Freedom Takes Time and Work

By Tom Clarkson
Gulf Region Division
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

Note: the following is the second in a two-part series that was submitted to the Times Guardian by Canyon Lake’s Joyce O’Shea, who served in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in Iraq, working with the author Tom Clarkson. Clarkson’s words provide some good first-person insight into the rebuilding of Iraq, and the continuing problems in the war-torn country. In the first part of his report, Clarkson profiled two Iraqi women he has worked with in Iraq – an attorney and an administrative assistant. The concluding segment profiles two Iraqi men.


Baghdad – So what of a man’s perspective in this discussion?

With an almost classic Arabic profile, dark black hair and neatly trimmed mustache, MR is a stocky 42 year old and the father of six – ranging from eight to twenty-four. He has twenty-five years of experience in the Iraqi Army where he is a captain. He is quiet in nature, with the kindest of smiles. His eyes clearly convey his intelligence.

He has now worked with the Americans for nearly two years and holds the responsible position of Supervisor of Custodial Services in the largest structure in the GRD compound. He agrees with EK and HE that “outside parties from nearby countries” are a substantive force striving to destabilize Iraq. With emphatic gestures with his hands he exclaims, “They fear that if a democracy works here in Iraq those who live in their countries will want the same.

“However,” he adds, “I believe we moved too far too fast. My countrymen and women are not yet ready for free elections. We have been under a dictatorship too long. We voted, all too often by all too many, as we were told and without our own thought of the major impacts of not electing those who truly held the best interests in mind for Iraq. As a result, I believe, our parliament is too sectarian based. Look at how they sit in bloc groups – clearly focused on only their own selfish interests, rather than the good of the country whole.”

His eyes eagerly seeking understanding of what he says, he continues, “Americans are trying very hard to help us. You of GRD have helped us try to re-build our country’s infrastructure. For this we are deeply in your debt. But, honestly, beyond this construction, it was wrong to turn over too much responsibility to us too fast as we had no well rounded, forward thinking leaders here to help us plan and work, together, for the future.

“I don’t believe Americans understand that we Iraqis simply are not yet ready for all that constitutes a full and open democracy.” With a soft smile, he adds, “But, as I watch the international news, sometimes I even wonder if all of your Americans understand what must go into a democracy for it to work well!

“So very many good intentions and great efforts have been given to us by the coalition – primarily by you Americans,” he continues, “but our police and military simply weren’t prepared for all that they now face. They are, themselves, not yet mature. There is still too much corruption in my country. There is violence, or the fast and easy threat of it, everywhere. No one feels safe with the ‘militias’ running amok.”

His head bobbing in agreement, MS, is a strikingly handsome, young man of 23 who closely resembles the 1950s Hollywood actor Sal Mineo. His positive, infectious, personality makes all with whom he deals smile.

Working with a large contract security company for over two years helping keep the GRD compound safe, the former Iraqi Army sergeant, started as a security guard, was promoted to shift supervisor and recently was promoted again to a responsible position in the organization’s logistical arm. He is fast to point out that a major factor fomenting and conducting terrorist attacks on civilians and complex assaults on logistical convoys are the “Iraqi militia.” His face grows serious as he says with passion, “They are very bad. You, from the United States have come here to help us and they make it very dangerous and difficult for you to do so.”

His opinions are similar to the others in his believing that the Iraqi government is not organized nor strong enough yet to handle all of the responsibility placed on them. “Sadly, too,” he adds, “there are still too many who wish only to make fast and easy money through bribes and corruption rather than help their country. They think short term and for themselves when they should be thinking long term and for all Iraqis!”

He likewise concurs with the other’s assessment that there are still significant problems with the military and police. “As long as they were working closely with the American soldiers they were kept honest and accountable. But too soon they were told to take on those duties on their own. It was too fast. They weren’t ready yet,” he said.

MS looks up briefly seeking the right words, “Iraq needs one strong leader who will side with no one other than Iraq. Not the Shiite. Not the Sunni. Not Christians. Not the Kurds. We need someone to lead us who has high morals, good principles and wants this country for all who live here.”

Thoughtfully he pauses and looks around him observing, “Increasingly, I think we are coming to realize that the attainment of freedom takes more time and work then we had ever understood before, or even imagined.”

(Tom Clarkson is a member of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Gulf Region Division/Project and Contracting Office public affairs team in Iraq. For more information on the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in Iraq, visit

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