“We got Intel that there was some big name, and we knew where he was,” reminisced Corporal Zach Snyder, a Marine who was positioned with Charley company in the city of Hit, just northwest of Baghdad, during December 2006.
“We’d gathered information all night, and we were briefed the following day,” Snyder continued. “We went through it all (the information) and located that he lived on a street we’d nicknamed Cherry Street, and we set up a raid, kicked in the door-and it was him. We tackled and subdued him, and later when he was identified, we found out that we caught him.”
His name has yet to be released, but the CIA has told the press that the man Snyder helped bring down sits high atop al Qaeda’s chain of command. Snyder and company had been assigned the task of babysitting the streets of Hit while simultaneously training new recruits for the fledgling Iraqi police force. Upon receiving intelligence from an unnamed source concerning the whereabouts of their target, Snyder and the rest of Charley Company infiltrated a small residence and successfully captured the al Qaeda operative along with three other individuals affiliated with al Qaeda. “I felt good,” Snyder said. “It was a mission accomplished because he was pretty wanted, you know, given the fact that we caught him, our pit team did, so it felt pretty good.”
But good news from Iraq comes infrequently these days. On February 3 a suicide bomber drove a dump truck wired with explosives into a market killing 128 people and wounding 343 others. The incident took place in the Sedriya district of central Baghdad at dusk, the busiest time of the day. Attacks such as this are a constant threat to coalition forces, contributing to the bulk of American casualties in Iraq, which has climbed to 3,100. Mimicking this trend is the number of wounded coalition soldiers, which tallies to 23,279 since the war began in March of 2003.
In fact, since March of 2005, which marked the end of the Falluja offensive and the elections in Iraq, the number of American losses has been steadily rising. The trend spiked dramatically at the end of 2006 when US forces suffered 112 casualties in the month of December alone. The total American deaths in 2006 add up to an alarming 870 soldiers, making it one of the bloodiest years in Iraq yet. Even more frightening is the irrepressible growth in the number of attacks on coalition forces as the war spills into 2007. As of February 4, 103 coalition soldiers had already been killed in combat since the new year, setting 2007 on pace to be the most taxing year of war for America since the Vietnam era nearly four decades ago.
A study conducted by the UN research group shows more than 34,000 Iraqis were killed because of violence in 2006, an average of 94 Iraqi deaths a day-ten times the casualties suffered by the US since the war began.
Overall estimates of Iraqi civilian deaths range from 55,664 to 61,369 according to iraqdeathcount.org. And a study aired on the BBC courtesy of the Lancet newspaper showed the risk of death by violence for civilians in Iraq is now 58 times higher than before the invasion.
Despite the efforts of coalition forces to minimize damage to institutions and businesses vital to the survival of Iraq’s fragile society, hospitals, universities, civilian houses, even crowded market places have all been destroyed by rogue guided-ammunition.
As the sectarian violence builds to a crescendo, Snyder had this to say about the future of Iraq.
“I see Iraq slipping into a civil war. That’s definitely going to happen,” Snyder said. “I’ve been all over Iraq, but when I was in Falluja, most of the Iraqis I dealt with were Shiites. When I talked to them, they would always express how much they hated Sunnis, basically saying they were terrorists.”
“Then when I was transferred to Hit, I had to work with Sunnis,” Snyder continued. ” I’ve never seen them interact with each other at all. But after talking to them individually, they have nothing but pure hatred for each other. (Coalition forces) are trying to set up their country, make it a democracy, but it’s just not going to work. If they keep going the way they are, civil war is going to happen.”
The Bush administration continues to push the importance of staying in Iraq. On January 23, Bush gave his State of the Union address, in which he outlined a new strategy for Iraq. Bush’s “new way forward strategy” as it has been deemed, would increase the number of Army and Marine soldiers in Iraq by 21,500 in 2007, with a final surge of 92,000 additional soldiers in the next five years.
“It would give people across America who do not wear the uniform a chance to serve in the defining struggle of our time,” Bush told his audience. Most of the soldiers would be deployed to Baghdad, Iraq’s deadliest city.
“Honestly, I think that’s just adding fuel to the fire,” Snyder said, commenting upon Bush’s new plan. Snyder has already spent a year in Iraq and is currently stationed at Camp Pendleton.
“These people are killing each other over little differences. You can only imagine all the hatred they have for Americans,” Snyder continued.
After pausing for a moment, he added, “Personally, I wasn’t surprised when we didn’t find weapons of mass destruction. I never believed what they told me we were going over there for anyway, so in a way I feel betrayed.”
When asked to elaborate upon this statement, Snyder replied, “Honestly, we’re over there helping Israel. I saw it coming before. I think this is just one big hoax to block out the Middle East. That way America and Israel can tag team that land.”
Snyder’s discontent with how the war in Iraq is being conducted and distrust in the competence of the Bush administration coincides with views of the majority of Americans. A new Gallup Poll taken February 1 through 4, 2007, finds Bush’s approval rating on handling the Iraq war at its new lowest point of 26 percent among Americans.
The majority of Americans want a full withdrawal from Iraq, citing its costly consequences and ominous similarities to unsuccessful and ill-conceived military endeavors of the past. Perhaps to fully understand the true impact of the war in Iraq, one must experience it firsthand.
According to Snyder, “Before I went to Iraq, it seemed like a good idea. We’re trying to help this county, so I thought it was a really good thing. I was ready to go and help them.”
“But after being over there,” Snyder continued, “it’s hopeless. There’s really no reason for America to be over there at all. Nothing is ever going to change. That country doesn’t know, it has never known and will never know anything about democracy. As far as it calming down, no, I think its going to be another Vietnam. It’s about to get real bad pretty soon here.”