View Full Version : Letter from an Iraq vet

08-15-2005, 06:36 AM
"I participated in the invasion, stayed for a year afterward, and what I witnessed was the total opposite of what President Bush told the American people."

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.

Aug. 6, 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-Qaida or leftover Baath 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-Qaida. 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.

web page (http://www.salon.com/opinion/feature/2005/08/06/vet_letter/)

Gayle in MD
08-21-2005, 08:28 PM
Thank you for posting this. This young man's description of events in Iraq is almost word for word the same description I have heard from other young men and women who were not lucky enough to return home in one piece.

I hope that people in our country will begin to understand the extent to which the Bush Administration has decieved Americans, and the tragic loss of life and limb which has resulted.

It is more than amazing that George Bush, Cheney, Rice, Rumsfeld, and the rest have not once owned up to their inept mishandling of this war, or the lies they each told in order launch it and promote their personal agendas, it is repulsive.

Never in my lifetime have I witnessed such total and complete corruption by the President and his cabinet. Never have I seen a president create the damage to our credibility and reputation around the world. Never have I witnessed such total refusal to answer to the American people for such massive mistakes in judgement, unrealistic, unreasonable expectations, and complete refusal to acknowledge the devastating results of this failed administration.

While the Republicans may be experts in discrediting all those who sought to enlighten us about the dishonesty of this combat ignorant President and Vice President, and their partners in crimes, over time, the same scenario of fixed intelligence, fired experts, no answer answers, dirty tricks against those who speak the truth, and unprecedented denial of the facts has continued to grow to the point where only the blind followers who would rather see our young men and women continue to die, than to admit that George Bush is not only inept, but evil and destructive to the future of our country, and to the people of Iraq as well.

One can only hope that all Americans will finally stand and unite against this President and his policies which are so obviously detrimental to the future of our country. He should not only be impeached, but thrown in jail for the rest of his life.

Gayle in Md.

08-21-2005, 11:45 PM
Hello again...

I want to thank you as well for posting that letter. Being a member of the United States Army is a source of pride for myself. I'm proud to serve alongside soldiers such as SGT Bruhns, a fellow non-commisioned officer, and proud to represent our country and its values. I can't dispute at all anything that was written in that article, not having seen what he has seen, and I believe that everyone should voice their opinion on topics such as this.

Gayle, usually your comments/opinions crank me the wrong way...and it wasn't too different this time. But I do have to agree with you that the operation in Iraq was mishandled. But just like SGT Bruhns, I can't offer a better way it could have been done, or a solution to the current situation that we find ourselves in. But I do have a little bit of an insight as to why things are going so apparently sour in Iraq. This by no means is a reason or justification for everything happening over there, but just something to shed just a little more light on it. Just imagine this...it's difficult for those of us who have lived/are living in the U.S., but just try. Imagine you were born in a country, doesn't have to be Iraq, which was run by the same person for well into 2 decades. Most aspects of life are dictated, though there are select freedoms that are available to you, such as going to college, and limited religious freedom. Any type of critizism of the active regime is delt with in a chillingly brutal efficiency. So efficient, that it for all intents and purposes discourages all attempts to replace it. You have NO say about how your government is run. As a matter of fact, having an open political opinion is conducive to a short life span. Life is hard, but livable for the most part. People come up missing often, but that is a fact of life where you are. You live in this environment for multiple decades. Then, all of a sudden, a foreign force comes in and removes the ruling government. In its place they install a governmental structure based upon democracy. This gives you a choice of who you think should lead you. You no longer have those strictures placed upon you by your government. (religious restrictions are different, though not by much in the middle east) All your live, you were ruled primarily by someone who was extremely charismatic, (and Saddam WAS VERY charismatic), so what you look for is someone who has those same qualities. It's programing. These people had lived in that system for so long that they don't know what to do now. So when someone who truly despises the foreigners comes in, showing those same qualities, of course you would be inclined to follow him.

In the case of Iraq, throw in some foreigners who want to kill some Americans, and have the resources to arm the insurgency, and you have a motivated "freedom fighting force" with almost unlimited numbers. It's not the fault of the Iraqis that they don't know any better. It's not that they are too stupid, or that they can't learn to live in this new system, but that it's human nature to resist change. They are going with what they know. And until the new government is in place, and has CONTROL of what is going on over there, there will be a problem with "insurgents". The people need to be shown that there is a controling power in charge that is better than the alternatives offered to them right now.

Unfortunately, that means that we have to stay where we are in order to see that happen. I hate that we've been put into this situation. But backing out now will hurt our international reputation now more than if we stayed. And as much as I may not agree with many of the decisions rendered by our government, being a soldier, I will not debate whether they were right or wrong. I can't see that there is black and white in this situtation, so right and wrong is meaningless to me.

If anyone else has something to throw into the discussion, please feel free to say it. As long as there is no mud slinging, we can only learn more.

Dags (SGT Joshua Johnson; United States Army)

08-22-2005, 06:10 AM
Having lived through the V.Nam war era and seeing that end some 50K American lives lost, the result being no gain of reputation or winning anything, I personally believe that we should learn from that fruitless example and NOT let out soldiers die in gross numbers again. Pulling out, IMO is really our only option. Otherwise, what the hell did we learn from Nam!

This is a wrong war, for wrong reasons, started by deception and mistruths. I say cut out losses and get out, whatever method it takes. It seems absolutely idiotic to do otherwise, cuz with religion in this mix, we ain't going to beat it, just going to end wrongly and poorly like VN. It is an unwinnable situation, worse than VN. sid

Gayle in MD
08-22-2005, 08:37 AM
Hi, and thank you for your comments. While I respect your opinion, and as an American, appreciate your contribution in service to our country, I also believe that it is the duty and obligation of Americans to stand and be counted when we find ourselves being led by an administration which has failed America in ways which put all of us at such great risk.

The future of mankind is in the hands of those who lead, and in ways which never previously existed as they do today. Living in a world which dangles at the threat of worldwide nuclear proliferation requires that all mankind demand truth from our leaders, and that they take full responsibility for their own decisions which could enhance that threat.

Unless and until the citizens of the nations of the world view decisions such as pre-emptive attacks against, and occupations of, other countries, and particularly when those decisions are made with faulty intelligence, and through lies, manipulation, and failed policies, as unacceptable leadership, mankind will remain at great risk for survival.

As President of the United States, George Bush, must ultimately be responsible for his decisions to occupy, and to launch war in Iraq. It is his own obligation to create an atmosphere among his advisors which seeks the absolute truth from our intelligence community, and to use descretion when judging the accuracy of such intelligence. Instead, he demanded that those advisors manipulate and embroider the facts in order to fit that intelligence to his wishes. This is unforgivable and corrupt, and matches the same behavior displayed by the very evil dictators about whom he rails. Such insolence must not be accepted by any country which counts itself among humanitarianistic nations. Americans cannot not and should not expect our youth to sacrifice their lives in an effort to force democracy upon other countries at the end of gun barrels and missiles.

Regardless of the plight of the Iraqis, the fact remains that the occupation of their country has been an opportunity for them to stand with our troops, fight for their own freedom, and against those who would destroy us, their allies. In large measure, this they have failed to do. Given the religious complexities which exist and have existed in their land over decades, and even centuries, I find the optimism displayed by our Republican leaders to be nothing more than more blantant, desperate efforts to acheive political survival in the face of failure.

I do not believe that for this administration, having displayed such massive incompetance, to be held to some deadline for removing our young men and women from Iraq, and the threat of death, is too much for the American people and our troops to expect. I also do not think that the removal of our troops from a country in which vast numbers of citizens cry out for our leave, can do anything but leave the fight for democracy in the hands of those who must ultimately value it enough to fight for it themselves, as we did in our own country. This fight, as I see it, is not the responsibility of OUR American youth, but rather the responsibility of the Iraqi youth, who must ultimately be the ones who value the fruits of democracy enough to fight for it, and die for it, as those brave men who did so here. It is a war, launched by men in power in our country, who have never seen a battlefield from warriors eyes. It is a war, which has and will continue to put our country at greater risk in the future. It is the wrong war, in the wrong place, at the wrong time.

We have surely come to a time when ego and power must not create allies and peace, but rather compassion and understanding, humanitarianism and aid, high intention and love. Until and unless we become a world of nations which values peace, creates good will among all the people of the world, and increases the numbers of those who seek to make the world a better place by reaching out to those are oppressed with aid for their own plight, instead of using pre-emptive attacks which only create more strife and human suffering, mankind will not survive. There is no such thing as help, only assistance, and there is no such thing as a good war.
Gayle in Md.