its command flag and closed down the war in Iraq after nearly 9 years, 4,500 lost U.S. lives, tens if not hundreds of thousands of lost Iraqi lives and $800 billion.

High-ranking Iraqi officials, invited to attend, didn’t. Negotiations that would have allowed a small U.S. force to remain had foundered earlier. The remaining 4,000 U.S. troops will be gone, perhaps, by Christmas.

It’s not clear what will happen to Iraq and Iraqis now in a still-volatile nation located in an even more volatile region.

I’ve been thinking back to Advent 2003, a few months after the war began with “shock and awe,” when the newspaper I then worked for quite extraordinarily dispatched a photographer, Arian Schuessler, and reporter, Bob Link, to Iraq equipped with a satellite telephone, laptop and cameras.

This was an amazing thing for a relatively small newspaper to do, perhaps the last amazing thing it did before serious decline commenced.

Schuessler and Link hooked up with the north Iowa’s 1133rd Transportation Co., deployed earlier to Iraq and then home-based in Baghdad, and provided several days of live coverage. I was editing and designing front pages then and recall the late-night tension as we worried about if and when that call from Baghdad would come and if the stories and photographs would transmit successfully. The system always worked.

On the 23rd of December that year, Arian and Bob managed to round up all the 1133rd troops and take a group shot. I fussed and fumed and argued and finally got my way --- we enlarged that photo to full broadsheet size, turned it sideways to fill the entire front page and that was our Christmas Eve gift to North Iowa.

Although I’ve long since thrown away all copies of it, it remains the favorite front page of all I had a hand in over the years, and there were many of them.

Two months later, on the 5th of February 2004, Josh Knowles of Sheffield, 23, who had been featured in several of the photos we published that December, was killed in a mortar attack in Baghdad.

And so we covered his funeral, too.

I’ve generally thought the war in Iraq was folly, the lives wasted. But that’s not my decision to make. Time will tell. And in the interim, the voices of Josh Knowles’ parents and the loved ones of all the other dead are the ones to listen to. And those of the 32,000 wounded, too.

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