Editor’s note: Following is a letter by Army Sgt. John Bruhns, excerpts of which were read on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives by Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio) on July 19, 2005.
I am a concerned veteran of the Iraq war. I am not an expert on the vast and wide range of issues throughout the political spectrum, but I can offer some firsthand experience of the war in Iraq through the eyes of a soldier. My view of the situation in Iraq will differ from what the American people are being told by the Bush administration. The purpose of this message is to voice my concern that we were misled into war and continue to be misled about the situation in Iraq every day. My opinions on this matter come from what I witnessed in Iraq personally.
George Bush and his political advisors have been successful in presenting a false image to the American people, that Saddam Hussein was an “imminent” threat to the security of the United States. We were told that there was overwhelming evidence that Saddam Hussein possessed a massive WMD program, and some members of the Bush administration even hinted that Saddam may have been involved in the 9/11 attacks.
We now know most of the information given to us by the current administration concerning Iraq, if not all the information, was false. This was information given to the American people to justify a war. The information about weapons of mass destruction and a link to Osama bin Laden scared the American people into supporting the war in Iraq. They presented an atmosphere of intimidation that suggested if we did not act immediately there was the possibility of another attack. Bush said himself that we do not want the proof or the smoking gun to come in the form of a “mushroom cloud.” Donald Rumsfeld said, “We know where the weapons are.”
After 9/11, comments like these proved to be a successful scare tactic to use on the American people to rally support for the invasion. Members of the Bush administration created an image of “wine and roses” in terms of the aftermath of the war. Vice President Dick Cheney said American troops would be greeted as “liberators.” And there was a false perception created that we would go into Iraq and implement a democratic government and it would be over sooner rather than later. The White House also expressed confidence that the alleged WMD program would be found once we invaded.
I participated in the invasion, stayed in Iraq for a year afterward, and what I witnessed was the total opposite of what President Bush and his administration stated to the American people.
The invasion was very confusing, and so was the period of time I spent in Iraq afterward. At first it did seem as if some of the Iraqi people were happy to be rid of Saddam Hussein. But that was only for a short period of time. Shortly after Saddam’s regime fell, the Shiite Muslims in Iraq conducted a pilgrimage to Karbala, a pilgrimage prohibited by Saddam while he was in power. As I witnessed the Shiite pilgrimage, which was a new freedom that we provided to them, they used the pilgrimage to protest our presence in their country. I watched as they beat themselves over the head with sticks until they bled, and screamed at us in anger to leave their country. Some even carried signs that stated, “No Saddam, No America.” These were people that Saddam oppressed; they were his enemies. To me, it seemed they hated us more than him.
At that moment I knew it was going to be a very long deployment. I realized that I was not being greeted as a liberator. I became overwhelmed with fear because I felt I never would be viewed that way by the Iraqi people. As a soldier this concerned me. Because if they did not view me as a liberator, then what did they view me as? I felt that they viewed me as foreign occupier of their land. That led me to believe very early on that I was going to have a fight on my hands.
During my year in Iraq I had many altercations with the so-called insurgency. I found the insurgency I saw to be quite different from the insurgency described to the American people by the Bush administration, the media, and other supporters of the war. There is no doubt in my mind there are foreigners from other surrounding countries in Iraq. Anyone in the Middle East who hates America now has the opportunity to kill Americans because there are roughly 140,000 U.S. troops in Iraq. But the bulk of the insurgency I faced was from the people of Iraq, who were attacking us as a reaction to what they felt was an occupation of their country.
I was engaged actively in urban combat in the Abu Ghraib area, west of Baghdad. Many of the people who were attacking me were the poor people of Iraq. They were definitely not members of al-Qaeda or leftover Ba’ath Party members, and they were not former members of Saddam’s regime. They were just your average Iraqi civilians who wanted us out of their country.
On Oct. 31, 2003, the people of the Abu Ghraib area organized a large uprising against us. They launched a massive assault on our compound in the area. We were attacked with AK-47 machine guns, rocket-propelled grenades and mortars. Thousands of people took to the streets to attack us. As the riot unfolded before my eyes, I realized these were just the people who lived there. There were men, women and children participating. Some of the Iraqi protesters were even carrying pictures of Saddam Hussein. My battalion fought back with everything we had and eventually shut down the uprising.
So while President Bush speaks of freedom and liberation of the Iraqi people, I find that his statements are not credible after witnessing events such as these. During the violence that day I felt so much fear throughout my entire body. I remember going home that night and praying to God, thanking him that I was still alive. A few months earlier President Bush made the statement “Bring it on” when referring to the attacks on Americans by the insurgency. To me, that felt like a personal invitation to the insurgents to attack me and my friends who desperately wanted to make it home alive.
I did my job well in Iraq. During the deployment, my superiors promoted me to the rank of sergeant. I was made a rifle team leader and was put in charge of other soldiers when we carried out missions.
My time as a team leader in Iraq was temporarily interrupted when I was sent to the “green zone” in Baghdad to train the Iraqi army. I was more than happy to do it because we were being told that in order for us to get out of Iraq completely the Iraqi military would have to be able to take over all security operations. The training of the Iraqi army became a huge concern of mine. During the time I trained them, their basic training was only one week long. We showed them some basic drill and ceremony such as marching and saluting. When it came time for weapons training, we gave each Iraqi recruit an AK-47 and just let them shoot it. They did not even have to qualify by hitting a target. All they had to do was pull the trigger. I was instructed by my superiors to stand directly behind them with caution while they were shooting just in case they tried to turn the weapon on us so we could stop them.
Once they graduated from basic training, the Iraqi soldiers, in a way, became part of our battalion, and we would take them on missions with us. But we never let them know where we were going, because we were afraid some of them might tip off the insurgency that we were coming and we would walk directly into an ambush. When they would get into formation prior to the missions we made them a part of, they would cover their faces so the people of their communities did not identify them as being affiliated with the American troops.
Not that long ago President Bush made a statement at Fort Bragg when he addressed the nation about the war in Iraq. He said we would “stand down” when the Iraqi military is ready to “stand up.” My experience with the new Iraqi military tells me we won’t be coming home for a long time if that’s the case.
I left Iraq on Feb. 27, 2004, and I acknowledge a lot may have changed since then, but I find it hard to believe the Iraqi people are any happier now than they were when I was there. I remember the day I left there were hundreds of Iraqis in the streets outside the compound that I lived in. They watched as we moved out to the Baghdad Airport to finally go home. The Iraqis cheered, clapped and shouted with joy as we were leaving. As a soldier, that hurt me inside because I thought I was supposed to be fighting for their freedom. I saw many people die for that cause, but that is not how the Iraqi people looked at it. They viewed me as a foreign occupier and many of the people of Iraq may have even preferred Saddam to the American soldiers. I feel this way because of the consistent attacks on me and my fellow soldiers by the Iraqi people, who felt they were fighting for their homeland. To us the mission turned into a quest for survival.
I wish I could provide an answer to this mess. I wish I knew of a realistic way to get our troops home. But we are very limited in our options in my opinion. If we pull out immediately, it’s likely the Iraqi security forces will not be able to provide stability on their own. In that event, the new Iraqi government could possibly be overthrown. The other option would be to reduce our troop numbers and have a gradual pullout. That is very risky because it seems that even with the current number of troops the violence still continues. With a significant troop reduction, there is a strong possibility the violence and attacks on U.S. and coalition forces could escalate and get even worse. In my opinion, that is more of a certainty.
And then there is the option that President Bush brings to the table, which is to “stay the course.” That means more years of bloodshed and a lot more lives to be lost. Also, it will aggravate the growing opposition to the U.S. presence in Iraq throughout the region, and that could very well recruit more extremists to join terror organizations that will infiltrate Iraq and kill more U.S. troops.
So it does not seem to me we have a realistic solution, and that frightens me. It has become very obvious that we have a serious dilemma that needs to be resolved as soon as possible to end the ongoing violence in Iraq. But how do we end it, is the question.
We must always support the troops. If there were a situation in which the United States is attacked again by a legitimate enemy, they are the people who are going to risk their lives to protect us and our freedom. In my opinion, the best way to support them now is to bring them home with the honor and respect they deserve.
In closing, I ask that we never forget why this war started. The Bush administration cried weapons of mass destruction and a link to al-Qaeda We know that this was false, and the Bush administration concedes it as well. As a soldier who fought in that war, I feel misled. I feel that I was sent off to fight for a cause that never existed. When I joined the military, I did so to defend the United States of America, not to be sent off to a part of the world to fight people who never attacked me or my country. Many have died as a result of this. The people who started this war need to start being honest with the American people and take responsibility for their actions. More than anything, they need to stop saying everything is rosy and create a solution to this problem they created.
Thank you for hearing me out. God bless our great nation, the United States of America.