WITH THE 3RD INFANTRY DIVISION IN IRAQ – Specialist Julie Albrecht is the first woman I have spoken to (and the third I have seen) since joining up with this division's Third Brigade.
Albrecht, 19, from Joliet, Illinois, is a Humvee driver in a chemical weapons company. She joined the army to finance her college education, and she has had quite a ride.
'I thought I'd be in a laboratory doing experiments in the army. That is what the recruiter showed us in the videos, I never thought I would be here in Iraq.'
This is Julie's second deployment. Last year, she was in Pakistan as part of a support team for the US operations in Afghanistan.
'I didn't really understand why we came here. I suppose this man [Saddam Hussein] is oppressing his people and we are here to free them. And then there is the chemical threat. But I really do not understand this country, so, well, I mean I couldn't live like this, with the dust storms and the desert and the clay houses. I do not understand how they stand it.
'I guess that Saddam's people must be telling them, this is what they have to accept. I really can't imagine what will happen here once we leave. I guess we are trying to put in a new government like we are doing in Afghanistan, but it doesn't seem to be working that well there,' Julie said.
'It is important to keep September 11 in mind all the time to remind us that, even though we are so far away from home, that what happens here has an effect on our lives. We saw that day just how small this world really is.'
For the US soldiers here, what is happening around them is new and totally foreign. Saddam's terror tactics are their first experience in having to worry about suicide bombers, road snipers, terrorists disguised as soldiers, and the specter of chemical attacks. For Albrecht and her colleagues, Iraq is a million miles away from home. To understand the need to fight here, it is necessary to hold on tight to the memory of the September 11 attack. Why should these young men and women fight this regime, as evil as it may be, if doing so won't impact their lives and the lives of their families?
Coming from Jerusalem, my response to this is different. Since entering Iraq a week ago, I have seen graffiti everywhere that make this war personal.
At the suspected chemical weapons storage facility at Najaf, an entire wall of one of the administration buildings was painted with the Iraqi and Palestinian flags.
In the first town in which the 2-7 Battalion, in which I am embedded, was fired upon, the fire emanated from the headquarters of the Palestinian Liberation Army, which happened to be the Ba’ath party headquarters for the town of el-Khadir. Then, too, the main force that has engaged this battalion as we wait to move up to Baghdad to confront to the Republican Guard has been al-Quds (Jerusalem) Brigade, which is a vast militia force.
The precautions the soldiers are now taking to prevent terror attacks are familiar as well. For an Israeli, these threats are not something that may happen, but a terrible fact of life.
Last Saturday as our convoy stopped on the side of Highway 8 during the battle of el-Khader, a civilian pulled up in his car, parked next to the Humvee I was traveling in and started walking away. A soldier traveling with me, laughed at how scared the driver was. I interrupted him, told him that it could be a car bomb, and that he had to tell the man to take his car and go away.
Americans luckily still have a lot to learn about living in the shadow of terror.
And yet, until I arrived in Iraq, it never sank in how central hatred of Israel and support for Palestinian terrorism is to the legitimacy of Saddam's regime. Like the infamous Goldstein in George Orwell's novel 1984, Israel for Saddam is the external enemy the hating of which is necessary for excusing the terror the dictator uses against his own people.
The Iraq which the US and British forces have come to liberate is an unnecessarily failed state. It has all the natural advantages one could hope for, abundant land, a relatively small population, and, of course, vast oil reserves.
My battalion passed by the home of an Iraqi family with a green onion field. The onions are rich and fragrant, yet the desert patch is the only one around. This in spite of the fact that it is located only 10 kilometers from the Euphrates.
There is no irrigation infrastructure. Water is delivered by trucks, and electricity is supplied by generators in a country with the world's third largest oil reserves. Rather than concentrating on making their own lives better, Saddam has programmed these people to unify around his leadership for the cause of destroying Israel and hating America.
It would appear that the first thing that a new regime for this country should do is tell the Iraqis to concentrate on appreciating their own lives and their own country, rather than wishing for the destruction of a non- aggressive neighbor.
Yet, in the midst of the war, British Foreign Minister Jack Straw told the Iraqi people that the violent cause in whose name they now pledge allegiance to Saddam Hussein is a just one. In declaring this week that Israel like Iraq must be forced to implement UN resolutions, he told the Iraqis that the excuse that Saddam has used for his internal terror and external aggression is a legitimate one.
He told them that Saddam's Goldstein is a real and legitimate enemy. In so doing, Straw called into question one of the foundations on which the rationale for this war now rests.
How can Saddam be wholly illegitimate if Israel is a comparable outlaw? Then too, the New York Times' Tom Friedman wrote this week that, to win the hearts and minds of the Iraqi people, the US must form a new Iraqi regime as dedicated to the annihilation of Israel as Saddam. That is, Friedman like Straw accepts without question that the Arabs have a right to seek Israel's destruction and to demand anything else of them is to act somehow unfairly.
There is no doubt that the US will win the battle against Saddam's regime. The soldiers are committed and well trained. Their arsenal is deadly and accurate. But to win the war for the hearts of the Iraqi people, the US can not use the logic of the British Foreign Office. This thinking is what guided British policy toward the Jews and Arabs in another pivotal war.
Then, in 1939, while fighting valiantly against a dictator, the British signed away Jewish national aspirations in total contravention of their legal responsibilities to the League of Nations mandate in Palestine. Blaming the Jews for Arab intransigence and violence, the British favored a Palestinian terrorist leader who collaborated with Hitler. Far from bringing stability to the Middle East or curbing Arab terrorism, the British approach encouraged instability and terrorism.
Julie Albrecht, like the tens of thousands of US soldiers in Iraq today, understands the connection between terror and tyranny and is willing to fight thousands of miles from home to prevent these diseases from once again threatening America. One can only hope that the government they serve is not swayed by diplomatic tradition and maintains its commitment to bringing about a transition to freedom for Iraq, rather than the formation of yet another regime that justifies tyranny and backwardness by hating Israel.
Originally published in The Jerusalem Post.